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Pharisees and Fallacies

by Michael Armstrong

No one is a stranger to this common problem, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  As repulsive, irritating, and frustrating as hypocrisy is, we have all been guilty of it at some point. It is even possible to do it unknowingly. It is easy to judge a matter leniently in regard to a friend or loved one and come to a more objective conclusion when it involves a stranger. This is part of why prospective jurors are questioned under oath about their acquaintance with all those involved in a case before any selections are made, but the principle applies in our personal lives as well. 

It is also easy to slip into hypocrisy around people you are trying to impress, maybe on a date or speaking with your boss; to feign disgust or express derision towards things you actually like or do. How about your opinion of the referee’s professionalism when your favorite team is playing? It likely goes which ever way the calls go. 

The charge of hypocrisy is often leveled at Christians by unbelievers and, whether true or not, is used to dismiss the actual truth of God. Many are accused of it upon conversion, when those who have known you best see your attitudes or habits begin to change. Only Jesus Christ has lived entirely without sin, and try as we might, it is inevitable that we stumble occasionally. To those who seek occasion against us, any shortcoming on the part of a professing Christian is labeled “hypocritical.”

The idea of a hypocrite is held in almost universal reprehension. The duplicitous insincerity of standing in judgment while guilty is repugnant. Jesus Christ spoke out vehemently against it. Who can forget the scathing 23rd chapter of the Book of Matthew? While best appreciated in its entirety, some of the highlights of this indictment of the Pharisees, the most outwardly religious group of the day, include:

“All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Verse 3)

“But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.” (Verse 5)

“But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

“Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?” (Verses 11-19)

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

“Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Verses 23-24)

“Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Verse 28)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 

“For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” (Verses 37-39).

Does that leave any doubt in your mind as to how He, who will judge all mankind, feels about the matter? While the role we play in society is quite different from that of the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we are similarly responsible for the example we set. As converted Christians, we are future members of the family of God. Our speech and actions affect those around us, potentially influencing opinions on what we claim to be. Do they measure up to the example of Jesus Christ? Are they consistent with the dictates of scripture?

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is a little ironic. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt as to their sincerity and assume that at least some of them genuinely sought righteousness as evidenced by the conversions from among their number. They were so caught up in keeping the law they became pedantic. It’s as if they were so absorbed in microscopic examination that they failed to realize they were treading all over the bulk of what they were trying to keep holy! No wonder the Lord called them “blind leaders of the blind.” How can we avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation?

It’s important to always remember what Jesus Christ said in Matthew chapter 7. Verse 2 reads, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Verse 3 continues with the beam and the mote, reminding us to look to our own problems and shortcomings before attempting to correct someone else’s. 

Life requires judgment. Our calling requires us to be circumspect in the things we say or do, to be an example to those around us, and to help when we see others stumbling. How to do this constructively, in a way that earns you respect rather than derision, is not always simple. Even disagreement on small issues can be a deal breaker. Pointing out someone’s mistakes can be an easy way to start arguments and end friendships. It can especially be a strain on work or family relationships.

Most members of the Church of God have probably found themselves in awkward situations on account of their beliefs. “How was my Christmas? You mean the Roman amalgamation of pagan abominations you pretend is the Lord’s birthday and celebrate by indulging in superficial materialism?” That’s definitely not the best way to answer that question. Yet no matter what you say, it isn’t likely to be the answer they were hoping for and it will probably be offensive to them on some level. 

How can we best handle it? Perhaps we should remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:2, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” Not everyone has the same level of spiritual maturity or even the knowledge and background to appreciate the information you are giving them. Try to give people something they can relate to. A small bit of truth may do more good than a detailed explanation of everything you know on a subject.

Often we encounter actions or opinions that are expressly condemned in God’s word. It can be infuriating. Your conscience may even require you to set the record straight, so to speak. “Be ye angry, and sin not,” wrote Paul in Ephesians 4:26. Our society can be vexing, especially as we see it draw further away from the principles of God, but imagine the evil debauchery Paul’s initial audience were witness to! Their society actually lived and worshiped according to the Greek and Roman mythology you were probably forced to read in school. 

The fruits of the spirit have not changed, however. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance should be evident in us in all circumstances. If we confront adversity in this manner we will at least have conducted ourselves as Christians, whatever the response may be.

These points are especially relevant when conflict or disagreement arises between brethren. In such an instance, all parties would be expected to exhibit these characteristics in a manner we probably wouldn’t count on from an antagonistic co-worker. Paul writes in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” 

This is similar to the statement Christ made about the beam and the mote, mentioned earlier in this article. Both emphasize our responsibility to judge ourselves first. Not that we should not help instruct, correct, or warn those around us, but in the end we only have control of ourselves. Just like the watchman of Ezekiel 33; after being warned, the responsibility lay with the people.

We know that Jesus Christ is our High Priest. While the moral code outlined in the Old Testament is the same as what is taught in the New Testament, physical men are no longer the intermediaries between us and God. We have access to Jesus Christ directly, and through Him to God the Father. Men broke the Old Covenant, not God. Men showed themselves incapable of keeping or enforcing the perfect law of God, of which Paul said, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (Galatians 3:21). They showed themselves to be hypocrites. The scriptures are for our edification, to help us avoid the errors of our forebears.

We do have a responsibility to judge, but primarily to judge ourselves. When it really gets complicated is when we encounter others engaging in or believing things we personally abstain from or disagree with. While many issues are explicitly addressed in scripture, not every nuance we encounter, not every matter we might be forced to take a side on, is quite that clear. What is clear is our responsibility to confront them all with the gentleness, goodness, and meekness required of all Christians. Our will and opinions are not the pinnacle of righteousness. Neither is the example Jesus Christ set for us one of judgment and condemnation, but one of humility and servitude.

Consider Paul’s instructions in Romans Chapter 14 verses 1 through 13: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

“For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

“Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

“He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

“For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

“For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.

“For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.”

There is room for difference of opinion amongst brethren. As Paul taught, we have liberty in Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:32-33 he said, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” 

James also said, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4:10-12).

Even the Lord Himself, He who is able to save and destroy, set an example of humility and encouraged His disciples to follow it on the last night of His physical life. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is the chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:25-27). Is there any better example for us to follow?

How would a servant provide correction? If you found it necessary to correct your boss, a police officer, or anyone in authority over you, how would you go about it? Probably very carefully and humbly. Don’t these instructions seem to indicate that this is how we should deal with everyone––especially our brethren? 

Paul had to address disputes among brethren who said, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12) Were they not trying to out-righteous one another, just like the Pharisees with their rigmarole? History shows us that the church has always struggled with this. Look at the hundreds of supposedly Christian denominations, all claiming to believe the Bible and worship Jesus Christ. How can this be? It is hardly consistent with the multiple injunctions to “be of one mind.” 

Sadly, despite our knowledge of the truth, the Churches of God have hardly fared better. Even though we are of one mind in regard to such foundational teachings as the Sabbath Day, the annual Holy Days, the Kingdom, and the law and grace, we have allowed smaller issues and men’s egos to divide us. How do we  keep the Sabbath holy? Can we eat out? Stay in a hotel? Watch TV? Use electricity? Drive a car? Can we observe our birthdays? Should we vote? Are church eras successive or concurrent? On Atonement, which goat represents whom? Should we only say the Lord’s name in Hebrew? What does “amen” really mean? Are there clean and unclean fungi? Will my dog be resurrected? Will there be internal combustion engines in the kingdom? (Those last ones were supposed to be funny, but if you think sides won’t be chosen, think again.) 

Yes, we must all try to be blameless in every instance, and yes, that sometimes means making hard decisions about our associations. But if we seek to carry our point more than we seek to follow the Lord’s clear instructions, treating each other mercifully and with love, are we really performing His will?

Isaiah 64:6 reads, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” We would do well to consider these words and remain humble in situations that call for judgment. It is not reasonable to expect that we will all 100% agree on worldly issues or even on doctrine. Romans 14:22 says, “Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” There is some room for difference of opinion between men in the eyes of God. 

Overcoming is a life-long process. As we learn and grow we will not always have the same level of understanding or maturity. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend,” reads Proverbs 27:17. Fashioning a raw lump of metal into a blade sounds like hard, slow work. If we serve a steak to a hungry baby and it doesn’t eat, whose fault is it really?

Is our commission to find fault with one another, or to do the work of God? The message Jesus Christ preached was relatively simple, “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” He said “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:15). 

Notice He didn’t say like a smug, know it all teenager. He also said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We are all individuals, responsible primarily for our own actions, answerable directly to God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and our own conscience. We all have something left to learn, something to improve on. 

Are we the people of God, doing the work of God? Do we trust in His mercy, or in our own righteousness?  Christ overcame the world. Should we then emulate it in bickering or self-seeking? When He returns He shall set the record straight. He said, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:12-14).

Few people find it, though many seek it. The right thing to do in a situation isn’t always clear. We constantly rely on prayer, fasting and repentance for our own shortcomings. Few people consistently treat others the way they want to be treated. 

Keeping the clear, plain commandments of God sets us apart from the rest of the world. The trunk of the tree is solid. We must keep our eyes on the coming Kingdom and the work that still needs to be done. We must showcase the love, joy, humility, and mercy so obviously required of us. 

If we do, if we work together in harmony, then God will give us increase, and this tree will continue to bear fruit.