Chapter: Matthew 5
Key verse: For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20
Big idea: The reign of Jesus the King is not on the surface but in the heart.
What does it take to be good enough? The Pharisees were professional do-gooders. They not only kept the Old Testament but added hundreds of additional requirements through their oral law. They were continually making displays of righteousness with scrupulous obedience, public prayers, and acts of charity. Yet, in the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (which will continue through chapter 7), Jesus told His disciples that it was not enough. If their righteousness did not go beyond the purity of the scribes and the Pharisees, they could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
How could their righteousness go beyond people like that? Obviously not by doing more good things than they did. Their righteousness did not need to be broader but deeper. Through the beatitudes at the beginning of the chapter, Jesus taught His disciples that they could not just make minor adjustments to the way everyone else lived; their entire value system needed flipping upside down. If they hated, their heart was the heart of a murderer. If they lusted, their heart was the heart of an adulterer. Simple external obedience was not enough. The only righteousness that matters to God is the righteousness that goes all the way to the heart.
It goes beyond, “thou shalt not.” Our vows (whether the marriage covenant or our ordinary life) should not be about looking for technicalities, but a basic posture of honesty that needs to elaborate justification. We should be quick to go the extra mile, even to the point of loving our enemies. If you want to make a superficial change in society, this is overkill. But if the people Jesus was calling were going to be salt to preserve the world and light to guide it, they would need to go beyond the typical ideas of holiness. I can apologize to my wife while fuming on the inside, and maybe even convince her that I am genuinely sorry. But the benefits to our relationship would be short-lived because my heart would eventually leak out. I can fool people, but never God. The reign of Jesus is so complete that it must touch every part of us. Accept no substitutes.
Discussion idea: Why is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons an especially dangerous form of temptation? How is heart-centered righteousness greater than external obedience?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to reveal an opportunity to go the extra mile and serve someone beyond any outward expectation.