Probably most folks reading this article would respond to that question with, “I sure hope I’m not a Pharisee!” That is what I would like to say but after doing some thinking I would have to affirmatively state “I am a Pharisee.” More often than I want to admit.
While I was preaching through the Gospel of John here some months back, I began to question why there is so much in the Gospels about this ultra prickly group called Pharisees. The first introduction to them in the Gospel of John is not bad in chapter 3 when we meet Nicodemus. Highly educated, inquisitive, maybe even a little humble since he is asking questions instead of just giving answers. As we plowed deeper in the preaching of the book the picture of Pharisees grew more hardened and difficult. People who seemed shockingly unaware of their own self-righteous behavior while dripping with religious jargon. I can almost hear these guys in our day backslapping in church while saying, “Praise God brother!” As we neared the end of the book of John these characters became vile and hate-filled human beings who stood with satisfaction at the cross while completely unaware of how Scripture was being fulfilled. People who knew more Scripture than any other human beings not understanding the most significant event of all time. It is hard to believe. What became harder for me to believe is that I could actually be Pharisee-like in my living and thinking.
In my pursuit to better understand these figures that are woven throughout the Gospels, I came across a book that has been very thought-provoking and convicting. It is called Extreme Righteousness – Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees. I am in the process of reading it right now and so may be sharing bits and pieces at different times. I wanted to comment today on a section in the book called “Warning Lights of Self Righteousness.”
Warning Light #1 – A contemptuous view of others: Here is a quote from the author.
“For me the answer is yes and then some. I rarely verbalize these thoughts, or even acknowledge them to myself. But they are there. They surface in my secret reflections and in what I mutter under my breath. They come out in unguarded conversations about people not present. They pop out in my prayers and I lament the evils of culture more than personal or corporate sin. They slip out in my conversation about failing parishioners and fallen fellow pastors….A critical, contemptuous spirit emanates from a self-righteous heart.” p.50
Instead of giving the other three warning signs right now I wanted to just give one for our thinking. The line that gets me int he above quote is about lamenting evils of culture more than personal sin. Why is my heart less bothered being irritated with my wife and kids and more bothered about the trash Hollywood puts out? Why would I condemn someone else’s lack of forgiveness but nurse wounds of hurt in my mind over and over? My conclusion – I am a Pharisee. More than I ever would want to be.
The answer and the hope to all this? Grace and the humility we see in the Cross. I want to encourage you if you are discovering hidden Pharisee tendencies within you to come to the Cross and meditate on the truths of the Gospel. More about this to come…