Friday, October 25, 2013

A Biblical Ugly Word

What's the worst thing you can think of to call a fellow Christian?  What?  You don't think Christians call each other names? Oh, we don't use curse words; instead we find Bible words to call one another.  One I've heard a lot lately is "Pharisee."  Often when I hear that word, it is aimed at a Christian who tries to obey God and thinks you should too. 

Calling someone a Pharisee is a serious charge.  After all, Jesus called them a brood of vipers and ascribed eight woes to them.  Before we call someone this Biblical ugly word, we had better know what it means.

When we think Pharisee, the first word to come our mind should be "hypocrite." Jesus used it a lot when talking to them (Matthew 23).  The Greek word hypocrite actually has its origins in theater.  What Jesus was saying is that the Pharisees were only playing the role of a righteous person.  It was all an act.  If we look at the specific charges Jesus makes in Matthew 23, we can see what he means.  

First, the Pharisees required other people to follow laws that they were not willing to follow themselves.  The part they played in the drama that was their lives was to tell other people how to behave without behaving that way themselves.  This is the very essence of hypocrisy, and the first charge that Jesus leveled at them (Matthew 23:3-4)

Notice, though, that Jesus did not tell the people to ignore what the Pharisees were teaching.  Jesus said, "Do as they say, not as they do." On the one hand, we must be careful to "practice what we preach" in order not to drive others away.  On the other hand, we cannot use others' hypocrisy as an excuse not to obey.  

Second, when the Pharisees did obey, it was only for the audience. If obeying would make them look good, they were all for it (Matthew 23:5-7).  A public prayer of thanksgiving for righteousness, tithing large amounts while spectators looked on, dragging a sinful woman out in the streets, all were the Pharisees twisted ideas of obedience (Luke 18:9-14; Matthew 6:1-2; John 8).  Jesus told them that they already had their reward.  

Again, we should notice that Jesus did not condemn praying or giving obediently.   The publican who prayed humbly and the widow who gave all she had were alike praised. They obeyed with the right heart, and their sincere obedience caused them to be rewarded by God rather than honored by men.

Finally, the Pharisees obeyed in an a la carte fashion. They only obeyed the parts of the law that were convenient to them, and Jesus said they ignored the most important parts. What were those parts? Justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  Matters of the heart.

Once more, we see that Jesus did not condemn the rote, convenient obedience.  He told the Pharisees that they should have done it all. Tithe and show justice.  Obey and be merciful.  Only then could they clean the inside of the cup instead of just the outside. Jesus wasn't angry at the Pharisees for obeying the law of God or even for encouraging others to do so.  He was angry at them for demanding that others follow rules that they refused to follow, for obeying to be seen by men, for ignoring matters of the heart.

So, can I call someone a Pharisee?  Before I answer that question, I need to look at one more place Jesus used the word hypocrite.  

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye ?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye ? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.  (Matthew 7:3-5).

Before I call someone else a Pharisee, I had better make sure I am not doing the same. Have I ever required someone to do something I was unwilling to do myself?  How about telling my children to be kind, and then screaming at the driver in the next car over?  Or eating a cookie secretly before supper because I've told them they can't have one until after?  Have I ever obeyed for the sake of the people watching me?  All. The. Time. Have I ignored matters of the heart while obeying the "convenient" commands?  Yes, I've gone to church every Sunday for a month while having a bad attitude toward a brother or sister in Christ.  

When it comes down to it, I can't call anyone a Pharisee because I have been one.  Not for obeying the Lord.  Not for encouraging others to do the same.  But for picking and choosing which parts of the Bible I want to obey, for obeying to get a pat on the back, for ignoring the sin in my heart while feeling pretty good about my outward show of obedience.  I will have to work to get those logs out of my eye before I ever start casually throwing out the epithet of Pharisee.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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