Don’t Be a Pharisee

As we were driving through the country late last night, heading home from an evening at camp, Kristian and I began to discuss the Bible. As a particular song came on the radio, I turned to her and said that the song illustrated exactly what I was talking about as far as needing to discern all things according to the Bible. The song—a “Christian” song on a “Christian” station—contained a line in its chorus that was the complete opposite of what the Bible teaches about salvation!

She told me that she had recently heard another “Christian” song that sounded like it encouraged people to worship nature. She said, “I heard it and I thought, ‘That’s not biblical.’ Then I thought, ‘Well, now I sound like Jared Byrns.'” Incidentally, she said that was a complement. But I wasn’t so sure.

I really don’t want to be known as the guy who is against everything, the nit-picker, the Pharisee. I know other believers, men of God, who also see compromise and cannot go along, and yet also worry about being pharisaical.

But should we worry so? The more I study into who the Pharisees were and what they actually believed, I must conclude that being zealous for the truth is not the same as being a Pharisee. There are (at least) two things that should separate believers from Pharisees.

1. Love of God and His Truth.
Yes, the Pharisees were all about rules, but those rules did not stem from a love of God. We are told that those who love God will obey Him (John 14:15). But the Pharisees did not obey God, but their own rules. Jesus made it clear that the Pharisees did not love God and His law, but their own self-righteousness and power (Mark 7:1-16).

If you defend what the Bible teaches and reject compromise with false teachings and errant practices (e.g., calling a man out for teaching a false gospel of works or mystical experiences, or opposing infant baptism) you are obeying God’s Word and abiding by the standard He has set for what is true and right (Jude 3). That is what a believer does. If you hold yourself and others to a standard set not by the Word of God but by your own beliefs, practices, or preferences—that is Pharisaism. (Read David Cloud’s excellent article, Those Fundamentalist Pharisees.)

2. Love of People.
The Pharisees did not love people. They were more concerned with their traditions and their interpretations of God’s law (as opposed to what God’s law actually taught) than they were with the people around them. For an example, consider the account of Jesus healing people on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). Unfortunately, many professing Christians fall into this habit as well. But to be a child of God is to love other people (I John 4:20-21).

This is an important distinction. As we see in the above passage in Matthew, the practice of the Pharisees was to confront people in order to destroy them (Matthew 12:14). On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the believer’s motivation in confronting sin and error is to be very different. Paul writes of those who err from the truth that they are to be confronted, but adds, “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:15, NKJV). The Bible teaches that church discipline exists to correct and restore someone—not to “get” him (Matthew 18:15; II Corinthians 2:5-8). Yet I have seen Christian leaders savage other ministers and ministries for their errors or supposed errors, and seem by their attitudes to relish tearing someone down. Christians should confront in a spirit of love and of humility!

So, brothers and sisters, stand for the truth, correct sin and error, and refuse compromise–but in all things ensure that you are motivated by love for God and love for others.

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV).