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.
My Musings – Spent time these past few days with my two older brothers as we helped our 85 year old mother with a garage sale (selling many items that she and my dad had accumulated over 66 years together). We had many visitors to the sale. Some were neighbors, some were dear friends, some were mere acquaintances, most were strangers. They represented different ethnicities and social “classes.” We exchanged pleasantries with all, joked with a few (which garage sale had the best “junk”), had warm conversations with many and prayed with a few. At one point I remarked to one of my brothers “if more people went to garage sales, the word just might be a better place.” What a great time of fellowship with those we knew and those we did not.
As a world becomes more and more polarized, we sometimes lose sight of the fact we all have one Father and Creator – who loves us all. We have one Savior who did not just die for certain ethnicities, social classes or the “deserving” – He died one for all. He will save all who believe and receive.
My Advice – Forgive as He has forgiven you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Give to those in need. Love your neighbor as yourself. Entertain strangers. Do not oppress or mistreat the alien among you (ouch!). Love your enemies (say what?). For “[w]hatever you did [or did not do] for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did [or did not do] for me.” (Matthew 25:40, NIV 1978). Finally, have a garage sale – just for the fellowship of it all.
My Musings – A wise former pastor of mine (now with the Lord) once said, “when you read the word therefore, you need to see what it’s there for.” Paul had just recounted the life we used to walk (anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, to name a few), “since [we] have taken off [our] old self with its practices and have put on the new self.” That’s what it’s there for. A change of clothes. From the “filthy rags” mentioned above, to the renewed wardrobe that is “in the image of its Creator” woven out of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.“
My Advice – We are chosen and dearly loved. “Therefore,” “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That’s what we’re here for.
My Musings – In my previous musing, I discussed how ambiguous the English language was in conveying (“ear has heard“) God’s love for mankind. And that in the original Greek, we have a much clearer picture (“eye has seen“). Yet today’s verse tells us that even then, we really have no idea (“mind has conceived“). We might as well add that no language can convey.
A common exchange between people who love each other is when one person says “I love you” and the other replies “I love you more.” With God, the more is infinite. The more is most.
My Advice – We all want someone who loves us. God loves us unconditionally and incomprehensibly. Can we honestly say we do not want that kind of love? He is just outside the door knocking. Why not let Him in?
My Musing – In English, the word love can be a bit ambiguous. I love chocolate. I love my mate. I love my child. Same word, different types/degrees of love. In this text, Paul chose one of the four Greek words that are all translated love in English. He used the word agape, which is a selfless, self-giving and unmerited love that God shows to humankind in sending his son as a suffering redeemer. (Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 14). San Francisco: Harper & Row.).
Selfless – “God demonstrates His own love for us.” Demonstrate means to show or express (a feeling or quality) by one’s actions. He was under no obligation to do so other than His character and being demanded it.
Self-giving – “Christ died for us.” It doesn’t get more self-giving than that. It doesn’t get more demonstrative than that.
Unmerited – “While we were still sinners.” Rebellious offenders (sinners) of what God demands (sinlessness) merit nothing but judgment. Yet God offers forgiveness. It was not if you do this (clean up your act) for me, then I will do this (offer forgiveness and salvation) for you. That would not be a demonstration of love, it would be a demonstration of justice. Through the sacrificial death of His Son, God found a way to simultaneously demonstrate both His “agape” love and His righteous justice in one act of grace. “You see, at just the right time [while we were still sinners?], when we were still powerless [unable to do anything to change our sinfulness], Christ died for the ungodly [deserving eternal separation from God].” (Romans 5:6, NIV 1984).
My Advice – Show our appreciation by accepting this free gift.
My Musings – If God is a just god, . . . [fill in the blanks]? There was a time when this sentence did not start with the word if. It was readily accepted that God is just. Times have changed, but God has not. Actually, the sentence should begin with the word since. Since God is a just God, . . . [fill in the blanks]?
Since God is a just God, He has (Jesus on the cross) and will (the Last Judgment) deal with sin and injustice that has occurred in the world.
For those who have accepted Christ’s atoning death, sin and injustice has already been dealt with, and He will (in the life to come) make up for all the suffering that they have had to endure.
For those who do not accept Christ’s atoning death, sin and injustice will be dealt with at the Last Judgment, and the suffering that they have endured in this life will pale in comparison.
Lest one should dare to say that God is unjust, it need not end that way. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to avoid such a fate, only because God provided a remedy that is open to all. He was not obligated to do so, after all, we were the ones that chose to go our own way in the first place. But He chose to.
But if one still wants to begin the sentence with if, the blanks should be filled in like this: If God is a just God, why would He ever offer us grace? Because justice and mercy intersected at the cross.
My Advice – Think about it. Once we do think about it, it is indeed “unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” God did not do wrong, He became “wrong” in our place in the person of HIs Son Jesus Christ on the cross. God did not pervert justice, He perfected justice.
My Musings – Is it possible for us to cause God to do something against His will? Apparently it is. God “does not willingly bring affliction or grief.” But He does bring it on nonetheless. Why would He do something that He is not willing to do, that He does not have to do? It is motivated by “compassion, so great is His unfailing love.” The Father will discipline the children He loves, in order to bring correction and growth. If there were a gentler, less grief bringing way He would undoubtedly choose that way. But when there is no other way, He is compassionate and loving enough to
permit bring grief our way. When this was not enough, He took it upon Himself, through His only Son. For “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (Isaiah 53:10)” on our behalf in order to bring salvation to His creation. He was willing to do what He did not willingly want to do (say what?). Now that is love and compassion!
My Advice – We can rest assured, that in all these grief “things,” God will bring about good to those who also love Him and are called by Him (Romans 8:28). Are you feeling “affliction or grief?” Don’t ask why, as in why me? Ask why as in, what correction (repentance) is needed in my life? What do I need to learn from this? What growth is not otherwise possible without this? Don’t let the thing that God did not willingly want to do be wasted. Use it!