I just finished listening to a sermon by RC Sproul in which he challenges us to be as righteous as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were roundly criticized by Jesus, but they did do some things right. Consider
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. … 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
The Pharisees made long prayers. Now, they did it for “pretense”, but they prayed regularly. How’s _your_ prayer life? Are you doing even as well as a Pharisee?
The Pharisees travelled across “sea and land to make one proselyte” and then discipled that proselyte. They made him a child of hell, but they were evangelistic. Do you support missions? Do you regularly share the gospel? Are you doing as well as a Pharisee?
The Pharisees tithed on even the smallest herbs. They did omit the “weightier matters”, but they were faithful in tithing, and Christ said that was good. Do you tithe? Are you as righteous as a Pharisee?
The Pharisees “[built] the tombs of the prophets, and garnish[ed] the sepulchres of the righteous”. Do we show the same concern for the house of God? I know that God is not worshipped only in the church building, and the building is not the church, but the sanctuary is used for a sacred purpose and I believe should be regarded as special. Do we respect the house of God as much as a Pharisee?
The Pharisees were whitewashed tombs, beautiful and clean on the outside, but full of wickedness on the inside. Are we even clean on the outside?
Christ said that the problem with the Pharisees is that they were faithful in the small, external, outer things, and they neglected the inward and weightier matters such as judgment, mercy, and faith.
One could argue that we Christians have the opposite problem – we get the weighty matters right, but miss the minor points. Jesus, however, said “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10) That pretty much blows that argument out of the water, doesn’t it?
The Pharisees were “the separated ones”. They sought righteousness. Many of them missed it, and wound up with self-righteousness and hypocritical, external obedience. But they tried to be separate, they tried to be righteous. God calls us today “Come out from among them, and be ye separate”. He tells us to let our light shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
How is it that the self-righteous legalistic Pharisees who crucified our Lord, were arguably more sanctified than the blood bought saints of God? They carried the heavy burden of legalism. We have Christ’s light yoke. We are adopted as sons, by grace through faith plus nothing. And yet the Pharisees were more faithful than we are.
Do we really think that Christ saved us so we could be _less_ obedient than the Pharisees? Are we, under grace and grateful for the sacrifice of Christ, somehow _less_ obligated to obey God than the Pharisees?
Here’s something else to chew on:
5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
5:20 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.
Christ emphasizes that even the _least_ commandments are vitally important. Want to be least in the kingdom of heaven? Break even some of the little matters of the law, and tell others that’s OK. Not the big stuff like justice and mercy, but the little stuff. Like tithing.
It can be argued that our righteousness _does_ exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, since we have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, but that does not seem to be the sense of verse 20. He seems to be speaking of our own sanctification. Not only are we responsible for the tiny little outward matters (tithing, prayer, evangelism, outward righteousness), which the Pharisees could do – we’re also responsible for those weightier matters like mercy, judgment, and faith. And _that_ is the righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.