Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 21, 1961
NUMBER 20, PAGE 7,10b,14b

The Righteousness Of The Scribes And Pharisees

John H. Tull, Grand Prairie, Texas

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or gone tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

For I say unto you, 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. 5:17-20)

In our study, we are particularly interested in verse 20. What did Jesus mean when he said that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? What does righteousness mean? Webster defines it, "The quality or state of being righteous. 2. a righteous act or quality. 3. The state or quality of being rightful or just." Righteousness is defined as "Doing, or according with, that which is right; equitable; esp., free from wrong or sin; virtuous."

Many members of the church, and even some preachers, reason thusly: tithing was a part of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees; our righteousness must exceed theirs; therefore we must give more than a tenth of our income. It is true that when the scribes and the Pharisees were tithing they were doing what was right in that regard.

They were giving to the Lord what was rightfully his — for, "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's,: it is holy unto the Lord." (Lev. 27:30) Verse 32 includes the tenth of the herds or flocks. Therefore, tithing was a part of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, but where, in the New Law, was tithing ever mentioned as being a part of our righteousness? Offering animal sacrifices was a part of their righteousness, but is not a part of our righteousness. This is, however, not intended to be a study on giving. Suffice it to say that tithing was not even under consideration when Jesus made this statement.

What, then, does it mean? This is stated as a; conclusion to something in the previous verses. If we break one of the least commandments of the law, and teach others so, we shall be called least in the kingdom, for our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Certainly, the commandments Jesus mentioned were those of the law of Moses, but whoever would break the least commandment of the law, and teach others so, would be of the disposition to break what he considered the least significant commandment of Christ, and teach men so. I think it can be safely concluded that if we do and teach even the least commandments of God, and do it because we love the Lord, at least in that respect, our righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, and more than this, we shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Let us turn our attention for a while to the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. It is evident from our text that the scribes and Pharisees were breaking some commandments of God. Matt. 15:3-6 tells us of one such instance. Some scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus concerning one of their traditions.

"But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother; and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."

They were doing as a good many of the brethren are doing today. They were taking that which should have gone toward the support of their aged parents and casting it into the treasury. I suppose they felt as some do today — let the church provide for our aged, so that the church might receive the glory. They never once thought about doing as God said so that God might be glorified. (I Peter 4:11)

Thus were they breaking a commandment of God. No wonder our righteousness must exceed theirs!

Now let us notice some things in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew. In verses 2 and 3, Jesus tells his disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees tell them to do, but do not after their works. Why? They say and do not. In verse 5, Jesus tells us that their works are done "to be seen of men." After listing several things the scribes and Pharisees were guilty of, Jesus says, "Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (verse 28) They strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel. (verse 24) In verse 23 Jesus said that they were very careful of the law. While the Pharisees attempted to follow the letter of this law in some respects, they omitted judgment, mercy, and faith. They were doing their works to be seen of men, and not because they loved God and their fellow man. It is evident from what Jesus said that we are to keep even the least commandment; and practice it to please God, and not to please man.

Notice another way in which they fell short of their righteousness. In Luke 16:15, Jesus in a parable told the Pharisees that they justified themselves before men. The Pharisee trusted in himself that he was righteous — he immediately told God how good he was. Wouldn't it be far better to be as the Publican, who recognized his sins and confessed them, thereby being justified in God's sight? But today men, even many members of the church, will connive to try to justify their awry actions in the sight of men and will completely ignore the condition of their hearts — thus they do not stand justified in God's sight. When confronted with something amiss in his own life, a person naturally tries to justify his actions. But we, as God's children, must overcome this tendency. We must recognize our own shortcomings and be merciful toward others who have shortcomings if we want God to be merciful toward us.

Notice some things in Matt. chapter 6. The hypocrites do their alms before, to be seen of men. They are not giving from the heart, but they desire the praise of men. The hypocrites love to pray long prayers to be seen of men. (verses 5-8) There is nothing wrong with long prayers, but these people were not communing with God — they were more interested in receiving the praise of men. The hypocrites disfigure their faces and appear before men with a sad countenance when they fast. Why? So men can see how much they are "suffering and sacrificing" for the Lord. Their motive however, is not to please God, but to be seen of men. (verses 16-18) Jesus said that these people have their reward. What is it? The praise of men!

In our, own age, we see people tell the preacher every time they do some good work. Jesus said for us to let our lights so shine before men that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:16) But many people are not interested in glorifying God, but in glorifying themselves. Therefore when they do some good work they want the public to know about it. We have all seen people from time to time who would "work their fingers to the bone" to do some good work, if they felt reasonably sure they would receive some praise from men; but if something were to be done "in secret," they would save that job for someone else. Jesus said these things were to be done "in secret," that is, as if no one else would ever know it, and God would reward us openly.

We know of no member of the church today who would disfigure his face when fasting so men would know he was fasting. But we do occasionally see people who always wear a long face and sad countenance. Jesus taught his disciples to wash their faces and anoint their heads, etc. — in other words, appear normal when fasting. Shouldn't we appear normal in everything we do? Is there any reason to wear a sad countenance all the time? Isn't it possible to live a godly life, and still show the world we enjoy living it? We, of all people, should be happy! Why? Because our sins have been washed away; (Acts 22:16 and 2:38) we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people. (1 Peter 2:9) We have the promise of eternal life (Romans 6:23) if we are faithful unto death; (Rev. 2:16) we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1) and a mediator to plead our case. (1 Tim. 2:5) We should be the happiest people in the world! Do not misunderstand. I do not say we should enjoy sin, neither the ways of the world. John says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world ...." (1 John 2:15) Yes, we can enjoy a godly life. Let's not disfigure our faces to make the world think that we are sacrificing every joy — let's show the world that we have a reason to be happy.

Finally, let's do our good works because we love God and love our fellow men, and in order that those who witness the good works will glorify God. (Matt. 5:16) Let's not be as the Pharisees were of olden times and do our good deeds in order to receive the praise of men, for if we do, that is the only reward we will get. Jesus called them hypocrites. (Matt. 23:13) If we do not want Jesus to call us hypocrites, then we must not practice the things they practiced. Let us do as Peter suggested in 1 Peter 1:22 — love one another with a pure heart — an unfeigned or un-hypocritical love. When our lives are motivated by a sincere love for God and a sincere love for the souls of men and women, then we will do our good deeds, not to receive the praise of men, but to glorify God and in so doing we will receive the praise of God, and he will reward us openly. May God help us to love one another with a pure heart fervently and to glorify him in everything we do. Amen.