There are a lot of folks today talking about Pharisaic behavior. It is interesting to see what is most commonly labeled with this title. Typically it is used to refer to a perceived over ambition to follow the “letter of the law.” Legalism, if you will.
There is no doubt that the Pharisee’s view of the law was seriously flawed, and their rejection of Jesus was rooted in this self-righteous view of the Law. They reasoned that because they possessed the law in written form, and because they were children of Abraham, they should be able to attain complete righteousness on their own merit and had no need of a savior. Jesus corrected them of this view by showing them that they, though following many of the ceremonial laws very closely, had still sinned in other areas. They had neglected the moral laws and the principles of kindness, love and decency toward their neighbors and in doing so they had “swallowed a camel while straining out gnats.” Notice then, that the Lord’s condemnation of Pharisaic Legalism was not that they tried to follow the law as closely as possible, Jesus never failed to emphasize the importance of obedience, but that they thought they could attain personal righteousness without a savior, by adhering to a few ceremonies and rituals. (Matt. 23:23)
Does this attitude exist in the church today? I suppose it may. There may be some who feel that simply because they were raised in a faithful church and have family in the Church and follow a few important ordinances that they don’t need a savior, but that is a pretty serious charge. Jesus could read the hearts of those Pharisee’s; I cannot read the hearts of my brethren. I am inclined to believe that there are not many in the Church today that are like those Pharisee’s of old. Most with an attitude like they had would probably not see the need for the emphasis we place on the Gospel and would feel that their own goodness would be sufficient to save them in the last day.
But, even as I doubt that many in the church today really have that “pharisaic” view of self-righteousness obtained through the law, I do see many who certainly demonstrate Pharisaic Behavior, and it is troubling. There was something else about the Pharisee’s which was frequently rebuked and condemned by Jesus, and that was their arrogance and ostentatious religion. Notice the showiness of the Pharisee in a familiar parable of the Lord, “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
Notice the contrast? The Pharisee loudly, flamboyantly declared all of his goodness and greatness, while the tax collector quietly, personally prayed to God. In this case we find the Pharisee boasting in his accomplishments, but occasionally we find them boasting in their HUMILITY! What a definition of the “false humility” spoken of by the Apostle Paul. (Col. 2:23) “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matt. 6:1-4) “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” (16-18)
When I see people posting (or, should I say boasting) their prayer schedule on the internet, or constantly making quips, jabs and subtle indications that they are so much more spiritually minded than their frivolous brethren, I see pharisaic behavior. I certainly believe that we should demonstrate Christ in our lives, but isn’t it enough to just live the life of a Christian, will this not be perceived by those around you as godly, and yet not as arrogant, giving glory to Him and not to you? I suppose that those who seek to abandon the aspects of Christian living that so visibly distinguish us from the world (modesty, gender distinction, shamefacedness) are forced to “speak and post” their religion in order to make it known, perhaps that should serve as an indication. Can folks not identify you as a Child of God without a verbal introduction as such? If so, that is a shame friend. The Lord said that we may know what manner of person a person is by the “fruit they bear.” When men and women go about judging the hearts of their brethren with clever, sarcastic insults while at the same time bragging of their leaves to hide their barren branches, the church will suffer!
If you have a legitimate concern for the souls of your brethren, and honestly feel that they might be seeking to attain righteousness by some other way than the Way, you should go to them and guide them back to the truth, but before you start branding people “Pharisees” “remove the beam from your own eye.” – CED