Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
The Apostle Paul later wrote (2 Corinthians 10:12):
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
People aren't the standard, so what is it, that people want to compare themselves with people? It's never good to compare one's self or someone else with another person, whether it is someone apparently either worse or better. Both ways, there are pitfalls. I want to focus one direction, because the Pharisees thought they were better than other people. There is a common tendency to compare to people "worse."
One of the ways of comparison to "worse people" related to suffering. Someone suffered because he was worse than me, and whatever blessings I'm getting are because I'm better than that other person. In Luke 13, Jesus said, no, everyone is going to suffer if they don't repent. Job wasn't suffering because he was worse. The message of the rich man and Lazarus was, look, the worse one is in heaven and the better one opens his eyes in Hell. We could keep going.
As a whole, the Jews developed the idea that they were better than other people, so they were entitled to some special blessing. The Gentiles were uncircumcised, unlike them. They were chosen people and the others were not. Dietary restrictions didn't make Israel better than other nations, but they acted like it did. Peter didn't want to be seen eating what Gentiles ate, even though it was permitted by God.
"Legalism" comes up as a subject against others by evangelicals all the time. Legalism is salvation by works. Evangelicals use the term legalism in a broader sense, where if someone practices in a different or more strict way than them, they claim the standard or scruple is being added to scripture. Usually it relates to application of scripture. The Pharisees, however, were the prototypical legalists. Their face should be next to legalism in the dictionary, and what did the Pharisees do?
The Pharisees would add to the law their own traditions, it's true. They also would rank laws and keep only the ones that they ranked the highest. Usually the harder things were eliminated. They did this because they couldn't keep the law on their own. Okay. What I'm focusing on with this post is that the Pharisees compared themselves with others. A classic explanation of a Pharisee comes from Luke 18:11:
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
This is why Jesus said what He did in the Sermon on the Mount, to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. The comparison should be with God. God and His Word are the standard.
No one is good because he is better than someone else. No one else is the standard. You can say that you know this, but it is still used on a regular basis by professing Christians, just like the Pharisees. This is a chief Pharisee behavior. It is Pharisaical. In that sense, it is legalistic. The Pharisees were legalists. It is another form of left-winged legalism.
People who want to do what they want to do will compare themselves with others. People who want to justify themselves will do it by saying that they aren't as bad as someone else. Twice in the last month, separate conversations with two different evangelicals, and I was talking to each about the disobedience of someone I love. They weren't so concerned, because this person was not as bad as each of them were when they were his age. Someone can be good if he's not as bad as someone else.
God is good. We judge goodness by God. He's the standard. We can't reach that standard, but that doesn't change the standard. The standard is enabled by the gospel. The new covenant is that God changes a person so that he can keep the standard. Even when he doesn't keep it, he's justified by faith, but he's also sanctified, saved from the power of sin.
Someone can't find out if he has the power to live the Christian life if the standards for the Christian life are lowered to the standard of someone else's example. You can always be better than someone else, even if you're not better than someone else.
With the two men with whom I spoke, they were accepting bad behavior because it was better than their bad behavior. Instead of keeping the standard under the grace of God with the power of God, the standard is changed, conformed to comparison with someone else. This isn't the power of God. This isn't grace. This isn't the gospel. This is man's ability. Man gets the glory. God isn't honored.
A lot of long term damage occurs through the Pharisaical comparison that I'm describing. A new wrong practice is established as the new standard with the elevation of a comparison. Something that isn't God's will is accepted. With it being accepted, even though it isn't scriptural, it is then compared to another even worse example, to lower the standard even further.
This path is the trajectory of apostasy. Rather than the Bible being the authority, it becomes conventional thinking or a societal norm. None of it pleases God, because His standard didn't change. And it isn't the grace of God. God isn't empowering or enabling any of this. It is a false system set up for the pleasure of man, and yet it is called Christian and "of God." Scripture is rejected in this system. If it is offered, it is rejected for "I'm better than this other guy." He continues in his disobedience, but getting the credit of the "righteousness that is better than someone else." Christianity is shaped into this monstrosity.