Understanding Pharisees

I was sitting up, trying to go to sleep last night, thinking about Pharisees.  I know, I know, it would probably seem like a good idea to most – a good way to fall asleep – but for me, it was keeping me awake.

You see, I think I understand Pharisees.  

grumpy2I have children.  And sometimes my children see that I am in a grumpy mood, and when they are being thoughtful, they make sure to tiptoe around me.  They do everything right.  They clean up their rooms (or at least hide everything to give the appearance of a clean room).  It makes them feel safe to do this – like if they don’t cross me, they won’t feel my wrath.

Isn’t this what Pharisees do?  They have to make certain that they are following every rule, that every “T” is crossed and every “i” is dotted.  Maybe it’s because on some gut level they think of God as being a grumpy dad, stomping around the house looking for an excuse to seek vengeance.  

pharisee-and-tax-collectorThe Pharisees of Jesus’ day have every right to have acted the way they did.  As far as they were concerned, according to the Jewish holy books of the time, God was pretty angry, pretty often.  And so they did their best to keep the law.  The problem is, if we can go back to the God as Father idea, that no parent wants his or her children to be obedient out of fear – fear of condemnation, fear of punishment, fear of wrath.  I want my children to do the right thing for two reasons – out of love, and because doing the right thing is the right thing to do.  And this is the picture we’re given about God in the New Testament.

What picture does the Word give us about God as father, compared to us as parents?

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

So, if I want my children to do the right thing for the reasons given above, how much more would God desire that?  

And this is where we get back to the Pharisees of our time.

Yes, it does seem like it would be safer if we did everything exactly right – exactly the way God wanted us to.  The problem is first of all, that it is impossible for us to do so.

“As it is written, None is righteous, just and truthful and upright and conscientious, no, not one.  No one understands [no one intelligently discerns or comprehends]; no one seeks out God.  All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one!” Romans 3:10-12

Does this mean we shouldn’t try to do the right thing?  No, of course not.  But it does mean that God is a God of grace, that if I understand when my kids screw up, how much more will God understand when we do?  And if I forgive and continue to love my children when they disobey, how much more will God do so?  

So, if you are a modern day Pharisee, I’d invite you to meditate on the words of Ephesians 1:3-14, and realize that God is not the grumpy, sleep-deprived dad looking for an excuse to smite his children.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.  And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Amen.

My “Aha!” Moment

I had an “Aha!” moment just now.

No, not that kind of “Aha!” moment.  You know, like a “Eureka!” moment.  Or an “Of Course!” moment.

Let me explain.  A few minutes ago, I was walking past a house on my street and heard some sort of “Hillsongy” P&W music coming from the window. I didn’t know the song, but it was one of those obviously Christian songs – and as notoriously bad Christian music can be, I don’t mean “obviously” as a critique. In fact, it made me nostalgic for a few years back when I listened to a lot of that sort of music, and it also reminded me of some pretty significant things that happened to me at that time, in my Christian walk.

Then, the “Aha!”, “Eureka!”, “Of course!” moment hit… one of the reasons why I (and probably so many other people) get so angry and sad about the message that the hyperconservatives are trying to get out, at least in my community in NC/VA.      

According to their message, the Jesus that died on the cross for me and for so many others was insufficient.  His death was insufficient.  His defeat of hell and the grave was insufficient.  The blood that he gave as an atoning sacrifice for our sins was insufficient.  

According to their message, the Jesus that walked with me and my family through personal tragedy (the death of my father and the burning of my church not long after) was false.  The comfort we felt from the Holy Spirit as we grieved was false comfort.  The unity that we experienced with our fellow church members was a farce.

According to their message, the Jesus that has inspired men and women through the centuries to give up everything they have to work with people who have nothing was anti-Christ.   Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, Jim Elliot and Roger Youderian?  All Lost.  Lottie Moon?  Lost.  William Carey?  Lost.  The people talked about at the Voice of the Martyrs?  Lost.  All the faithful followers of Jesus through the ages who have believed differently than they do?  Lost.

Why?  How could this be?  It is because they all served an insufficient Jesus.

The Promised Land

And for what? What is this wonderful alternative that they have set up? This Newly Restored Promised Land to which they are attempting to lead us?  Certainly it will inspire a new generation of people who want to go to the four corners of the earth to share the Good News of God’s grace!   Well, let’s look and see.

“If you don’t take the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week you are lost!”

“If you play a guitar in a church service, you are lost!”

“If you aren’t baptized exactly the way I say you should be according to my interpretation of Scripture, you are lost!”

“If you don’t follow the rules I have set up from my “study” of Scripture, you are lost!”

“If you aren’t in a church that I approve of, you are lost!”

And, finally, said to the “unbeliever”:  “we are here to defeat destroy you and uplift truth”!

It Is For Freedom You Have Been Set Free

When I let myself think about the bondage that they are setting up for people through their deft mishandling of the Word of God, it makes me really, really, sad. It makes me sad for the people who will fall for their mishandling. It makes me sad for the people who halfway listen to them and, hearing them quoting Scripture, think that they are somehow authoritative. It makes me sad because it is an attempt to turn the Gospel into something that it is not – a prison, when Christ came to set the prisoner free (Luke 4:18); to give us freedom (John 8:32).

(image from here)

The Word as Blunt Weapon

“But they make people go back to the Bible!” some would say. Yes, that is true, but do they make people go back and sit at the feet of the Master to grow closer to Him, or do they make people go back so that they can also learn to prooftext the Word and fight with it like some sort of blunt weapon?

(Image from here.)

An Answering Voice

And I was suddenly glad that I had started this blog, so that there would be an answering voice out there.  JR likes to ridicule us, that we may only have five (or so) people commenting here each day, but my blog status report tells me that we have hundreds of people visiting and reading each day.

It’s my prayer that some of them might be people who are looking for a way out of the bondage of this way of thinking, and that somehow we might help them to see that Christ exists outside of their assembly, regardless of what they might hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

My Prayer

And to any of those folks who might have stopped in here today, I share Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” 

(image from here)