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.