True Righteousness

By Tony Ripley

The Pharisees, even though they were of the strictest sect of the Law, were people of external and artificial righteousness. The priests were certainly more indicative of this in that they paraded their celebrated phylacteries, their great affluent cloaks, as well as their regal words of wisdom. A good Pharisee was one that paid strict attention to outward conduct. (For you never knew who might be watching you!) A good example of such an attitude is found in Luke 18:1Of. In this passage we see a contrast between two men: one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee held true to the stereo-typical characteristics of his own class and kind as we notice in verse 11. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Such arrogance and self-centeredness were typical of the genuine Pharisee character.

In Matthew 15:1-20 Jesus rebuked this sect for their vain reasoning. They were worried so much more about outward cleanliness that they had totally disregarded inward cleansing. Jesus said, “But the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, railings: these are the things which defile the man” (vv. 18-20). Jesus was concerned with the righteousness that men were seeking. He pointed out that man should be more interested in the motive and intent of the heart rather than what others might think of him. Notice the Beatitudes that Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5. He shows us attitudes completely opposite to the world’s standards today. Listen!

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus . . . God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are… And the publican … smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner…” (Lk. 18:11,13).

These virtues were of such caliber that external shows and parades did little good, for these were attitudes of the heart. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This shows us that man needs more than food for the outward body which quickly perishes (2 Cor. 4:16), but that he must have food for the inward man as well.

Again in Luke 18:13f Jesus praises a publican, not for what he was outwardly, but for what he really was inwardly. Notice his statement: “But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God be thou merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

Our attitudes need special attention and care at all times. In word and deed we want our lips to match our hearts. The old expressions, “think before you speak” and “think before you act,” are really good bits of advice. We should evaluate our motives before bearing information about another. We should examine our intent prior to carrying out a certain act regardless of whether or not it looks good to the public. For we seek to please God not men. Let’s be careful that the righteousness that we’re seeking is not an external, artificial, ephemeral type of justification that appeals only to the world’s eye. For Jesus exclaimed, “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 4, p. 23
February 18, 1993