Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Being a Pharisee

{Luke 11:37-45; NLT}
As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. 38His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the ceremonial washing required by Jewish custom. 39Then the Lord said to him, "You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are still filthy--full of greed and wickedness! 40Fools! Didn't God make the inside as well as the outside? 41So give to the needy what you greedily possess, and you will be clean all over. 42"But how terrible it will be for you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you completely forget about justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things. 43"How terrible it will be for you Pharisees! For how you love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the respectful greetings from everyone as you walk through the markets! 44Yes, how terrible it will be for you. For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on." 45"Teacher," said an expert in religious law, "you have insulted us, too, in what you just said."

In this passage we see a confrontation that Jesus had with some of the Religious leaders of the day. These confrontations were not uncommon for Jesus because He didn't live by their rules and regulations. Jesus also critized these men because they did not provide spiritual leadership for people, and instead they heaped little laws upon them which concerned every aspect of their lives.

Donn Leach in What the Bible Says about Jesus made a comment that got me thinking: "Jesus is not so much trying to 'tell them off' as to lament over their lost state" (pg. 133). Jesus was not only bothered by the Pharisees and the Scribes spiritual leadership (or lack thereof), but also their lost condition. The plain truth is that they led the way they did because they didn't know there was a better way. They were just following the ways that they had been taught, and while these leaders had access to God's Word, they were unable to discover the truth that it contained.

It would seem then that the reason Jesus spoke harshly to these people was to help them understand what was at stake. This wasn't just about a difference of opinion or philosophy; this was a matter of life and death. As long as the Pharisees and their companions were the leaders they would lead the people to death, for they were lost themselves. Yet, these spiritual leaders, rather than admit that they were lost, continued to focus on rules in order to give the appearance that they knew where they were going.

Rather than condemning the Pharisees as fools I think it is important for us to think about what their example can teach us. Regardless of whether or not you see yourself as a leader as a Christian you are a leader. We are God's "Holy Priesthood" and each one of us has the responsibility of helping others come to God through Jesus Christ.

To be a good leader the first thing we have to consider is the condition of our hearts. The Pharisees put great emphasis on appearance, but inwardly they were guided by impure motives. If we are simply religious, that is following a bunch of rules and traditions, but lack the love and compassion that God desires that we show others, then we are still lost. Being a Christ Follower isn't about keeping rules and regulations but it is about living a life of faith. It isn't about the right appearance but about the right relationship.

To be a leader, one of God's priests, requires us to consider the stakes. The Pharisees emphasized the Law. The problem with the Law is that it brings with it Death. The Law cannot bring life, and that was not its purpose. The purpose of the Law was to show us how we have failed. No amount of Law keeping could undo our Law breaking. The way of repentance, the way to Life (even in the Old Testament), is tobsurrender to God and accept His gift of love. The stakes are not only life and death, but they are also eternal.

I think we have allowed a little too much Phariseeism into our relationship with God. Too often the "spiritual" guidance we offer to people is Law. "Don't do this or do this," we say. We want them to have the appearance of righteousness, but we are not concerned enough about hearts. Don't get me wrong, God does have standards, but those standards do not give life. Life is only found in the blood of Jesus Christ, and by trying to hold people to the standards of God before coming to Jesus we might prevent them from discovering the life found in Jesus. The most important thing we can do is not to shout to the world what we consider God's standards to be, but to become a bridge for people to travel so they might discover Jesus.

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