It doesn’t take a great deal of investigation to realize that many recent influences both inside and outside of churches of Christ are feverishly attempting to mold God’s people into a different image. In recent years, those who have grown dissatisfied with the Lord’s church have often charged God’s people as being like the Pharisees in our beliefs and practices. While I do not believe this to be a valid criticism, Christians everywhere must still take care that we do not become like the Pharisees in our actions and attitudes.
We may not understand much else about the Pharisees, but we know that Jesus said to beware of them (Matt. 16:6). Simply put, the Pharisees sinned by obeying God’s laws purely for purposes of self-promotion. These men took the focus off of God and His greatness in an attempt to exalt themselves. What attitudes must we avoid as Christians?
Pharisees emphasized rules without relationships — The Pharisees of Jesus day believed that godliness was a means of gain (cf. 1 Tim. 6:5), so they learned the Bible better than anyone else, and they solidified a position of power and prestige among God’s people. Pharisees were highly esteemed by just about everyone because of their rigorous law-keeping, but they loved something more than God: “they loved the best places at the feasts and the best seats in the synagogues” (Matt. 23:6). Their problem was that they emphasized rules to the exclusion of a relationship with God (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). Brethren, we ought to beware that we do not make Christianity merely a system of rules to be kept, and nothing more. God wants us to depend on His power and goodness through prayer, study, and meditation on Him (Ps. 63:1-2). God desires faithful obedience (Rom. 1:5), but He simultaneously desires a loving relationship with us (Phil. 3:10).
Pharisees justified themselves to God — Jesus once told about a Pharisee who justified himself before God by pointing out all the good things he had done (cf. Luke 18:9-14). This man sinned by taking his eyes off the grace and mercy of God and focusing on himself. We ought to beware of boasting in our own spiritual accomplishments. Jesus says, “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’” (Luke 17:10). In Christian service, the focus is always on God and His glory (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). We emphasize and exalt Christ, and we boast in the great things He is doing through us (Gal. 6:14; Phil. 2:13). What folly to self-righteously seek to justify ourselves before God!
Pharisees tried to bind what God has not bound — “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God” (Deut. 4:2). Pharisees were guilty of taking their traditions and elevating them to the status of God’s commandments (Mark 7:6-7). It’s one thing to carefully obey what God has said, but we must take care lest we elevate mere opinions and traditions to the status of Scripture. God’s word has left some matters to the realm of human judgment, and we bind our opinions on others at great peril to our souls. We are not God, and thus we ought to be careful not to put ourselves in His seat of judgment!
We all need to beware of becoming modern-day Pharisees. Being Pharisaical has nothing to do with genuine, faithful obedience; rather, it refers to a self-aggrandizing, self-centered view of obeying God’s laws. Our service to God must be faithful (Rev. 2:10), but our motives in serving must always seek His glory and not our own (Jn. 3:30). Let’s allow our relationship with God to genuinely be the greatest joy of our lives. – JB