Paul had grown up in the home of a Pharisee, under strict adherence to the Law of Moses. The term Pharisee once represented genuine piety and deep devotion to God. We can assume that all followers of God would have a similar devotion for God. Look around at the Christians you know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list might look something like this:
- Careful student of Scripture
- Zealous and active in their stand for God
- Appetite for worship and prayer
- Consistent in worship attendance
- Practices Scripture memorization
- Not afraid to pray in public
- Active in the local church
- Fasts and tithes regularly
- Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
- Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth
For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus. But look again; these behaviors are not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees. Just something to think about.
While there are exceptions, by the time of the New Testament it appears that the Pharisees become synonymous with hypocrisy and cynicism. In Matthew 23, Jesus gets into a name-calling argument with the Pharisees.
- They made demands on others that they could not themselves keep (Matthew 23:4)
- They made their religious actions something into a show for others (Matthew 23:5)
- They loved to be at the center of attention (Matthew 23:6)
- They not only would not enter the kingdom of God but were preventing others from entering (Matthew 23:13)
I suppose what they really did was take the love out of obedience, which left only the Law. They became so obsessed with following the Law that they forgot to love God, and others. They choked on each letter of the Law, and God had something to say about them, Isaiah 29:13 for example: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up of only rules taught by men.”
Let’s check our motivation for following Christ. Let’s make sure that we follow Him out of love for God and not the reward from God, or simply to be obedient. Paul was a Pharisee, but he was far from God. Let’s not make the same mistake of having a head full of religion and a heart that is missing genuine love for God.