Many of us have heard about the Pharisees, and know that they tend to get a pretty bad rap. But why? What was it about them that caused Jesus to save his most choice reprimands just for them?
In Matthew 23, Jesus delivers this blistering statement: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Wow- I would not have wanted to be on the other end of that rebuke.)
So, who were the Pharisees?
The Pharisees represented a specific sect of Judaism that was prevalent during the time of Christ who were devout in following the Law of Moses and keeping the Jewish traditions passed down for centuries. Every religious sect of Judaism held the law and traditions in high regard, but the Pharisees were known for their strict adherence. The name Pharisee literally means “separated” in Hebrew.
Although they were devoted in their worship of God, and committed to holiness, they represented everything that was wrong with the religious elite. Here are some of the ways that they went off track. I think this list might surprise you. We can all find a little Pharisee in our hearts if we are honest.
1. They saw themselves as holier than everyone else.
Once you become a follower of Christ, or if you have been for some time, it can be easy to be puffed up with pride about your own righteousness. But the most important attitude is one of humility. We all need Jesus, every day.
2. They made it difficult for people to come to God.
When Christ ministered, he allowed everyone to come to him, even those who were considered unclean by religious leaders and society. How can you make it simple for people to meet God, and not create more barriers for them?
3. They had no compassion for others.
This is a big one. When we are more caught up in rules than with the love of God, it can be so easy to see people and their problems as something that’s holding us up. Instead, we have to show compassion. Everyone has pain, no matter what it may seem like on the outside.
4. They were quick to judge.
As we interact with people every day, it’s second nature to size them up: their appearance, their credentials, their social status etc. We have to remember that there is always more to the story. Withhold your judgments of others, and focus on how you can become more like Christ.
5. They were obsessed with tedious rules.
When our faith becomes about a list of rules and regulations, we have completely lost the point. None of us can ever do enough, or be obedient enough, to be perfect before God. Pursuing true holiness is about pursuing a relationship with God.
6. They were self absorbed and proud.
In our selfie culture, it can be so easy to have our eyes completely fixed on ourselves. We are constantly concerned with how we appear to others, and spend excessive energy making sure that what they perceive is positive. We have to be able to consider others greater than ourselves if we are to make an impact.
7. They saw themselves as protectors of God’s holiness.
There is a wonderful saying that I love: “There is a God, and it’s not me.” With this in mind, it’s important that we remember that it isn’t our job to be the righteousness police. When we care more about what sins others are committing than our own, we have lost the point.
8. They only socialized with others like themselves.
This is a tough one – we all tend to gravitate toward people who are like us. But we are called to seek out those who are different than us, and introduce them to Christ. If we only spend time with people who look, think, and believe like us, what kind of difference can we make?
9. They thought that Jesus had nothing new to teach them.
If you have a sense that you know all that you need to about your faith, you are in a dangerous place. We are always learning, growing and God is always teaching us something new. Be sure to not close yourself off to the new things that God wants to do in your life.
10. They cared more about rules than people.
If there is one thing that is clear throughout Scripture, it is this – people matter to God. He created us. He created the world for us to inhabit and enjoy. He sent His son to die for us. He desires a personal relationship with each of us. So when we think about what matters most, people should always win out.