Overflowing Righteousness

Jesus summons us to become “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” yet how can we emulate the perfect righteousness of God? His explanation is clear – By performing acts of mercy for others, especially our enemies. Self-sacrificial love is the heart of the Gospel and the essential nature of the merciful God. Was Jesus not the Messiah who submitted to an unjust death on our behalf when we were yet the “enemies of God”?

Performing acts of kindness is how we “fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” and achieve a level of righteousness that “exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.”

Rain - Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash
[Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash]

In the preceding clause, Jesus uses a Greek term meaning “
superabounding, overflowing.” He calls for the kind and amount of righteousness which is “more than” the righteousness of even the strictest religious interpretations and rituals. This is an impossible goal for us since we are imperfect and sinful - (Matthew 5:17-20).

Nevertheless, lavishing mercy on opponents and persecutors is not optional for his disciples but pivotal. It is what it means to take up the Cross and follow Jesus “wherever he leads,” even to places we would prefer not to go.

Despite the extreme difficulty, Jesus declared, “Therefore, you shall become perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The conjunction “therefore” connects the exhortation to what preceded it, namely, the summons for his followers to love their enemies. By doing so, we become “perfect as his heavenly Father” - (Matthew 5:43-48).

The paragraph in verses 43-48 concludes the larger literary unit that began with the declaration that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. What was in seed form under the Law came to fruition and fullness in his life and teachings, and what he required of his disciples exceeded the requirements of the Mosaic Law and the added “traditions of the elders.”

Unless our “righteousness superabounds more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees” how can we hope to enter the Kingdom of God? How do we acquire such overflowing righteousness?

His declaration concerning the “Law and Prophets” was followed by six examples of how “righteousness” would surpass that of the “Scribes and Pharisees.” Jesus did not simply state and reaffirm the statutes of the Law, he pierced through to their true intent, to the heart and spirit of the Law. This is especially so in how he instructed his disciples to treat others.

Jesus found in the law against murder the principle that one should not even harbor anger toward another. Hatred leads to bitterness and murder. Instead of just refusing to kill an opponent, we must seek reconciliation with anyone who offends us or is offended by us, and we must pray for our enemies and do good to them. “Overcome evil with good” - (Matthew 5:21-26, Romans 12:21).

Likewise, we must do more than just not commit adultery, lie, or murder. Life in his Kingdom demands something more than just following the letter of the Law. It is insufficient not to lie. We must become truth-tellers in every interaction with others.

Jesus turned the idea of an “eye for an eye” into the moral principle of “turning the other cheek.” He rejected the popular oral tradition that added the clause “and hates his enemy” to the original love commandment in the Book of Leviticus. Since the Law commanded love for fellow Israelites but omitted any mention of Gentiles, so the religious logic went, hatred of enemies is allowed - (Leviticus 19:18).

SHOWING MERCY


Jesus rejected that wrongheaded interpretation. Since the commandment of God prohibited any act of vengeance, the Law does not allow us to hate anyone, whether Jew, Gentile, friend, or foe.

The man conditioned to think as the sinful world does chooses to retaliate against anyone who acts against his interests. In contrast, his disciples are summoned to love their enemies, pray for everyone who abuses them, and do them only “good.”

Does God not send His rain on the just and the unjust, causing their crops to grow? This statement is derived from the final clause of Leviticus 19:18. After commanding Israel not to take vengeance, God stressed His identity: “I am Yahweh.” He shows mercy to the deserving and the undeserving. This is fundamental to His nature. He is the one who keeps His promises, the same God who “desires mercy, not sacrifice,” indeed, He rejoices in mercy and the merciful!

If we limit our love to friends and family, how are we any better than tax collectors, Gentiles, or the “Scribes and Pharisees”? We naturally love those who do us good, but loving our enemies and persecutors is against our sin-dominated natures.

L0ve is much more than an emotion or an abstract concept. It is demonstrated in concrete acts of mercy. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If thirsty, give him something to drink” - (Romans 12:20).

Cross at Twilight - Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
[Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash]

Jesus engaged in the greatest act of mercy when he “
gave his life as a ransom for many.” Included under the term “many” were his friends and “enemies” - “For if BEING ENEMIES we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” – (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:10, 12:20, 1 John 3:18).

Righteousness is not demonstrated by restraining ourselves from sinning. That is necessary but we attain “overflowing righteousness” by doing good to others and showing them mercy, especially our opponents and persecutors.

The simple command of Jesus to love our enemies demonstrates that there must be no hatred, violence, or desire for vengeance among his followers. Such attitudes and acts are incompatible with the death of Jesus. Through our love and deeds of mercy, our righteousness superabounds and overflows to meet the needs of others and manifests the nature of the all-merciful God in this sin-darkened world.



RELATED POSTS:
  • The Law and the Prophets - (Jesus came to fulfill all the things that were promised and foreshadowed in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Law and the Prophets)
  • The Narrow Road - (To follow Jesus wherever he goes necessitates a lifetime of self-denial and sacrificial service for others and a willingness to lose all for the Gospel)
  • Greatness in His Kingdom - (His disciple is called to engage in self-sacrificial service for others just as Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many – Mark 10:35-45)

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