Pharisee indicates "separatist," one who is separate from others in the world. About 200 years before Christ, the Pharisees seem to have arisen as a brotherhood with a sincere desire to resist the secularism into which Judaism had drifted. As the years went by, however, they added a great deal to God's written law and rejected counterbalancing commands also given in the Old Covenant—even such commands as those which appear in Leviticus 19, such as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
They then compounded this rejection with a vain sense of self-righteous superiority that in many cases excluded any contact with people of another ethnicity, and they even brought violence against other Jewish people who disagreed—as the apostle Paul's pre-conversion conduct shows. Paul was "a Pharisee of the Pharisees," and he went around throwing people into prison and, indeed, he may have even consented to the martyrdom of Stephen.
All this made these "separatists" very unattractive witnesses; they were in reality an embodiment of a rejection of God's intention of what a witness should be. Our witness does not have to bring about the conversion of others to be effective, because conversion is in God's hands anyway. However, it still has to be right, and being right in this requires personal sacrifices.
Being right—in addition to keeping God's commands—means being humble, modest, kindhearted, concerned, sympathetic, empathetic, helpful, warmhearted, friendly, gracious, serving, giving, charitable, open, hospitable, cordial, thoughtful, considerate, sensitive, cooperative, and on and on. One must do all of these things, while knowing full well that there is a line of separation across which we cannot allow ourselves to wander in our relationships with those as yet uncalled.
This is quite a plateful, but these are qualities that make God's way engaging and an attractive witness. God's involvement in our lives should give us freedom, as well as security against our fears of living and being this way. When combined with the keeping of God's commandments, it will produce quite a witness and go a long way toward keeping us clean—because we will be using God's Word as He intends.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part 2)
Jesus magnified God's law while on earth. In His Sermon on the Mount, He paraphrased six Old Testament laws or principles, giving their intended meanings. Tithing, however, was not generally questioned at the time; it was not a theological issue like circumcision and the eating of meats sacrificed in an idol's temple. The New Testament expounds Old Testament principles and laws, and Jesus specifically says He did not come to invalidate them. No New Testament passage rescinds the tithing law. Quite the opposite, Jesus upholds the principle in His denunciation of the self-righteous Pharisees in Matthew 23:23.
Martin G. Collins
Tithing: First Tithe
By a careful reading of what Jesus says here, we can see that He was not speaking about whether God considers breaking these lesser laws to be sin—He does—but about how our keeping of God's law affects our future position in His Kingdom. Transgressing any commandment—even the least of them—can reduce our reward in the Kingdom. On the other hand, if we are faithful to God's Word and teach it, our reward will be great!
Martin G. Collins
Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?
The letter of the law that the Pharisees tried to keep was not enough—especially for us. We have to exceed the letter of the law. Here, Jesus was so specific about the continuance of the law from the Old Covenant to the New that He referred to the smallest punctuation and pronunciation marks contained in the written law, the "jot and tittle."
Most modern theology discards the letter in favor of the spirit, but one extreme is as bad as the other. The true Christian needs both the written letter of the law as well as its spirit to keep it properly.
To keep God's law properly, we have to learn to recognize the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law means God's original intent or purpose behind each law.
When God designed the Sabbath, for example, He intended it to be a blessing to human beings. He designed it to be a refreshing rest and an opportunity both to recuperate physically after six days of work and to draw close to Him in love and to worship Him, as well as to deepen love for the brethren through fellowship and outgoing concern.
Jesus knew the spirit of the Sabbath commandment. Therefore, He knew that the split second of divine effort involved in healing was a valid use of time on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12). Because of Jesus' insight into the divine purpose behind the Sabbath, He freed the crippled worshipper of his burden. He experienced a wonderful and exciting blessing because Jesus understood the spirit of the law. God's law is always a blessing to those who recognize the spirit of the law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Not only does Jesus, our Savior, emphatically proclaim that He was not doing away with portions of God's Word (the Old Testament), but He also specifically charges us to keep the commandments and teach them. Yet, men ignore this and say that keeping the commandments is no longer necessary. Are we going to believe Jesus or those who contradict what He says?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required to Do Works? (Part One)
Jesus is saying, in plain language, that His teaching does not contradict the Old Covenant law, but it is the ultimate fulfillment of its spiritual intent. Even in the smallest matter, the smallest statement—the jot and the tittle—the law must be fulfilled.
Notice where His statement appears. Matthew places it immediately after Jesus' exhortation, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16). What if our works are good? Are we supposed to hide them? Then comes His statement regarding law. Is there a connection between good works and keeping the law? One would have to be quite obstinate to believe there is no connection between them. It is obvious that He is connecting good works with lawkeeping.
To strengthen the argument, He mentions righteousness in verse 20. What is the Bible's definition of righteousness? Psalm 119:172: "All Your commandments are righteousness." Thus, sandwiched between righteousness and letting one's light shine comes an explanation that He did not come to do away with the law but to fill it to the full, to help us understand its ultimate application—its spiritual intent.
Is it possible to keep the law in its spirit without also keeping it in the letter? It cannot be done. One must first keep it in the letter before learning how to keep its spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 14)
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus Christ mentions "the least commandment." It is parallel to verse 18 where it says, "not one jot or one tittle," the least things that are part of the law of God. Using this principle, consider that there can be no doubt that, of all the Ten Commandments held in respect and honor by the people of the world, the Sabbath commandment is the least of the ten. It is the least in terms of the world's regard and respect when compared with the other nine.
The Catholic Church thinks so little of it that it believes it has the authority to disregard it altogether. Even though officially admitting that the day is commanded in the Bible, the Catholic Church thinks it has the authority to change it. The Protestant churches' justification is to argue around it on twisted technical, legal grounds, but they ultimately reduce it to being merely ceremonial in nature.
Now we must add James 2:8 to our thinking. The fourth commandment is just as much a part of the royal law, the Ten Commandments. If not one jot or tittle, not even the least commandment, is done away until everything is fulfilled, the conclusion has to be that the Sabbath is still in effect—regardless of what men say—and to break it is immoral. It is just as immoral as adultery or fornication, lust, or lying.
The world does not think of immorality in terms of the Sabbath commandment, nor in terms of breaking the first, the second, the third, or the fourth commandment. How many people in the church think of breaking the fourth commandment in terms of immorality? Nevertheless, it is immoral to break the forth commandment.
James also refers to the royal law as being the law of liberty. Clearly, if people keep the seventh commandment, it keeps the world free from adultery and fornication. If people keep the eighth commandment, it keeps the world free of stealing. If people keep the ninth commandment, it keeps the world free of deceit. Keeping God's commandments keeps people free. If one keeps the Sabbath, like the other commandments, it leads to freedom. It produces freedom. God's is a law that liberates.
In our carnality, human nature tends to make us think that keeping the Sabbath constrains us, holds us in, and keeps us from doing things. In some cases, we feel almost imprisoned by it. That is human nature's thinking, not God's thinking. It helps us to understand what our thinking has to become. The Sabbath is a day, the breaking of which is immoral, the keeping of which will produce liberty.
There was a time that a group of people, the Pharisees, contrary to most of the rest of the world, believed that the keeping of the Sabbath was the most important of the commandments. They produced hundreds of laws in a vain attempt to try to keep people from breaking it, but they missed the point altogether. Because they understood Ezekiel 20, and other sections of the Bible as well, they knew that a reason for the Jews' captivity was Sabbath-breaking. So the reforms that were begun under Ezra were taken to radical extremes by people after he died. Their conclusions, though begun with good intentions, were worldly, and their keeping of the Sabbath, in that way, was just as wrong as the liberal tendencies that most of the world has toward the Sabbath.
Neither the Pharisees nor most of the people who have lived on this planet have ever grasped God's intent for the Sabbath. Because so much of this world's thinking carries right on into the church, some of us are thinking in much the same way the world does.
The Ten Commandments are a unity. To break one breaks them all, regardless of what level men think each commandment is on. To break the fourth commandment makes us just as guilty and worthy of death as breaking any of the others. This is where we have to begin. This is not a commandment that can be just shoved aside; it cannot be taken for granted any more than any of the other nine. God's intent for it is very important to our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 5:19:
1 Corinthians 2:2