The surpassing righteousness of love

The truly righteous actions can’t be legislated.

Matthew 5:20 – “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”

Many of the scribes and the Pharisees were famous for abiding by the letter of the law in scrutinizing detail, yet they were guilty of disobeying the spirit of it.

Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law ​– ​justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”

They had become examples of legalistic rule-following; outwardly appearing to obey the law when in their hearts they were just as wicked as the vilest law-breakers whom they would condemn. Yeshua continually called them out for their hypocrisy, and this is what enraged them against him.

For Yeshua, outward actions should stem from the sincerity of the heart; it is not possible to make the heart right just by conducting some outward ritual. This is why it is impossible to legislate morality; it must be something that springs from a place of inward purity, not just outward conformity.

Not every Pharisee or scribe was wicked, and many ultimately came to faith in Messiah among the early believers, albeit struggling to understand how the law would apply to believers in Messiah, as is demonstrated in Acts 15. However, for Yeshua, of primary concern was regenerative work of God’s Spirit on the heart.

John 3:6-8 – “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. “The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

When the heart is right, the actions will be right. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees can only be surpassed when the actions that conform to the Word of God are sincere with no agenda or motivation for self-aggrandizement.

1 John 3:14, 16 – We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. … This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

If our true motivation is love for others, not just rule following to make ourselves look good, then we can be confident that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. When the Spirit of God is present in our lives, we can’t help but do things that benefit others, because God is love. And only when we act in truly loving ways towards others is when our righteousness surpasses that of the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. We can then see the kingdom, and others can see the kingdom in us. It is then that the kingdom of God is manifest in our lives.


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