Revelation: Modern Day Pharisees: Alive and Judging
Matthew 23:1-4, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the Law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
Matthew 23:27,28 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs- beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly, you look righteous to people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
I am what is known as a well-read person. I have read thousands of books, and those of you that know me personally know this is no exaggeration. I love to read. When I attended The Heart Hospital church in my twenties, I would often spend the ride home feeling sorry for Pastor Doctor and the job that God had called him to do. I couldn’t fathom reading one book every single day and never getting a break from listening to people and all their “prayer requests” which, to me, sounded a lot like complaining to God. I thought, “Sheesh, what a boring job. One book…all those rules and all the stuff that God’s children aren’t allowed to do. Why would a person ever sign up to be a Christian, let alone follow God’s calling to be a pastor? Blech.” I had read a lot about the Pharisees in the Bible and couldn’t stand them. I would high five Jesus in my head every time I read about him putting these pompous windbags in their place. The holier than thou men that walked around and told everybody what a miserable job they were doing following the path that God had laid out for them. What I didn’t realize is that when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees in the Bible, he is talking to us as his followers.
I have since changed my opinion of Pastor Doctor’s career choice. Over the pandemic of 2020, I have been able to spend 6 to 8 hours a day reading God’s word and finding nothing “earthly” that keeps my attention quite like the Living Word. Now I am lucky to make it through an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” without giving up and shutting it off. I find myself a little jealous that my Pastor Doctor gets to spend all week reading the Bible and uncovering truths that I might miss because I have to spend 40 hours a week at school. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love my students without fail. However, in a book called “Love Does” by Bob Goff he makes a statement that made me change the way I viewed my own career.
Goff says, “Some time ago I stopped thinking about being a lawyer as a career. Instead, I think of it as just a day job. Thinking about work as a day job has made a big difference in the way I approach what I do. It’s also helped me not to confuse who I am with what I do.” He continues on to say that “Following Jesus is about having your paradigms shift as you navigate a wide range of emotions while living the big life Jesus invites us into.”
I haven’t been great at the following Jesus part. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand Pastor Doctor’s choice and I certainly didn’t want to be a Christian if that meant being like most of the ones I knew. But God showed me a funny thing in the days of the pandemic in which I got to spend so much time reading. He showed me that he never created me to be like anyone else. He also never created me to be the boss of anyone else. He never intended for any of us to be a Pharisee. We chose that on our own.
I found it interesting that Jesus continually refers to the Pharisees as snakes. Just in case you aren’t a Bible reader I’ll explain a Pharisee. A Pharisee was a religious leader that studied the law of Moses and told people what it said so that they could follow it. The Pharisees were supposed to be the most righteous people in all the land. They were supposed to be the religious elite. The Pharisees missed the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. Here’s the problem with the Pharisees. They got so hung up on the actual Laws, they missed the reason the laws were there.
I belong to an online group for women of Christ that is a resource where you can post questions or testimony, or just ask for prayer. I generally tend to skip over the questions because I don’t like the fighting that comes out in those threads. After all, I belong to the group so that I can find ways to uplift my heart when I am having a “worldly” bad time. I don’t come to the group to find out I’m the wrong kind of Christian. One lady asked how other sisters in Christ were able to fast. She was struggling with it and wanted some tips and comfort from her sisters that had been there and struggled through it. That is not what she got. I left her a comment about not all fasting having to do with eating food and was immediately “rebuked” by another woman who told me that I needed to go read my Bible and stop giving out false information. The regular old Wild Child in me flared up. She continued to list 48 Bible verses to show me how wrong I was. I scrolled through some of the other comments while I was trying to calm down my attitude and noticed that the woman had went after every single person on the thread the same way she came after me, telling them they were wrong and laughing condescendingly at other’s thoughts on the subject.
In one comment to me, the woman actually wrote, “You haven’t even read the Bible. Fasting is clearly going without food and also you are supposed to give up smoking, caffeine, and sugar. Anything that could possibly be bad for you. Get with Jesus and stop giving out wrong information.” Oh. Well, I seemed to have missed the Bible verse that mentioned that fasting was only from food but had included giving up cigarettes, Mountain Dew, and Jolly Ranchers. Now, I don’t know what Bible she’s reading but my Bible doesn’t include a chapter that mentions any of those. I wanted to reply to the woman that she was an amazing Bible character. She made a great Pharisee. Luckily, God has a hold of my fingers on social media lately, as well as the ability to place his giant hand over my mouth so I don’t say something unloving to people. In later comments the woman also told another poster that she had never felt the need to fast. At that point I left the conversation. I couldn’t handle any more of the hypocrisy and condemnation from this lady who didn’t have any more access to God than I did. I couldn’t stay there and still be able to respond to her in a loving way. I realized that’s why God is a lot better at this than me. I’ve never heard him talk to people the way I wanted to talk to this woman.
I don’t know how you handle your irritations, but I vent to God. He is my constant companion. I learned a long time ago that God can hear what I am thinking. So, while I was cussing this lady out in my head…he heard all of that. I talked to him about it. God said, “Funny you should mention that. She sounds like someone else I know sometimes” The only difference in the way God “rebukes” me and the way this lady did it is that God is always really loving in the way he tells me that I am messing up his Kingdom by my opinion. I spend so much time in his word that you’d think I’d have learned by now to practice 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.” That woman had no way of knowing if I read my Bible or not. I know I do and I felt sorry for her after God reminded me how sad I used to be when I thought the Bible was just a list of rules I could never hope to follow all the way.
I find these types of things a lot. In general conversation, in posts and comments on social media, and even on my favorite pastors’ video sermons comment threads. It makes me sad that we are so intent on being right about how to follow the rule we think we know; we miss the whole entire point of the rule being there. God asks us to follow certain laws because he knows if we don’t we’ll get hurt. He has never once in all the Bible verses I’ve read asked us to pull an Eve and add to his word. Let me explain. In Genesis 3 when the serpent came to the garden of Eden and asked Eve, “Did God really tell you that you couldn’t eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Eve answers him in verse 3, “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, “You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.” God never said they couldn’t touch it. His exact words in Genesis 2:16, 17 the text says, “But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” He never told them not to touch it. Eve added that.
How often do we get a little overzealous like Eve and add things in that God didn’t say? How often do we act like the Pharisees and pretend we are righteous and godly and then when it comes to another brother or sister in Christ we tear them apart because their “knowledge” of the word doesn’t live up to our own? A little too often I’m afraid. Even me. I know it might be shocking for you to learn that the King’s Wild Child can get a bit arrogant at times, but that comes from being “well-read”. (If you are worried about it, trust me God is convicting me on it and he never misses a time when I need corrected.)
One of my favorite things that I have learned from Pastor Doctor is something that used to annoy my soul when I didn’t understand how to be a Christian. Every time I ask him a question about what I should do in a situation I am struggling with; his response is always “We should definitely pray about it and seek the Lord’s guidance.” I tease him now because I remember something, he says all the time in his end of sermon prayers. He usually asks God to give us wisdom and discernment and always asks for God to lead, guide, and direct us. You see, in all of my hours of reading the Bible, God has never once asked me to go ask someone besides him what I should do in anything I have come up against. Pastor Doctor must have learned that a long time ago, because he never forgets to say that…and he never forgets to mean it either.
You may remember in my earlier post that I said I had an issue fasting with food. I can’t do that. God won’t ask me to do that because he knows I would be giving up nothing. I don’t care about eating. So eating has become my form of worship. I worship God when I eat because I am showing him that I am taking care of the flesh suit he gave me. Am I great at it? Nope. But, I am progressing. God asked me to fast a different way. So, when a human comes up and tells me I am doing something wrong…I don’t have to get mad at them no matter which direction they come from. They can come sideways all they want. God’s voice is the only one that matters.
That being said, here’s the point of the story. God never authorized me to be a Pharisee. What he has authorized me to do is to tell people what he tells me. Does that mean that other people need to follow my road and do all the things that I put in my blog about the way I live? Absolutely not. I write about my life because I have been through things that others have struggled with and God has given me a new life and saved me from the misery of the choices that I’ve made. How he does that is different for everyone. Please don’t ever take my words as some sort of road map for how you are to live your life. I am not you and I don’t know what God tells you to do. If you have a question you think I might be able to answer, then by all means, please ask me. But, please don’t ever assume that just because God talks to me that he talks to me for you. He does not. I don’t live your life and I have no idea what great thing God is trying to do through you.
What God has asked me to share with you is this. Matthew 23:13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you won’t allow the others to enter either.” The problem with the Pharisees is that they are keeping people from being able to experience the enormous love that God has for us. If you are a Christian and you are arguing with other believers about how they follow the rules laid out in the Bible, how do you expect unbelievers to want to come to know Christ? We are supposed to be made in God’s image. That has nothing to do with what we look like. It has to do with our spirit. Our spirits are supposed to be as close to Jesus’ as we can get so that other people will look at us and say “Hey! I don’t know what she has, but man I want some of that! She goes through life, even on the hard days and can still love people. She can still be nice. She can still be joyful when life sucks. What is that about?”
Where I think we get confused is at the point where we don’t agree with the way someone else is choosing to live their lives. Many people have opinions. In fact, that is the only thing every person in the world has in common. We all have opinions on things. All you have to do is turn on your tv, listen to someone speak, or read a comment thread online. Opinions get to be like those annoying bugs that fly around the old fruit you forgot to throw out and now you can’t hit any of them with a fly swatter because they are too small and can squeeze through the little holes. Annoying. How many times are we those annoying bugs when we bounce our pompous opinions off of someone who is just struggling to hear what God is telling them? How many times are we the reason why someone decides to move away from the door to get into the Kingdom? How many times are we the reason someone can’t come to the Cross and find the love that God so desperately wants them to find?
Let me relate that to today. There is a sea of controversy going on every time we step out of our houses. Wear a mask or don’t, support black lives matter or all lives matter, be a democrat or a republican, support gay pride or don’t, believe in a conspiracy theory or pick it apart, support public education or private schools or homeschool. Here’s the thing. These are all issues swirling around us right now on top of our daily lives. Instead of seeing it as the Pharisees did, maybe it wouldn’t look that daunting if we all tried seeing it from Jesus’ point of view. We are all one of God’s children. Let me give you a nugget of clarity. Our opinion of another person has no bearing on whether or not they end up in heaven with us. How bout that?
My opinion of someone else and the character they possess holds no weight when God decides if they get to hang out in heaven for all eternity with me. The Pharisees knew the law inside and out and they didn’t get to have any say so in who got accepted into God’s kingdom. None at all. Wow. So guess what? The only person I have a say so in where they end up is me. My opinion only holds weight when it comes to whether or not I get in. Just me. Not my ex-husband, not my friends, not my boss, not the rude lady at Walmart, or the Facebook Pharisee. None of those people will be kept out of the Kingdom of heaven because of my opinion on them being there. If God decides to let them in, God decides to let them in and nothing I can say is going to change his mind. That makes me sound a lot less important than I thought I was.
Do you know the word love is used in the Bible 310 times in the King James Bible? 348 in the New American Standard Bible, 538 in the New Revised Standard Version and 551 times in the New International Version. In none of these verses does it tell us to love unless people say something stupid. I hear a lot of people say that we are to tell other people when they need to turn from their sins because God tells us to. That is true to a point. However, nowhere in the Bible does God give any of us permission to act like complete buttheads and be rude or self-righteous if we are called to speak to someone about their sins. Recently I listened to a sermon from a pastor I listen to regularly, I’ll call him Pastor Hilarious. Pastor Hilarious talked about how God called us to read the word and live according to what it says. At the end of the sermon you could leave a comment and one lady called Pastor Hilarious a false prophet because she felt he didn’t go deep enough into the word of God. Another lady commented on the same thread and said that he had preached that gay people would be allowed to go to heaven.
I may be wrong here, but if God says that all sins are the same what difference does it make to any of us what sexual orientation someone else is? What difference does it make if someone else wears a mask or is a Republican or is for public education? We are called to speak with love. I’m not asking you to put aside your beliefs. I am not asking you to stand down from speaking out against the things God convicts you to speak out on. I am asking you to remember that the people on the other end of the issue from where you are are God’s children also. They deserve to be treated with love and respect and dignity. Love them. Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they are. Loving someone has to do with treating other people the way Jesus treats us. He didn’t call us out on all of our sins and downfalls in front of the entire world and embarrass us. Jesus never asked us to curse someone out on Facebook. He never asked me to call that lady a Pharisee. He said,” I got you. I love you. Love her the way I love you.” Jesus can’t stand the way I act sometimes. Matter of fact, I know that him and God have board meetings about what to do about my behavior and the way I do things. I know they are having board meetings because usually right after they have one something kind of big in my life happens. I either get in a fight with someone I love, I lose something valuable like a friendship or my keys, or the world shuts down and I get sent to my room to sit around and think about the last 40 years of sinning that I have taken part in.
God showed me something else when he gave me this revelation. No matter how much I know about the Bible, no matter how well I think I understand the laws in it’s pages, and no matter what my relationship with him looks like, he will never tell me what he convicted someone else on. Let me say it again. God is never going to tell me that he convicted someone else of not following what he wants them to do. God is never going to tell me what he is convicting YOU about. I have no right to tell a homosexual that they are not going to heaven. I have no right to tell a liar that they cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I have no right to tell someone who cheated on their husband that they are going to hell. You know why I don’t have those rights? Because I don’t know how to tell people anything God wants them to know with the conviction and not the condemnation. Only God can condemn people. I can’t do that because I don’t know the intention of their hearts. This is part of the reason that God doesn’t give us that authority. IF I do what I am called to do and love people….when I speak to them, whether they are my friend or an enemy, if I love them then HE will take care of whatever is in their hearts that isnt’ the way he wants it. I have a few posts coming where I explain what God has showed me about the way he’s asking us to love. I realize that’s not much information to go off of, but God already gave us the book on how to love. It’s the Bible. And all of the other books I have read help explain what God means but take it from a well-read person. You only need the one. If God thought we needed more than just the Bible and prayer…the Bible would have been a series. Like Star Wars or the Lord of the Rings or Encyclopedia Britannica. Guess what? It isn’t.