Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, was once asked if she had ever considered divorce.
She replied, “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.”
It is a funny reply, but some people actually use a standard like that to measure their own righteousness. They think as long as they do not actually kill their mate, maybe they are good enough to get into heaven. But as we are going to see this week, God has a far higher standard than we do, and understanding His standard is necessary not only to make it into the kingdom of God but also to live with the benefits of the kingdom of God right now.
In Matthew 5, Jesus began His most famous sermon by outlining the benefits of living according to His standard. We call those benefits the Beatitudes. Jesus then said when we live according to His standard, we can be effective as salt and light in this dark and decaying world.
Now we have arrived at the application part of His sermon. How does Jesus’s standard apply to every part of our lives, including our relationships?
Verse 20 says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus was saying to His followers, “You have to exceed the bar set by the Pharisees.” The audience would have gasped at that. They thought the Pharisees were the holiest of all God’s people. The Pharisees were strict adherents of the Old Testament law, and they added thousands of regulations on top of the commands in Scripture. They made it nearly impossible for anybody to obey their standard. Yet Jesus said even that standard was not enough.
Jesus said the real standard of righteousness is not only your external behavior but also your internal feelings–the attitudes that fuel your outward behavior. That was the problem with the Pharisees. They had manufactured this external standard of righteousness, which they were fairly good at keeping, but Jesus said they were like dishes that are clean on the outside but dirty on the inside (23:26). Jesus has a completely different standard.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Straight Talk About Your Relationships” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2022.
Ruth Graham, as quoted in Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, “Ruth Graham, Soulmate to Billy, Dies,” Time, June 14, 2007, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1633197,00.html.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org