Margin notes: How to be (or NOT to be) a Pharisee in 3 easy lessons


The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. 1For they preach, but do not practice.  2They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.  3They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.  Mt 23:2–7. (ESV)

The final week of Jesus’ incarnation was peppered with one confrontation after another. Pharisees, Sadducees, and others tried to question Him, trip Him up, trap Him and find all manner of ways to ignore His person and works and the implications of His actually being the long-awaited Messiah.

Then in this short portion, Jesus tells His hearers something startling: As whacked out as the Pharisees were, they nevertheless DID hold a place of legitimate authority in terms of the Jewish religion as it had become, And Jesus does NOT incite either rebellion nor disregard for their position. In as much as they proscribed the “Church life” of the Jews. As long as they did not forbid what God requires in His Word, nor require what God expressly forbids – they were to be heeded. Flexed with if you please. BUT! And this is a huge “but” – Jesus adds “but not the works they do.” Jesus then spells out exactly what He means in 3 concepts.

A. They preach, but they do not practice. The very 1st mark of the Pharisee is a double standard – binding the consciences of others to things we ourselves transgress. Things like demanding honesty from others, while we prevaricate. Requiring love, understanding and mercy from others when we are cold, intractable and vengeful. Pointing the finger at other’s sins, without giving equal weight to our own. How about pointing the finger at political opponents’ egregious errors, whilst overlooking those in our camp – or even justifying ours by theirs? Pharisees.

B. Tieing up heavy burdens on others, without a ministry of help. It is one thing to preach the Law of God and see people come to the full weight and conviction of their sins, and another to stop there, and not bring the Gospel of the Cross as the only remedy – rather than a charge to grit their teeth and do better. Moral reformation is NOT the Gospel. Jesus dying on the Cross for our sins is. His righteousness imputed to us by faith. His atoning sacrifice, the means of right standing with God. And then, prayer and help in overcoming the remnants of the bondage of indwelling sin. How we love to have others jump through our hoops – especially in areas we ourselves may not have a struggle in. We dare not lessen the requirement of perfect holiness – nor the only means of obtaining it – the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. To challenge other’s sins without the Cross as the remedy is pure Phariseeism.

C. Doing all their deeds to be seen by others. Do others think I pray enough? Read the Bible enough? Worship enough? Think I’m spiritual? Think I’m good? Think I’m anything at all? Let me serve God in such a way that others take note that I am “OK.” They don’t have to think I’m REALLY good, just – good enough.

If any or all of these are you beloved – you just might be suffering from Phariseeism. And the good news is – there is a cure: Trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone. Loving others as He has loved you. Seeking to please Him and Him alone.

Oh what a great glorious Savior we have, who alone can deliver us from these vicious and wicked bonds.

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