February 1

Text: Matthew 5:20

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NASB)

People of recent years have given the Pharisees an undeserved reputation.  We act as if there were no good Pharisees like Nicodemus (John 3:1, 2) or Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-52).  Though we often make their same mistakes, we are “good” and they were “bad.”

Jesus’ charges against the Pharisees included possessing wrong motives, loving personal prominence, justifying evil, emphasizing the small while ignoring the urgent, and perverting the intent of righteousness (consider Matthew 23).   While they had much wrong, they endorsed much right: devotion to scripture (which they regarded adequate for every age’s problems), returning to the ancient practices, accepting God’s word as religious authority, and stressing the importance of obedience.

Pharisees tended to be quite religiously active.  “Out doing” the Pharisees was unlikely.  Their primary failure was understanding the importance of motive in righteousness.  Their tendency was to stress the act, but ignore the motive—stressing externals while ignoring internals.

The challenge of being a righteous person involves balancing righteous motives with righteous acts.  To God, why something is done is as important as what is done.  This does not diminish the importance of obedience, but elevates the significance of one’s reason(s) for obeying.  To be righteous, the person was not in a “doing” contest with the Pharisees.  Instead, the person stressed the value and importance of motives.  The person understood that motives and obedient acts are equally important.

Suggestion for reflection: Consider your balance in stressing the act and the motive in seeking to be righteous.  (Read Luke 18:9-14.)

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