By the time we get to Matthew 5:20 we are not that far into Jesus’ sermon. Yet, it seems he has already turned our world upside down. He has instructed us on the proper temperament and disposition we are to have. He has informed us that we actually have reason to rejoice when we are persecuted. He has affirmed us by calling us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He has let us know that He has not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. However, He has still not given us a clear command, whether prescriptive or proscriptive. That is about to change.
Before Jesus finally hands us His first commandment He warns us that the only way that we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven is to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). Perhaps that does not sound that bad to us. The Pharisees are universally known among believers today to have been religious hypocrites. But to the hearers of Jesus’ sermon Jesus’ statement was most likely quite challenging. While many of Jesus’ hearers would have certainly recognized some hypocrisy within the religious elite, the scribes and Pharisees were still considered to be the most devout believers in the land. Their religious zeal could get carried away, but their intentions would have seemed to have been well placed to some and their effort was quite impressive to nearly all. How would one expect to surpass the righteousness of these devoted Jews?
Jesus goes on to explain. The scribes and Pharisees had been diligent in telling them about the proscriptive commandment on murder. Now he was going to tell them something more. It was not enough to simply keep from murdering someone. We must, in fact, guard our heart against feeling any sort of reproach against another person. This is challenging! And Jesus goes on to bring home the conclusion of the matter and give us His first commandment. If we remember that a brother has something against us we must stop what we are doing, even if it is an act of worship, and go and “first be reconciled” to him (5:24). So, we have finally arrived at the first command given by Jesus in the Bible: Go reconcile your relationships.
Our relationships with one another directly correlate with our relationship with God. There is a pattern in the world for how we navigate our relationships, but for us that pattern has disappeared in light of our relationship with God. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 Paul says it this way:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.