I know you’ve heard it said that Christianity is not a RELIGION but a RELATIONSHIP. Matthew 23 is a fantastic example of why we need to be very careful with formalized religion. In it Jesus is preaching to the crowds and to his disciples and he is warning them about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Now I grew up in what I think was a very “pharisaical” group of people. They did not just exist in Jesus’ day, for “Pharisees” live on today in their attitudes and notions of self-worth & self-righteousness.
1) What does it mean to be a Pharisee? vss. 1-12
- TRADITIONALISM. Traditionalism means upholding of tradition, especially so as to resist change. Pharisees are very Traditional. We might even call this formalism. Traditionalism resists change, even good change. When Jesus came, everything changed. He fulfilled the Law of Moses & did away with the O.T. sacrifices & ceremonies. Traditionalism says- “You must follow the spoken/ unspoken rules of the past or you’re not really alright.” We see evidence of this today whenever a church battles over music & methodology. Traditions must be grounded in the word & not someone’s custom or ministry preference.
- LEGALISM. Legalism takes traditionalism to a whole new level. Legalism loads people down with burdens they cannot carry. It enforces rules people cannot keep. It indulges a person’s self-righteousness. It divides the body of Christ. Legalism adds to salvation & does not let it stand on Christ alone. It says– Your salvation must be accompanied by works.
* Akin to Legalism is JUDGMENTALISM, which says– “Your experience must be the same as mine or it isn’t right.” I’ve had to learn this the hard way because I’m a very judgmental person. I tend to be rigid in my belief system and a little self-absorbed in my own experience, so I expect everyone to see things the way I see it and to do things my way. The problem is twofold– Not everyone is wired like me; and not everyone comes to God just like me. (Don’t misunderstand- everyone must still come through Christ.) Judgmentalism in any form is bad (unless allowed by Scripture). Judmentalism is at its worst when we judge others’ salvation by our experience or expectations. This is what leads to Legalism.
- EGOISM, aka Pride. In the case of the Pharisees, this was seen by their DESIRE to be…
* in the PLACE of Honor, and
* a PERSON who is Honored.
But Jesus said that we should not be the kind of person who seeks after such things. Leave the position of distinction alone, let it be conferred by the one who wants to confer it upon you, but don’t seek it. Don’t run after titles and seek the glory that comes with office. “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (12).”
2) What happens to Pharisees? vss. 13-36
Jesus pronounces SEVEN WOES upon the Pharisees of His day. I don’t have time to go into each one. Read them, they are pretty self-explanatory.
This is the order of what happens. Pharisees are bound by their traditions, rules, & pride. They are self-righteous & they judge others by their own standards (judgementalism). This will lead to JUDGEMENT (7 woes), which leads to CONDEMNATION (33-36), which leads to DESOLATION (38).
3) What is needed to ESCAPE Pharisaism?
I think it’s readily apparent that if we want to escape a sense of self-righteousness and self-importance, run to Christ! What is needed is a RELATIONSHIP with Him. When we come to Christ and begin to be like Him, TRADITIONALISM, LEGALISM, & EGOISM go out the window.
What else is needed is the RETURN of Christ. There will come a day when all the haughty will pay. Jesus will put everything right again. He will do what He has longed to do “gather the children together (vs. 37).”
Pray that we will not be Pharisees. Do not be self-righteous or self-important or self-absorbed. Let us rather be like Christ who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8).”