ARE YOU A PHARISEE?
If you have ever discussed the Bible with others that belong to a denomination and you continue to stress the importance of obeying Godís Word, then you have probably been called a Pharisee. The reason they you call you Pharisee is because they believe you are only focused on keeping the law and you have no interest in Godís grace. Another term used that describes a Pharisee is the word legalist, which means:
One who practices or advocates strict conformity to law; in theology, one who holds to the law of works.
When someone calls me a legalist, I usually say, ďWell, if† I am legalist because I am concerned about obeying Godís Word, does that make you an illegalist?
Of, course, calling a Christian who loves God and wants to keep His commandments a Pharisee or a legalist is not accurate. However, many times the word Pharisee does describe the one calling you one because their actions and their beliefs are usually similar to a Pharisee as we see in this lesson.
While the group known as Pharisees is no longer in existence, I believe the spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well. The question is, are you a Pharisee? To answer this question, we are going to take a closer look at the life of a Pharisee and the characteristics they had. Then we can compare their life to ours and to those around us. When I finish this lesson, you will have a much better understanding of who the real Pharisees are in our world today.
If there is one thing you donít want to be like it is the Pharisees because they along with the Scribes were condemned by Jesus more harshly than any other group.
Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.† 24 "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!† 25 ∂ "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.† 26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.† 27 ∂ "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.† 28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.† 29 ∂ "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,† 30 "and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'† 31 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.† 32 "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.† 33 "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?† 34 "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,† 35 "that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.† 36 "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
I donít know of anyone that would try and defend the Pharisees because they were stubborn and stuck on themselves. In fact, they were so blinded by their self-righteousness that they could not see how spiritual dead they were.
We have to be careful as Christians not to have this same stubborn attitude that we think we are always right and no one can teach us anything. If we get to the point where we think we know it all, then we could become like the Pharisees and be spiritual dead without knowing it.
This attitude has blinded many in the religious world, because they have convinced themselves that their way is acceptable. They will not listen to the truth and they have become blind guides to those who follow them. As we just read, Jesus said:
Matthew 23:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
Many in religious world will not listen to the truth even when you show them the Scriptures that prove what they are doing is not in accordance with Godís will. When people in these religious groups turn their back on Scripture to hold to their own ways, then they have the spirit of a Pharisee.
As Christians, we are called to rise above the spirit of Pharisee in;
Matthew 5:20 "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Being called a Pharisee
is the same as saying you are lost and will never enter into the
Since the Pharisees were so resistant to the truth, they provoked Jesus on many occasions in which He taught them and us many great lessons about being an obedient child of God. With this is mind, lets look at some more of the characteristics of a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were extremely critical especially when it came to Jesus:
Luke 6:7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.
They were constantly seeking a way to be critical of Jesus. If they could find something that did not fit within their comfort zone, they would lash out at Him. Their critical eye can be seen throughout Jesusí ministry.
Does this describe you? Do you find yourself looking for faults so that you can jump on it like a dog on a bone? Why do you think the Pharisees were so critical of others, or why are some people so critical of others? I believe it because these individuals have low self-esteem, and they want make themselves feel smarter or they want fortify their own self-righteousness. When they focus on looking for things they can be critical of, it takes the attention off their own inadequacies.†††
If you find yourself always being critical of others or being critical of Jesusí teachings, then you have the spirit of a Pharisee.
Another, characteristic of Pharisee is that they had little interest in the lost.
Luke 15:1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.† 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."
These Pharisees could not believe that Jesus would have anything to do with these sinners and tax collectors because the Pharisees kept their distance from them. They would have nothing to do with them social, and they would not even buy things from them if they owned a business. Their main goal was to only deal with those that were like them because they didnít think sinners or tax collectors were worth their time.
Does this sound like you? Do you find yourself not caring about the sinners that are around you in this world? Do you find yourself just keeping company with those that are just like you? Well, if this describes you then you have the spirit of a Pharisee, but this should not be the case. After all, Jesus said:
Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, †45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.† 46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?† 47 "And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?†
It is not always easy to do what Jesus has asked us to do, but if we want our righteousness to exceed that of the Pharisees, then we must strive to care about the lost and do what we can to reach them with the gospel.
After the Pharisees complained about the company Jesusí was keeping, He told them three parables that teach how important it is to seek the lost.
In the first parable, He told them about a lost sheep that lost his way from the 99, and told them how the Shepherd would leave the 99 to go find that one lost sheep.
In the second parable, He told them about a lady who lost one of her 10 coins and how she kept searching for it until she found it because that 1 lost coin was important to her.
In these first two parables, Jesus has appealed to livestock and money, but in third parable, He will show that one lost man is worth saving as well. Of course, this third parable is the known as the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son. Most of us should be familiar with this parable. A father had two sons. The younger one decided to leave home and he asked for his inheritance. His father gave it to him and the young man went out into the world and lived it up with prodigal living, but once he ran out of money, he lost his friends and his fun, and ended up having to feed swine.
He came to his senses one day, and decided to go back home hoping his father would take him back as a slave because he did not feel like he deserved to be taken back as a son, but when he arrived, his father had been waiting and watching for him to come back home and ran out and met him and welcomed him back as a son, not a slave.
His father had a big celebration for the return of his son, but the older brother was angry and bitter about what his younger brother did and did not think his brother should have such a celebration. If the older brother had his way, he would have kicked his brother to curb and make the celebration for himself so he could indulge in his own self-righteousness. The father told his older son:
Luke 15:31 Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.† 32 'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.' "†
This older son represented the Pharisees and how they were bitter and angry toward the sinner and tax collector. He wanted them to understand how important it was that they seek the lost sinner and try to restore them back to God. This is exactly what we should be doing as Christians. One of main goals is to reach the lost and do what we can to lead them to Christ. If you do not have any desire to do this, then you have the spirit of a Pharisee.
Another characteristic of Pharisees was their self-righteousness because they thought they were better than everyone else, and they did not feel that they were capable of sin even though they were full of sin. Jesus gives an example of this in parable.
Luke 18:9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:† 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.† 11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.† 12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'† 13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'† 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Unfortunately, sometimes Christian can become this way. They start thinking they are so holy and that everyone else is beneath them. They are the type of person who will point out the sins of others and even make fun of them, even when they are guilty of the same sin or something similar. If this describes you, and you have the holier than thou attitude, then you are no different from a Pharisee.
We should never have the attitude that we are better than someone else because Paul told us:
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.† 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.† 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,
Another characteristic of the Pharisees is that they were pretending to be servants of God because they only went through the motions, and much of what they did was for show. Jesus commented on this behavior in several places:
Matthew 23:2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.† 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.† 4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.† 5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.† 6 "They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,† 7 "greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'
This is an area that I am afraid that more Christians are like a Pharisee because it easy for a Christian to get caught up in going through the motions of being a servant of God. We know what Bible tells us to do, and we donít mind telling other what they should be doing, but we donít want to lift one of our fingers to do the work of the Lord. We love talking about what needs to be done, but donít actually do anything to make it happen.
We like the idea of being a Christian and the things that go along with it, but we want to leave out the serving part. We like to make excuses for why we canít do this or that and why someone else should do it. Heaven forbid if we actually have to labor in the Lordís kingdom.
Then you have some Christians who will do the work in the kingdom, but their motivation is to be seen by others and get their praise. If they donít get the praise they feel like they deserve, then they will not do the work anymore.
Does this describe you? Are you a lazy Christian or do you only want to do works if you can get recognized for it? †If so, you have the spirit of a Pharisee.
Of course, we should not have this attitude as Christians. If we have a talent we can use to serve the Lord then we should use it and stop trying to get someone else to do it. It should also bring us joy knowing that when we are laboring in Godís kingdom whether we receive recognition or not, we can know that God is watching, and He approves of what we are doing as Jesus said:
Matthew 6:1 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.† 2 ∂ "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.† 3 "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,† 4 "that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.†
When we do works for the Lord, we can know that we are glorifying Him:
Matthew 5:16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Perhaps the best description of a Christian and his work in the kingdom is found the story Jesus told His disciples in:
Luke 17:7 "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'?† 8 "But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'?† 9 "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not.† 10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' "
If you are a pretend Christian that is going through motions hoping to ride the coattails of others into heaven, then you defiantly have the spirit of a Pharisee.
Another Characteristic of a Pharisee was how they would put their customs and traditions above the Word of God, or they would make their customs and traditions into a law. We have an example of this in:
Matthew 15:1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,† 2 "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."† 3 He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?† 4 "For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'† 5 "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" -- ††6 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.† 7 "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:† 8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.† 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "
This is another area we have to be careful in because it easy for us to turn our traditions into a law or even override Godís Word. For example, if we changed up the order of our worship service, some would feel like we have done something wrong. I will never forget one time when the preacher decided to have the Lordís Supper at the end of the service one morning and man asked me, ďwho made the decision to change itĒ and I could tell he wasnít to happy about it, but I told him it did not matter when we partook of it as long as we did partake of it, and he thought about for a minute and he said, ďyes, I guess you are right.Ē
When churches started using multiple cups and multiple loaves and started having Bible classes, it caused division in the church because some wanted to hold to the tradition and customs they were used to, and they made what they were used to into law even though there is no law in the Bible forbidding these things, which is why we must be careful not to let our traditions or our customs to become law.
At the beginning of my lesson, I said that those who usually call you a Pharisee are more like Pharisees themselves, and this example of holding to tradition and putting it above Godís Word is the reason I said that. Think about it. Those that call you a Pharisee are usually those who belong to a denomination. What is a denomination? It is a man-made version of the church, and they became a denomination so they could worship with others that wanted to worship like them, which almost always involves adding or taking away from what the Bible teaches about worship.
They are unwilling to change their tradition and customs to conform to what the Bible teaches, so they are the ones that have the spirit of a Pharisee. The Pharisees were never condemned for keeping the Law of Moses, they were condemned for making their manmade traditions and customs into law and binding them on others and for not keeping the Law of Moses, which is why a Christian who is trying to keep the law of God and teach it to others cannot be called a Pharisee because it does not fit.
We must be careful that we never allow our traditions or our customs to become law or override the Word of God, or else we will have the spirit of a Pharisee.
In conclusion, we have learned a lot about the characteristics of a Pharisee, and we have learned that we donít want to be like them. So, if you found that you are like them in any way, I hope you will start making changes in your life right now so that you can eradicate the spirit of Pharisee from your life.††
Adapted from a sermon about Pharisees by Franklin Camp and Wesley Simons