Double IdentityPosted on 30 Jul 2012, by Kingdom-Life Disciples: Virtues, Values & Valour in
Six Ethical Test-Cases—Matthew 5:17-48
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law adhered strictly to outward standards of religiosity, e.g., in fasting, tithing, and praying, according to the rules that they had instituted as law. However, Jesus countered their faulty thinking with the key verse in 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In Matt 5:17-48, Jesus is calling His disciples to an inner righteousness, as opposed to outer righteousness based on rules and regulations. Using six case studies, Jesus lays down the New Testament ethic of virtue (character) and deontology (principle) that flow from a life of inner righteousness. Matthew 5:21-48 challenges the reader to an inward transformation of heart, as opposed to the religiosity of keeping the law without the spirit of the law.
The six antitheses reinforced Jesus’ teaching that inner righteousness in the heart of a person matters more than external conformity to laws and regulations. The condition of the heart – one’s thoughts, motives, and attitudes – is the state of one’s moral being and determines one’s external behaviors. Hence, while his listeners were exhorted to pursue godly virtues, Jesus also cautioned against opposing mindsets, attitudes and practices. In the context of the gospel of Matthew, these are represented in the persons of the Pharisees and scribes.