My Musings – It’s easy to dump on the Pharisees. After all, their name has become synonymous with self-righteous hypocrisy making them easy marks for criticism and condemnation. But what if we substituted the word Pharisee in the above verses with the word Christian? Is that how the world sees many of us? Are they justified in seeing us that way? We want to scream that they are way off base. That we are under attack and being unjustly persecuted. But we need to be very careful before we dismiss it outright. For you see, “the problem with self righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize in ourselves. We will own up to almost any other sin. but not the sin of self-righteousness. When we have this attitude, though, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God. Because you see, grace is only for sinners.” ― Jerry Bridges, evangelical Christian author, speaker and staff member of The Navigators.
We might think, why should we care what the world thinks of us? Well, if they are wrong, and perhaps they are in most cases, we need not care. Jesus did say, after all that in this world we will have persecution, and that if the world hated Him, we should not be surprised if they hate us too. But if they are right, even about a minority, we should care very much. For Jesus also said they (the world), will know we are His followers if we have love for one another. And if they do not see His love in us and from us, then the truth that we are proclaiming will not seem very much like the truth.
Another reason we should care is because Jesus cares. He had nothing but condemnation and anger (yes, anger) for the teachers, scribes and teachers of the law that exhibited such self-piety and hypocrisy. His attitude was not a casual “well actually,” but a very much heated “woe to you!“…”You snakes! You brood of vipers!” Whoa. Let’s take a closer look at these “woes” from Matthew 23, NIV 1984, and learn from them. We do not want to become 21st century Pharisees.
- Hypocrites – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.“
Sons of Hell – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.“
Blind Guides – “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?”
Neglectful – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.“
Greedy and Self-Indulgent – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.“
Whitewashed Tombs, Dead Men’s Bones – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.“
Full Measured Sinners – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!“
My Advice – I am sure that the vast majority of Christians are not this way, or at least not blatantly. But are there times we “deny” God’s grace to those whose sins seem greater than our own? On occasion, is the way we behave on the outside inconsistent with how we are on the inside? Do we overly focus on certain evils (“strain out a gnat“), to the exclusion of others (“swallow a camel”)? Are we so self-absorbed by the “injustices” that we must endure that show no mercy to others? Let’s just say whoa to woe.