When we elevate our view of the requirements of our faith over loving as Christ commands, we are putting religion over righteousness.
Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.
Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.
He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)
Thank goodness Jesus Christ went out into the crowds to express His love for mankind.
While we do have passages in scripture that record that Jesus taught in the synagogue, most of His ministry was spent out in the world.
Much of Christ’s teaching during the last 3 years He was on earth was done out in the countryside. Christ’s miracles were mostly performed in the public square and in the midst of his travels from town to town.
The miracle Christ performed in today’s passage is an exception to this generality. This miracle, Jesus chose to perform in the synagogue, in full view of the those who despised Him – the Pharisees.
Why did the Pharisees despise Jesus so? Because He was upsetting their carefully constructed system of religion. They had gotten used to putting religion over righteousness, and Jesus exposed this by showing us a better way.
Putting Religion Over Truth
This was but one of many occasions where Jesus gave the Pharisees and teachers of the law their comeuppance. Not because he was itching for a debate, but because they were itching to put Jesus in a box. Or perhaps more accurately, put Him out of theirs.
We find many examples in scripture where the Pharisees and others attempted to thwart Jesus with the law, only to have Jesus expose them with the heart of the law.
This is exactly what Jesus was doing in today’s passage by making a simple point. The Sabbath was not an excuse for refusing to help others. But the Pharisees, who were putting religion over righteousness, used the Sabbath and other parts of the law as a bludgeon over the people. No wonder Jesus told everyone that His burden was light when compared to the rigid religiosity of the Pharisees.
Legalistic thinking will always attempt to discredit others in the name of the truth. But legalism is actually putting religion above truth. The truth is found in Jesus Christ, not in religious systems or rules.
Putting Righteousness Over Religion
In the same passage Jesus tells us that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, He warns us that our righteousness must be greater than the Pharisees to see the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). What does this mean?
For the next several sections afterwards, in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us examples of what He means. Taking selections from the Law, Jesus tells us what was formerly said, and then He gives a new interpretation. It is an interpretation that simultaneously makes the commands more narrowly defined, while at the same time elevating them.
Rather than putting religion over righteousness, Jesus puts righteousness over religion. By saying “but I say”, Jesus is making it clear that these are now His commands in the New Covenant. Commands that, as was promised by the Old Testament prophets, would now be written on men’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Are We Putting Religion Over Righteousness?
Reading this passage, understanding the vitriol the Pharisees held for Jesus Christ, it’s a little easier for us to see that they were wrong in opposing Christ. But in what way exactly were they opposing Him?
They clearly recognized the authority and the wisdom with which Christ taught. We are given multiple places in the Bible where the Pharisees and like-minded religious people were stunned into silence by Christ’s statements. So why oppose Him?
These people had invested their lifetimes in their religion, for generations. Religion had such a monolithic hold on the Pharisees and teachers of the law that they couldn’t allow themselves a chance to consider they might be putting religion over righteousness.
Many of us in the church today can point to a family legacy of being churchgoers, with many tied to a particular denomination and its particular views. That doesn’t mean we’re Pharisees, but do we need to check ourselves to make sure we’re not putting religion over righteousness?
Do we withhold neighborly love for others to whom we hold in condemnation (or believe God holds in condemnation)?
Anyone without Christ stands condemned already (John 3:18). It’s a state in which all of us were in at some point, until Christ called out to us through His people. What if that person or persons had decided their “faith” meant they should not show you love because of your lifestyle or viewpoints?
Let’s be a people of righteousness, not religion. When followers of Christ love others to great lengths, it opens the door to the gospel.
The Pharisees let their religion blind themselves to the Kingdom of Heaven. Let’s examine ourselves to ensure we don’t do the same.
More Bible verses about putting religion over righteousness:
Psalm 15:1-5; Habakkuk 2:4; Matthew 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 3:4-6; Galatians 5:2-6; Titus 3:4-7; James 1:26-27