Another song addressed to the haters, stone throwers, and Pharisees. Another tweet about how the Pharisees will surely not be happy with what’s to come. “They just don’t understand. So legalistic”. That’s usually how the preemptive attack goes, and sometimes it’s necessary and accurate. Other times, more often than not, it’s unloving and hurtful. It may be trendy to call anyone to the right of us Pharisees, but it is often unwarranted and even sinful.
Have we thought about what it means to call someone a Pharisee? Do we understand the reason that Jesus had such serious beef with the Pharisees? Have we considered some of the things that Jesus had to say about the Pharisees?
Here are some things that Jesus had to say about the Pharisees during his ministry:
“Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee. First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanliness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to other, but within you are all full of hypocrisy.” Matthew 23:25-28
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” Matthew 23:33
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:20
Do you understand the depth of judgement Jesus is casting upon the heads of these Pharisees? “How are you going to escape hell?”, or “Unless y’all are more righteous than these pharisees, you’re not going to heaven.” (and by inference, you’re going to hell.) Serpents (think Genesis 3), vipers, and hypocrites; this is not a joke. It’s a judgement of damnation.
When we say “That guy is a pharisee”, if we are trying to communicate the same message of Christ’s anger towards Pharisees when we call someone a Pharisee, we are basically saying, in so many words, “That guy is going to hell.” When we call someone a Pharisee, we are casting some pretty serious judgement on that brother. With that in mind, I want to encourage all of my brothers in the faith to be very, very slow to call another brother a Pharisee. Why?
One reason we’ve already covered: calling a brother in Christ a Pharisee is speaking a damnable judgement on his head. We might as well just call them an unbeliever. There are other reasons, though. For example:
He may just be a weaker brother. Maybe you’re fine with alcohol and tobacco. Your idea of a lovely evening might include two fingers of scotch and a Romeo and Juliet stogy. You, like Paul, are convinced that there’s nothing wrong with that. (Romans 8:14) Well, that’s great, but maybe your brother hasn’t gotten there yet. Maybe he’s at a fundamentalist church where the only sin worse than dancing is dating girls that do, and maybe he’s just the product of poor discipleship.
Maybe alcohol is, in his mind, inextricably linked to his past life of sin and rebellion, and is basically still not in a good place with such things. Or, maybe he’s just a product of our culture, which, for some reason, has no problem with non-Christians drinking, but thinks that it’s hypocritical for a Christian to do so.
What if he just has an honest desire in his heart to set a good example to the world, and he thinks that abstaining from drink is the best way to do that? Ok, you’ve read Romans 14 and you know that, technically, you’re right and he’s wrong. His theology is off on this stuff. But, do you really understand Romans 14, which calls us to love, patience, and understanding when dealing with this brother who doesn’t quite have all the details worked out? (Romans 14:20) So, brothers, don’t be quick to call a weaker brother a Pharisee. Be quick to bear with him in love and patience.
Another reason that we shouldn’t be quick to call a brother a Pharisee is the fact that we are all sinful, and even with our new hearts and Holy Spirit driven bodies, we are still quick to deflect blame when it is presented to us, and in doing so, we act more like Adam than Christ. (Gen 3:12) I’ve seen it before, and I’ve done it as well: Someone calls me on something. I’ve crossed the line. I’ve abused my Christian liberty and have stepped two steps over into sin and worldliness. My reaction? “Lighten up, bruh.”
I call that fellow brother uptight. He needs to get a life. He needs to not take himself so seriously. Chill with all the legalism. He needs to stop being such a….Pharisee. Hindsight is usually 20/20, though, and as time passes, and the Holy Spirit does his convicting work on my heart, I usually end up realizing that I had crossed a line (telling an off color joke, for example: Eph 5:4). As I look back on many of those instances, I realize that, not only had I crossed a line and compromised my own holiness, but I also accused my brother of a damnable thing like phariseeism. Double the damage.
It’s not easy for everyone to point out sin in another brother’s life. Sure, some people seem to thrive on it, but for a great many of us, it’s a hard thing to do, and all the more difficult when the immediate reaction is usually one of accusation and defensiveness. If our brother seems to have a genuine passion for holiness, love for our soul, and Christlike humility, we should be quick to hear and slow to speak when confronted by said brother.
But, here’s the tricky thing: Even if we can’t be sure of any of the aforementioned things, we should still be quick to hear and slow to speak. God can speak through asses, and just because you can’t be sure of the motives of your brother, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider what he has to say. Think of how many times God used you despite your, what I’m sure, were less than pure motives. Consider the message, not the messenger.
So, be slow to call your brother a Pharisee if that brother is calling you out on an issue of holiness. It wasn’t one single thing that Pharisees did that upset Jesus, it was a general pattern in their lives and ministries. Consider the pattern of the brothers life and/or ministry, not just the particular action, comment, or incident.
Finally, be slow to call another brother a Pharisee because, in doing so, you yourself may become the Pharisee. Luke 18:9-14 is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It’s a powerful story, and the primary point is that a humble heart is what God desires, not an enumerated list of good deeds done, sinful actions avoided, and all the things that you can do better than that guy over there.
We read that and say “Yeah, screw that Pharisee. Thank God I’m not like him…”, and in doing so, we become him. Do you see that? Do you see how you stand up to the throne of Christ, raising your haughty little chin, talking about how you don’t judge people like that guy over there does? You’re humble, unlike that Pharisee over there. As I have browsed my twitter feed over the last few years, I see a lot of that. “Stupid Pharisees, they need to get humble ASAP, like us.” So, my brothers, let’s be slow to call another a brother a Pharisee, because usually when we do so, we’re just cultivating a proud heart and a phariseeism of our own. It’s kind of like that whole “False humility is just pride in disguise,” thing. Is it not?