Robert Griffith | 29 November 2023
Robert Griffith
29 November 2023

 

During the time of Jesus, Israel was deeply focused on pursuing righteousness. The leaders of the nation emphasised that following the law of Moses was the greatest (and possibly the only) way to become righteous. The teachers of the law viewed it as being so vital to the survival of the nation that it was surrounded by a complex web of supplemental regulations designed to keep people safe from breaching the law. These additional laws were deemed so crucial that they were incorporated into God’s Law. Thus, hundreds of additional rules were layered on top of the general principles of love for God and humanity.

Jesus saw these extra requirements as failing in their purpose. He did not hesitate to encourage people not to make the scribes and experts in the law their benchmark for righteousness. For Him, righteousness had more to do with a person’s relationship with God than conformity to a long list of rules. He pointed out that obedience to a rule fell a long way short of what God desired.

The righteousness which Jesus commended excelled that of Israel’s pastors. They promoted morality with the least amount of work. It was an ethic of the lowest calibre. Through it, a person who met all the requirements may gain the respect of his community while harbouring hatred and jealousy within. True, he hadn’t killed anyone. However, no court would find him guilty of harbouring hostile thoughts.

Regarding adultery, the same may be stated. If a man has avoided going into his neighbour’s wife’s bedroom, he may be declared righteous by his peers.  He would never be found guilty in court for considering it many times.  Jesus’ exceptional righteousness asks how totally, tenderly, and joyfully a man or woman has served God – not how flimsily or superficially.

There is no more striking example of Jesus’ teachings on this topic than His surprising commandment, “Love your enemies.”  This morality is too complex to be encapsulated in a written or spoken directive. It transcends logic. It goes above and beyond what is required of one or requested. It surpasses the well-known adage, “One good turn deserves another.”

This righteousness beyond comparison, it is not the bare minimum. This is righteousness coming not from legislation but inspiration. Only the honing and polishing influence of God’s love can produce such a beautiful overflow of goodness. Goodness with resounding social benefits. May the love of God be shed abroad in your heart by the Spirit of Jesus.

Matthew 5:20  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”