The Greatest Motivation To Be A Pharisee (IBTR# 51)

They were an ugly group. They fought Jesus at every turn. Their hearts had run so amok that Christ reserved the harshest words He ever spoke for them. Strangely enough, they thought they followed God better than anyone ever did. The irony that they thought God’s Own Son was a devil jumps off page after page of the Gospel records. As you might imagine, to be called a Pharisee for anyone who thinks themselves a solid Christian will arouse a blood-boiling reaction. Though this pharisaical attitude rears its hideous head in all corners of Christianity, and although I know there is a little Pharisee in both you and me, I call on those in the Independent Baptist world to give careful thought to just how much the spirit of Pharisaism is entrenched in some places.

Don’t make the error of thinking that Pharisees sprang from evil and only ever had bad motives. Just because Jesus called them hypocrites, don’t assume there was never any sincerity. After the Captivity and its corresponding trials rendered its chastening to the point that it became difficult to reboot and sustain their OT worship, it appeared to some well-meaning believers that something ought to be done. In that idolatry was at the core of the offense that brought on the agonizing judgments, it seemed, quite reasonably, that steps ought to be taken that it never happen again. From those ashes rose a patriotic, zealous group of sincere men who made their lives about restoring what they thought they lost from God.

So it wasn’t the original aims or goals that were a problem. No, these “separated ones” likely were as sincere as any believers have ever been. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that they did what they did for any other motivation than love of God. Still, I must know well the one I love for my love to accomplish an end worthy of love.

With a zeal that puts our halfhearted efforts to shame they went relentlessly after their goals. As time went along, it occurred to them that fences were the only safety net to avoid another round of horrors as they had experienced in the bondage of oppression. So they took the things God had said and added many regulations to it to ensure that they did not stumble across the line God had drawn. They saw breaking God’s Law as the cliff and so they built fences father and farther back until they were hundreds of feet away. By Christ’s day they were so far back that they could not even see the cliff. And they felt really good about it.

What never occurred to them was that in backing away from the cliff they had somehow backed far away from God Himself. They were too far away to hear His voice, but in the cacophony of their own voices they did not even notice. Hearing your own voice standing in the place of the Lord’s, however, will do a number on you, especially if you have convinced yourself that you did it for Him!

Plus when you only know someone from a distance you tend to get a warped view of who they really are. They knew about the fear of the Lord. They did not just know it, they lived it. That the fear of the Lord might be more appropriate when we are purposely running from Him, not when we are treading watchfully, never crossed their minds. That the fear of the Lord when we are in an appropriate relationship with Him might have more to do with reverential awe never occurred to them either. Had they taken the time to actually listen to Jesus they might have learned what intimate fellowship our Lord has in mind for us.

Is it clear to you now what was the great motivation to be a Pharisee? Fear. It was then and it is now. Never mind that Jesus told us that He had not given us the spirit of fear; some still design their entire Christian experience on it. Sadly, it will make a Pharisee of you every time. Fear is the basis of idolatrous religions and has no place in Christianity. Our God in not a pagan god to be feared and appeased, but a real God to be known and loved. In that light you can see that a Pharisee is the last thing you would ever want to be.

Find all articles in the series here.


15 thoughts on “The Greatest Motivation To Be A Pharisee (IBTR# 51)

  1. I think there were also active Pharisees in Jesus time who sincerely loved and wanted to serve God. I think of Nicodemus and how he came to God, and I also think of Paul who though deadly wrong loved God intensely. Unfortunately, then and now there are people who do not know any better. They are raised in a system and all they see is the system. When all somebody knows is a certain system it can be hard to get them out. Nicodemus had to have Jesus himself tell him some very hard things, Paul had to be blinded by Jesus on the road to Damascus.

    • I think this would also explain the many Pharisees who came to Christ towards the beginning of Acts. Of course, it was probably also from this same group that the judaizers came, demanding people circumcise, etc. 🙂 And, I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that many “pharisees” of today also love the Lord and want to serve Him. But get their minds bogged down in legalistic behavior and thinking. They would take umbrage at suggesting their Christianity is legalistic, defending themselves by saying they are not adding works to justification, but a works-based “sanctification” is no better than a works-based justification. If Christ is both the author and finisher of our faith, there can be no works added at any point, and any adding of legal or moral rules, or standards that we use to determine spirituality is a works-based sanctification, and not Christ, the author and finisher…

      • Exactly what I was heading towards, but the coffee hadn’t set in yet.

        Most people who call themselves Christian love God sincerely. Some people take the wrong path to show that love. Some become Pharisees. Some become the liberal God is only love crowd. They are all sincere, but their message is wrong and their way of approaching God is wrong.

    • Granted, but one could also say that these are merely symptoms of the problem, and not the cause, it’s like saying “get rid of the fever, and you’ll get rid of the flu.” I think it is entirely possible that the pharisaical attitude is at the heart of the these things. And at that point, we realize that the pharisaical heart is in all of us. All these “symptoms” come into existence because there are irreconcilable differences either in doctrine or practice between believers. Much of this, were humility and teachableness to rule the day, could have been avoided.

  2. The Pharisees sought for distinction and praise by the observance of external rites and by the outward forms of piety, such as ablutions, fasting’s, prayers, and alms-giving; and, comparatively negligent of genuine piety, they prided themselves on their fancied good works. They were bitter enemies of Jesus and His cause; and were in turn severely rebuked by Him for their avarice, ambition, hollow reliance on outward works, and affectation of piety in order to gain notoriety.

    I believe the key here is: “They sought for distinction and praise by the observance of external rites and by the outward forms of piety, such as ablutions, fasting’s, prayers, and alms-giving…;” hence, had these not been available there would have been no means to their end of hollow reliance on outward works.

    Simply stated, if there is no First Class seating, we all fly Economy, and for the duration of trip, we are all equal and the means to gain notoriety is eliminated.

    • (Sorry for this long and rambling post. It’s a conglomeration of several thoughts that have been rattling around in my head since reading the article, and spurred on by the wonderful comments that followed. I’m not replying to anybody in particular, though Bro. Dave’s post probably is what sparked me to start writing. So, I hope nobody takes anything I say here personally, as if I was responding to them–I’m not… If anything, I’m responding to my own tendencies and weaknesses.) 🙂

      The problem is that man seeks distinction and praise and it’s everywhere–from the “I voted” stickers and posts on Facebook, to the pink shoes that the NFL wears all October. Everybody seeks ways to say “I’m better than you because…” It’s what drives the Al Gores’ of this world, and the Saturday morning soul-winning crews who come back with a dozen professions. It is an integral part of our fallen human nature.

      And then there’s the whole “Everybody’s equal, but some are more equal.” problem. It would be nice if we could all see who we really are–wholly dependent on God’s grace, but so long as some are more talented than others, and more successful, we will have problems–and honestly, do we want to make everybody “equal” in that way? Like Syndrome says, “When everybody’s Super, nobody’ll be Super.”

      I think that the biggest problem is that people are quick to judge others, while being blind to their own selves. I get it all the time, and in dumb places. The other day, I commented on a tech site about music, and this guy presumed to know what my music tastes were without even bothering to ask me what my tastes actually were. To me it was a bit bizarre, but thinking about it. He thought he knew, and couldn’t expect that my own tastes could be outside his bounds of thinking–namely secular music, so that was his frame of reference. People think they know and understand when really, they don’t. We are quick to speak and tell things, when the first thing we should be doing is asking and learning.

      Here’s an exercise I’ve used with people through the years. (I’m speaking generally here, not directing “you” to any particular person) Most people want to be right, and not be wrong, so, if you thought you were wrong about something, you would want to change, correct? On the other hand, nobody’s perfect. In other words, it is impossible for us to be correct about everything. In other words, there are areas where you are wrong. But the truth is, you cannot see those areas where you are wrong. These are our blind spots. Ironically, frequently, when I get to this last point, I get objections… People have a hard time accepting that they are blind to areas where they may be wrong. They can accept a hypothetical “wrong”, but when it comes right down to it, they can’t accept that they may be wrong. It’s just human nature, but it is how it is.

      It is often at these blind points that people tend to judge others more harshly. I judge people for being “illogical” while being totally blind to my own lack of logic. I judge people for being heartless, while being blind to my own heartlessness. For being short-tempered, but I get short-tempered with them for their short-temper. The list goes on.

      Personally, I think that it is this very thing that Christ had in mind when he said “Judge not, that ye be not judged”. If you read Matt 7, you can see what I’m talking about there.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers or solutions to this. It’s pretty much the heart of the sinful human condition, so we have the same and only solution we have ever had–spiritual regeneration, and spiritual sensitivity–loads of humility and teachableness. I large part of humility is, IMO, allowing yourself to be teachable–and being teachable means being willing to learn from _everybody_, even those (or especially those) with whom you disagree or find easy to disrespect. When we allow those whom we disagree with to be the objects of our disrespect, we’ve already lost the war. Sorry, but if we cannot respect the liberal, the homosexual, the politician, then we have lost. That’s harsh, but yeah–it has to be. I remind us of the story of the Good Samaritan. What was the Pharisee’s problem there. He couldn’t even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan” while recognizing he had done something noble. For us today, replace the word “Samaritan” with people today who we find difficult to respect–say, a group–homosexuals, or a person–Obama or the Kennedy family. The list goes on. We somehow except these people from respect, and think it’s ok. But it’s not–not in Christ’s eyes. That was why He told that parable. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. He made it as difficult as he could for that Pharisee…

      And yes, I find these words as difficult to write as to read. I condemn myself with these words, and it’s very uncomfortable, but these are words I have to remind myself with quite often.

      And I’ll close with this. Christ died to save all people–even those unworthy of respect. I have dealt with people who utterly lacked respect for themselves they had sunk so low, and they could not grasp how someone could offer them more respect than they offered themselves. When one sunk so low sees God’s love and respect for them, it can be transforming. That is what we are here for, not to judge others, nor ourselves, but to reflect God’s mercy and love, and we cannot do that if we are not ourselves first recipients of His Grace. Our imperfect souls mean mean that we will but imperfectly reflect His Grace, but oh, what a condemnation when we allow that to people from Christ, and the greatest condemnation when we turn our own children from Him.

  3. Good stuff! I am in agreement until the final point regarding why we are here.

    Being made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), we have the ability to know God and therefore love Him, worship Him, serve Him, and fellowship with Him. God did not create human beings because He needed them. As God, He needs nothing. God created us for His pleasure and so that we, as His creation, would have the pleasure of knowing Him.

    Yes, to grace and mercy and longsuffering; may we truly reflect the image of Jesus Christ in our character. But we were given the capacity to judge; to judge justly. Truly, we make judgments everyday waking moment.

    When you awoke, you judged it correct to put milk on your cereal instead of Vodka. As you drove to work, you judged it correct to drive on the right side of the road instead of the left side. Arriving at your place of employment you judged it correct to not to park in a “No Parking” zone.

    Matthew 7 is speaking directly to O.T. Jews because they went to the law every time there was an issue. Moreover, they judged incorrectly as Jesus had told them back in Matthew 5 because they were drawing on O.T. law to write a bill of divorcement whenever even a simple problem arose in their marriages. They judged incorrectly because they were using the law in a manner which disregarded justice in judgment.

    As N.T. believers we are to judge; ourselves, issues, disagreements, etc. as we read in Corinthians 6, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?” (Note: Brethren) And again in Corinthians 10 we read, “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.”

    As a pastor, a parent, a husband…I have learned to spend much time in prayer when I am placed into a position to judge. It is a responsibility that is very demanding and quite stressful. Sometimes I find myself waiting a bit longer than I should in the hopes that God will speak to hearts and folks will judge correctly themselves and remove that weight from my shoulders.

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