Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

Image The Pharisees were a sect of Jews during the time of Jesus known for a strict adherence to the Law of Moses. The name means “separatists”, and the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes that they were, “those who carefully kept themselves from any legal contamination, distinguishing themselves by their care in such matters from the common people, … who had fewer scruples.”

The scrupulosity of the Pharisee is acknowledged by the Lord in Matthew 23:23, when in speaking with them he said, “For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin…” Earlier in the chapter, He told his disciples “whatever they [the Pharisees] tell you to observe, that observe and do.”

However, it is wrong to think that the Lord was pleased with the relative righteousness of the Pharisees. In verse 23, after noting how careful they were to tithe even the smallest of possessions, he told them that they “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” In his instructions to the disciples, after telling them to observe and do what the Pharisees told them to do, he then said, “but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”

In fact, the entire 23rd chapter is a condemnation of both the excesses, and spiritual deficiencies of that sect. In that chapter he notes their binding of man made traditions (4); their disobedience (3,4); their improper motivation (5-7); their pride (12); their avarice and pretense (14); their hypocrisy (13,15); their foolishness (24); their lawlessness (27-28); their self-righteousness (29-30), and their persecution of the righteous (34-35). Jesus certainly was not enamored with the sect. In Matthew 5:20 He told His disciples, “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.”

It is interesting that today any individual who is scrupulous in his desire to keep God’s commandments is considered by some to be “pharisaical.” The word pharisaical is defined by Webster as “marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness.” Note that the condemnation of the Pharisee by the Lord was not because of their attempts to be righteous, but because of their failure in their effort.

Many religious people today think that Jesus would be more at ease among the unrighteous than he would among the religious. This is a false dichotomy. To be religious is not necessarily to be righteous. There are plenty of religious, unrighteous people — people just like the Pharisees. However, consider that Jesus did not eat with “tax collectors and sinners” (cf. Mark 2:16) because he approved of them, but because He came to earth to call sinners to repentance (cf. Mark 2:17). Jesus is not comfortable with any unrighteous person, whether he is found in a cathedral or a bar. He calls all who are unrighteous to repent (cf. Luke 13:3).

To be truly righteous is to do the will of God. If you do so you will be falsely accused of being a Pharisee. When you call others to righteousness, you will be reviled as a proselytizer. However, unless you live righteously before the Lord, “you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Sobering words indeed.