Right-living that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Interesting, because the more I read about the Scribes and Pharisees the more it seems to suggest that they were the ones who were profoundly interested in righteousness. The Scribes were the professional students of religion, the men who gave their full time (kinda like professors in a theological seminary) to the study of the Scriptures. Their main objective was to define righteousness. And the Pharisees were those who accepted the teachings of the Scribes – their disciples who put their teachings into practice, aiming to achieve a life of righteousness.
It seems as if the Scribes and their disciples were motivated by the sole concern of achieving righteousness. They were well aware just how far and just how frequently God’s people had wandered from their covenant relationship with God and the resulting devastation that followed. The warnings of prophet after prophet continued to fall on deaf ears. Eventually God’s people faced devastating consequences and the one thing the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to ensure is that God’s people would never again have to experience such consequences.
And so the Scribes went to great length to develop an enormous body of law to define what was right and what was wrong. Here’s an example, the law says that men should not work on the Sabbath. If righteousness consists of obedience to the law then the law must be explicit. The question becomes, “What is work?” If conformity to the will of God is defined in terms of law, then one must know precisely when he is obeying the law and when he is breaking it. The Scribes and Pharisees did not leave anything to private judgment or to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They wanted a definition of what was right and what was wrong in every possible situation imaginable, in order to avoid another lapse in their covenant relationship with God. They ended up compiling a great mass of tradition in order to provide what they considered the necessary definition of righteousness as a way of protecting God’s people from falling into their idolatrous ways ever again.
Basically, they had decided that their only hope was to live in terms of law which to them required very specific details in order to cover all the possible bases so that a person, in any given situation, would know the “right” thing to do in order to stay within the boundaries of God’s will, since they were convinced that their salvation depended upon it.
And yet, it is precisely because of all their cleverly devised “rules and rituals” that they were able to “oath” themselves right out of responsibility, putting the emphasis on the object the oath is based upon rather than the oath itself. In shifting the weight to the object you are basing your oath upon and emphasizing the object’s perceived level of holiness as prime importance more so than the actual keeping of the oath (not to mention the loopholes created because of the detailed laws) one could even be released from such responsibilities as caring for your elderly parents (all in the name of righteous living).
What is the greater righteousness of the Kingdom that Jesus is teaching? Jesus cuts to the chase, and announces a way of living (found in the specific illustrations of righteousness in the SOTM) that is impossible in man’s estimation! Only a heart filled with God’s grace stands any real chance at all in the teachings that follow. And yet, that is what God has come to offer as Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand (“not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not carved on tablets of stone but on human hearts “ – 2 Cor 3:3).
Jesus has ascended to his rightful place! He is the King who sits on his throne, at the right-hand of God. He intercedes for us and He pours out His Spirit upon us in order that the reign of God may begin now (while only in part, but with the promise that one day in full). It is God’s reign in our life that results in this “greater righteousness” kind of living. Whether it’s the fruit of the Spirit or Jesus’ SOTM teachings…the kind of living visible to all (including yourself) is an actual indicator of the reality of God’s reign in your life. Knowing that Kingdom Living isn’t the result of human attempts or efforts frees us instead to offer our lives as living sacrifices so that God can do in us what is impossible for us to do ourselves. It’s worth pausing and contemplating the reality behind questions like, “How much of your life have you allowed God’s reign access to?” “Do areas exist that you are still holding onto, trying to work out on your own versus surrendering at the feet of Jesus, in order that His transformational work may flow freely in and out of your life?” “Are you even aware that some areas are of your own efforts versus the work of the Spirit?” “Do you know the difference?” : )
The righteousness which God requires is the righteousness of God’s Kingdom which God Himself imparts as He comes to rule within our lives! He has given us the Spirit as a deposit (a reality in part) for what will one day be a completed reality!
We would do well to spend some time looking at these very specific illustrations of the greater righteousness of Kingdom Living that Jesus has made available to all and is found in lives where God reigns freely!
Blessed to be a blessing through SOTM Living! : )