by Robert Beames
If you were alive when Jesus walked the earth, would you have been a Pharisee? We cringe at the thought. Most of us enjoy the feeling of superiority we have over the Pharisees due to their obvious hypocrisies. But perhaps we have more in common with these teachers of the law than we would like to admit. If you’re walking around with a plank sticking out of your eye, you may already realize you have something in common with this notorious crowd, but for everyone else, here are the top ten indications you might have been a Pharisee.
10. You constantly test God – Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to testing by an expert in the law (Luke 10:25). Occasionally God asks us to test Him, such as with our tithe (Malachi 3:10), but more often it is God who does the testing. He is approachable, and He welcomes our questions. However, we should be careful not to use the same approach the Pharisees used with Jesus, as they tried to manipulate Him to say or do things that they could use for their own purposes. God does the testing. Our job is to trust. It works best this way.
9. You are motivated by fear – The first time we meet the Pharisees in the gospel accounts, John the Baptist is asking them, “Who told you to escape the coming wrath?” Apparently, they only desired to be baptized due to their fear. However, we read in 1 John 4:18, “…perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Sometimes we forget this truth, and approach our service to God with an attitude of avoiding punishment. Yet, our Father truly wants us to be inspired by a zealous love for Him and for others. Fear often motivates us, but God doesn‘t use it to prompt His children.
8. You find comfort in your resume – Repeatedly, the Pharisees cited their lineage to justify themselves. Most of us don’t have a noble pedigree, but it’s still easy to forget that our spiritual track record, family, church or denomination, doesn’t provide a trace of entitlement to the kingdom of God. Only our direct relationship with the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of His kingdom (Col 1:12). We are qualified by our faith in the work of Christ alone. God isn’t impressed with our efforts, any more than He was with those of the Pharisees.
7. Your image is everything – Jesus called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23:27. By this He meant that they look clean on the outside, but inside are rotting, dead carcasses. Women strive to keep the appearance of being collected and confident, with everything under control. However, God is much more concerned with what’s going on inside. He continually exposes our motives and compels us to walk in humility, not hypocrisy.
6. You justify your disobedience – The Pharisees were famous for having detailed regulations to protect them from breaking any one of God’s commands, but Jesus exposed their true intent. They made specific laws which were easy to keep, so that they did not have to live by the higher imperatives which were directed at the heart. We might not murder our brother, or even curse him out, but it’s much more difficult to show him love and compassion. How well we perform the bare minimum!
5. You say, “Yes, Sir, I will,” but don’t – In the parable of two sons (Matt. 21:28), the first son said he would not do what was asked of him, but later did it. The second said he would do it, but never did. The Pharisees were like the second son. They had a long history of talking about what God expected of them, but rarely did they actually do any of it. In our status quo world, many times we do the same. We tend to be ready to talk, rather than act.
4. You scoff at other’s deeds – The Pharisees constantly judged Jesus for His association with undesirables, for breaking the rules or for simply being unconventional. Yet, no one could deny the effect He had on so many. People felt loved. We often find error in the way another group is showing love to others, because it doesn’t square with our theology, methodology or maybe we just want a reason not to do what they are doing. We do well to reserve our judgment and support ministries which share the love of Jesus in unconventional ways.
3. You find comfort in rules – The Pharisees had rules about rules in order to keep them from breaking other rules. Why was this? Probably because following rules takes little faith. Perhaps, we like to have our boundaries just a little too clear, as well. It’s attainable to do a specified amount for God and we can feel justified in this effort. Doing everything He asks us to do, while staying closely connected with him no matter what happens, now that’s much more difficult. Only the kind of faith which comes from God can accomplish these things.
2. You feel you are doing alright – It’s easy enough to use to read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, (Luke 18:9-14) and scoff at the Pharisee who thinks he is better than the tax collector. But how different are we, really? Do we make it through a day without feeling the need to be justified? We have a natural propensity to compare ourselves to others, so that we feel better about ourselves – as if we could satisfy the minimum criteria. But in fact, we cannot do enough, or avoid enough, to be justified. Even if we were “better” than everyone on the planet, we would still miss the mark. Like the tax collector, when we truly believe this, we can be declared righteous by faith in the redeeming power of Jesus’ finished work.
And the number one indication you might have been a Pharisee…
1. You fail to realize the severity of your sin – A woman once washed the feet of Jesus with tears of helplessness and remorse over her sin (Luke 7: 36-50). It’s a rare moment that we grieve over our sin in the appropriate manner as did this woman, and yet an important Pharisee looked on in disgust at her self- degradation. Admit it; we like to think we’re somebody important. Recall, however, that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Did you see yourself in any of the above? We may fit in more easily with that group of proud teachers than we would like to think. (I believe he wanted me to remind you.)