Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The Pharisees were a religious party of religious people. They are comparable to the Catholic orders today—Society of Jesus (Jesuits), Dominicans, Society of the Divine Word, etc.—very religious, very powerful, very influential. The Scribes were the scholars of the day. The Pharisees and Scribes followed the Law religiously to the last detail. They followed the Law to the letter. But they missed the spirit of the Law. They neglected the weightier matters of the Law.
Jesus says in Matt. 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. The mint, dill, and cumin are garden herbs used for seasoning. The Pharisees gave a tithe of mint, dill, and cumin. Brother Em, do you give a 10% of your “sili”? We all don’t give a tithe of our garden plants. But the Pharisees did.
That is how diligent they are in keeping the Law. But Jesus does NOT condemn it. What He condemns is that they are more concerned with the little things (mint, dill, and cumin) than with the big things—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In effect, they lacked justice, mercy, and faithfulness to others.
They also were more concerned with the outside than the inside. Matt. 23:25-28 says,
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus said that we must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. We surpass their righteousness both in belief and behavior. We surpass their righteousness in quality, not in quantity.
What do we do to gain a superior righteousness? First, understand God’s will in the Law as interpreted by Jesus. Then, obey God’s will in the Law as Jesus taught it.
God looks down and notices that Adam is all alone while all the animals have companions, so he decides to create a companion for man as well.
He comes to see Adam and says to him, “Adam, you are my greatest creation and therefore, I am going to create for you the ultimate companion. She will worship the very ground you walk on, she will long for you and no other, she will be highly intelligent, she will wait on you hand and foot and obey your every command, she will be beautiful, and all it will cost you is an arm and a leg.”
Thinking for a few moments, Adam replies, “What could I get for a rib?”
The Law reflects the character of God. As we obey God’s will in the Law as interpreted by Jesus, we copy the character of God in the Law. As we copy God’s character in the Law, we copy His righteousness. God is the standard of righteousness.
As we obey God’s will in the Law as taught by Jesus, we practice the true spirit of the Law—the character of God. As we practice the spirit of the Law, we reflect God’s righteousness. This righteousness is superior to the Pharisees.
But this righteousness is yours only in Christ. If you receive Christ as your Savior, you receive His righteousness. God will give you a new heart to obey His Law. Come to Christ today.