Summary: How should we practice our faith in a way that honors God?
In the previous verses of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ emphasis on how the Scribes and Pharisees had failed to teach the whole and intended council of God. They had twisted the Scripture and replaced the righteousness of God with their own standards of righteousness. We saw that they clearly had seen that no one could keep the Law as literally written, at least no fallen man, that is. To this degree, they were correct. So Jesus seems to be harsh when He says that the righteousness he expects from us must exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes. So is Jesus’ comment that whosoever teaches someone to break the least of the Scripture will be called least. He does pronounce a blessing on those who teach and DO everything written in the Law. They will be called great. The problem is identifying if a single person will be great in the Kingdom of God apart from Jesus who both taught and kept the Word of God.
We think of one of the founders of the United Methodist Church, John Wesley, who believed one could achieve perfect sanctification in this life, that is to do and teach every single commandment with a perfect heart and motivation. He thought he found a handful after many years but had to soon scratch most of them off the roll of the perfect. It is important that he never included himself on that list.
We should have learned the lesson by this point that the only way we could stand complete is to stand complete in Jesus Christ and His righteousness. It is only by our identification with Him that we can stand in the presence of the Father.
In chapter 6, there is a shift in emphasis from the deficiency of the doctrine of the Pharisees to the deficiency of their practice. The first in theological terms is that the Pharisees who claimed to be orthodox were far from orthodox. The second which we will be discussing today is called “orthopraxy” or right practice. There is a third term called “orthopathos” or right passion or motivation. This was where the Scribes and Pharisees utterly failed.
Pharisaic Judaism was based upon three pillars. These pillars were alms (charitable giving), prayer, and fasting. To them, the practice of these things marked one out as a true Jew and assured that they were of the elect of God. In this they rightly understood that it took more than birthright in the Jewish nation to be saved. One was not saved or elected merely because they were physically a Jew. The Pharisees looked at other Jews who did not practice these three pillars as either apostate or ignorant rabble.
The Pharisees also believed in being a witness to the Gentiles as well as wayward Jews. They crossed land and sea to make proselytes of them. Part of this witness was their very public profession of their faith. They dressed and acted the part of witnesses. They stood out in the crowd. For this public display of faith, they were admired by other Jews. But they were also subject to ridicule from others for their stance.