Pharisees, though being the religious sect who lived during the New Testament times, have become more of a byword for their embodiment of “Pharisee” like qualities such as hypocrisy and religious pride. We certainly have a lot to learn from the Pharisees’ encounters with Jesus Christ and the intense warnings that He provided in reference to their actions.
Here are 5 sneaky pitfalls to avoid.
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1. Pretense Christianity
“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.” (Matthew 23:3).
Matthew chapter 23, which is basically a list of woes directed towards the Pharisees and the Scribes, begins by Jesus acknowledging the Pharisees’ authoritative position. They sat in Moses’ seat, which signifies their credibility in interpreting Moses’ laws. So the right thing to do, as Jesus instructed, would be to obey and follow their teachings.
However, what the Pharisees articulated in teaching, they lacked in demonstration. Jesus warned the people not to do according to their works, because their lives didn’t reflect any of their teachings.
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"Hypocrisy was something Jesus couldn’t tolerate..."
“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. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also." (Matthew 23:25-26).
The Pharisees pretended to be holy on the outside, but in fact they were sinful just like anyone else. They claimed to have moral standards, but their actions didn’t conform to their testimony.
Hypocrisy was something Jesus couldn’t tolerate, and He repeatedly pointed that out in the Pharisees. Hypocrisy is even more dangerous because it is a direct cause that could prevent someone from even considering the way of life. When people detect hypocrisy, you can guarantee that they will stay away from you or anything you stand for.
“We are the Bibles the world is reading; We are the creeds the world is needing; We are the sermons the world is heeding.” - Billy Graham
With that in mind, a great way to stay away from Hypocrisy is to meditate and study God’s word with the intent to apply in our own lives. If we are learners and not doers– if we profess but don’t practice, we are in line to become hypocrites. Our lives will become a lie.
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2. Studying Bible to Find Fault in Others
"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." (Matthew 23:4).
In other words, they lectured others but did not have any intention to apply it in their lives. They interpreted Moses’ laws only because they can impose those laws on others. They thought they had mastered it and didn't need any change. They were pointing at the flaws of others and pointing back to the scrolls. They were annoyed and aggravated when people disobeyed or neglected the laws.
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"Be the first to remove the plank from your own eye."
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis asserts one’s trouble with another person’s quirks as a reflection of the same attribute in themselves.
"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else’ and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselve. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others." - C.S.Lewis (Mere Christianity)
We might not be standing in pulpits or teaching to the masses, but in the recesses of our hearts, we might be secretly loathing our neighbor for their actions. An important lesson we learn from the Pharisees is to not point that finger at others. It’s time to reflect. Be the first to remove the plank from your own eye.
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3. Religious Pride
“But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:5-7).
As soon as we hear the term Pharisees, we’re reminded of long robes with tassels and little boxes filled with scrolls on the forehead. That’s because the Pharisees made bold religious gestures like those to draw attention. They liked to be known and praised and respected. Rather than pointing the people to God, they focused heavily on gaining respect from the people themselves. Jesus very strongly disliked this in them.
1 Corinthians 1:31 tells us, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” With all the knowledge of His word and the experiences we’ve accrued, our duty is to encourage others and point them to Christ. Religious pride is a precarious area to stay clear of. It doesn’t do us any good to take pride in something that is not ours to begin with. All things come from Him and all things are to be done for His glory. We stand to benefit nothing.
For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3).
We are supposed to be the milestones leading people one mile closer to Christ at every opportunity.
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4. Misplaced Priorities
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, 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. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).
The Pharisees exacted tithe on insignificant items such as mint, anise, and cumin. However, they neglected the important areas such as justice, mercy, and faith. Jesus called out their misplaced priorities in these verses.
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"Let’s not follow the example of the Pharisees by focusing on dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s."
Back in Micah chapter 6, the prophet writes that God isn’t looking for their calves, or thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil. All God requires from man is “to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Even while they were under the law, justice, mercy, faith, and love were what God required everyone to exhibit. In fact, the laws and traditions were circled around those aspects.
Let’s not follow the example of the Pharisees by focusing on dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14). As Jesus invites us to do, let’s focus on practicing justice, faith, mercy, and love.
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5. Tunneled Vision
“When He saw their faith, He said to him, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, ‘Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Luke 5:20-21).
The Pharisees had studied the Scripture all their lives and devoted themselves to teaching and interpreting them. And here He was, the Messiah, standing right before their eyes. Yet, when push came to shove, they were blinded. They couldn’t fathom the thought of this carpenter from Nazareth being their Messiah.
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"We often tend to see what we want to see."
We often tend to see what we want to see. We are sheltered in a bubble that is constantly fueled by our society, media, communities, and even our churches. The noises are so pronounced that we can hardly hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit within us.
Jesus said in John 14:26 that, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” As we study and listen to the word of God, we should be seeing what God shows us and not through our own filters. And we need to rely heavily upon the voice of the Holy Spirit within us to help us understand and remember the things God teaches us through His word. This way we can avoid the pitfall of the Pharisees, who devoured the Scriptures but failed to see their own Messiah.
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- Which one of the above pitfalls do you think you often find yourself falling into?
- Are these pitfalls obvious or is there something you have to watch out for very closely in your life?
With the word of God in our hands and the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can stay clear of these traps.
Alice William is a wife and programmer with a passion for writing. She started the blog, Walking in the Word, by journaling her Bible Studies. Her desire is to encourage other women in their walk with God with words that He has used to strengthen her own walk with Him. She enjoys Scripture memorization and hosts a challenge on her blog where she provides a weekly verse to memorize, tips, and resources to help with the challenge. Click here to learn 52 verses in 52 weeks. You can connect with Alice on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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Originally published Tuesday, 18 September 2018.