The Righteousness Of The Pharisees
In his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). The word exceed means: "to go beyond, to surpass, to excel, etc. Therefore, Jesus is saying that our righteousness must go beyond, or surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees, if we want to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said much about the Pharisees in his teaching. We will look at some of his teaching about them.
The Pharisees Were Fault Finders.
Throughout the Bible, we are taught that we should love our neighbors (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Paul said, "if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). When Peter sinned, Paul "withstood him to the face" (Gal. 2:11) and rebuked him. But, the Pharisees were not concerned about helping anyone, but they "had developed a harsh, bitter, faultfinding spirit that looks on the ill side of a person and seeks to find evil in others so they can find fault," (H. Leo Boles) while they themselves were filled with all kinds of sins (Matt. 7:3-5).
If our righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, we must not be harsh, bitter, faultfinders. Let us go about our God-given responsibility to do all that is necessary to restore our brethren to the Bible, and to exhort others to return to the Bible with the attitude of love and the desire to do good without becoming a modern Pharisee.
The Pharisees Followed Tradition.
The Pharisees believed that after God gave Moses the law, Moses explained certain portions of the law to the fathers, and these explanations were passed on by the fathers, and were just as binding as the law of God.
In Mark the seventh chapter, the scribes and Pharisees went to Jesus to complain about his disciples eating with unwashed hands, thereby breaking a tradition of the elders. Jesus replied, "Well hath Esaias (Isaiah) prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition" (Mk. 7:6, 7, 9).
Although Jesus said our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, religious people today are still following tradition. The Catholics teach that the tradition of their fathers is just as binding as the scriptures. Protestants, who in times past protested the teaching of the Catholic church, follow the teaching of the Catholic fathers in the use of instrumental music, special religious days, etc. But what is shocking, many brethren appeal to tradition in order to try to prove that their many schemes are approved by God. If God condemned the Pharisees for following tradition, will he not also condemn us?
They Loved The Praise Of Men.
The Pharisees changed their clothing so that people could recognize them; they loved "the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues;" they loved titles of distinction (Matt. 23:5-9); they did their works to be seen of men (Matt. 6:1-6).
Have things changed? I think not! Today, we see "clergy" in gowns, turned up collars; we see men wearing the title Reverend, Father, Doctor, etc.; we see the clergy desiring the places of distinction in society, contrary to our Lords teaching (Matt. 23:5-9). Many are saying, "Look at me; look at what 'I' am doing," rather than exalting the Son of the Living God. Are we exceeding the righteousness of the Pharisees?
They Said. . . Did Not.
The Pharisees were men who knew and taught the Law of God, but they did not observe their own teaching (Matt. 23:3). They bound "heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move of their fingers." (Matt. 23:4).
We teach people to love God with all of their being, and yet we worship God when we feel like it; we teach people to love their brethren, and yet we have malice in our heart toward our brethren; we teach people to help the sick, yet we won't even visit a sick brother or sister; we teach that the primary work of the church is preaching the Gospel, yet we will not tell our love ones the unsearchable riches of Christ. Are we any different than the Pharisees, when we do this?
They Omitted The Weightier Matters Of The Law.
The Pharisees were very careful to pay tithe of the smallest plants, which the Lord said they ought to have done, however, they "omitted the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith" (Matt. 23:23). They eliminated God's law which commanded children to provide for their parents (Mk. 7:10-13); moreover, they devoured widows houses (Matt. 23:14), and they still believed that they could please God by their attention to tithing, keeping the Sabbath, etc.
We must learn that we cannot omit mercy, judgment, and faith if our righteousness will exceed that of the Pharisees. Some of our brethren will put their parents in a home, children into institutions and demand the church pay the bill, but will not open their homes to one child. Let us be careful to obey all of the law of Christ.
In conclusion, our soul salvation depends on our righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the Pharisees. Let's not be guilty of following in their footsteps when we ought to be following in the footsteps of Jesus.
— 820 Lake Street, Hobart, Indiana