By Joe Slater
In His matchless “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus made a shocking statement that really serves as the theme of the whole sermon: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). What was He talking about? What was it about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that was deficient? How are we to exceed their righteousness?
I’ve heard people say that since the Pharisees gave a tithe (10%), we must give at least 11% to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. Let me say it kindly but firmly: They Have Missed The Point! In fact, that sort of thinking demonstrates that they have fallen into the same trap that ensnared the Pharisees: thinking that a right relationship with God depends merely on rote obedience to commands.
The sixth commandment forbade murder. The Pharisees thought that as long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re covered. But Jesus taught that the unjustified anger and hatred leading up to murder offends God, not just the physical act of murder (Matthew 5:21-26).
The seventh command forbade adultery. Don’t have sexual relations with another’s spouse and you’re good, so the Pharisees would say. But Jesus taught that the lust leading up to the physical act was sin. The heart is important, not just the physical act (Matthew 5:27-30).
The rest of the sermon on the mount continues to emphasize the heart, not just rote commandment-keeping. God’s commandments are important! But God has ever and always wanted obedience from the heart, not mere mechanical compliance.
- Joe Slater serves as minister of the Church of Christ in Justin, TX. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://justinchurchofchrist.com