Christian Righteousness (Matthew 5:17-37)

Published on Wednesday, 15 November 2017 05:30
One issue that arose with the public ministry of the Saviour was what he taught about the law of God. It is obvious from the Gospel accounts that scribes and the Pharisees did not think that Jesus honoured the law. It is obvious too that Jesus did not think that they kept it. So there was a clear difference between them in that regard.

Jesus made it very clear from the onset of his public ministry that he had a very high regard for the law. We can see at least five features of his teaching. 

First, he taught that it was a permanent feature of the way God deals with his creatures wherever they are. 

Second, he regarded it as a whole and no one was allowed to take away commands that were difficult to obey. 

Third, he said that there were degrees of importance, with some of them called ‘least’; yet although there were degrees, obedience to the least was required. 

Fourth, the standard of obedience for his disciples was total commitment (he used the standard of the scribes and Pharisees, which was regarded by the public as very high, and said that his disciples would have greater obedience to the law of God). 

Fifth, no one should be a teacher of the law if he does not obey it himself (we can see the relevance of this requirement to those he was teaching to become apostles and leaders of his church).

The Saviour told his disciples that his role was to bring the law to a state of fulfilment. At a basic level of interpretation, this means that since Jesus has come the law can be understood better and obeyed more fully. It means that some details that were connected to it previously would not be needed now that a higher level had been reached in God’s plan. The higher level would take place because the law would be written on the hearts and minds of disciples rather than being an external set of instructions and rules.

Jesus then proceeds to give several examples of how his followers should obey the law. Among them, he mentions the importance of relationships, of inner attitudes, of revenge, of compassion, of inner sins, and of the use of the tongue. There are connected matters as well, such as how one responds to the authorities when they force a disciple to carry a load. So we will consider them briefly in the next few readings. 

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