I Don’t Wanna Be a Pharisee

There’s a children’s Bible song that goes something like:

“I don’t wanna be a Pharisee
‘Cause a Pharisee ain’t fair, you see”

(Honestly, I had to look it up, because we didn’t sing that one growing up – I just heard it from other people singing it after I got older.)

The Pharisees did all the “right” things, but didn’t have the right attitude. They performed the ceremonies, stuck to the law, read the scripture and knew what it said. However, they lacked the compassion that God wanted His people to have.

You know any Pharisees?

As I was drying my hair yesterday morning, I was reflecting on some conversations I have had recently with a couple of different people. And thinking about how while Jesus is the only way to the Father, we all get there in different manners and different timing.

Now, I know that last sentence raised some blood pressures out there. I urge you to stop, take a deep breath, and follow me before you send me the scathing retort you are already forming in your head.

God made us all different. And we connect with Him in different ways. Each of our walks with Jesus looks different. That’s fairly obvious if you look at how we live our lives, what we enjoy doing, what we choose as our profession, how we learn, whether we marry or have kids or not…all of that relates to how God made us and what our walk with Him looks like. And we can’t judge someone else’s walk based on a comparison to our own.

Lemme ‘splain with an example.

Bible Study – we all go about it differently. Some people like to use online devotionals with our friends. Or maybe someone else likes to use a devotional book. There are others who like to sit down with just their Bible and maybe a couple of reference books and dig into a particular Bible book or word or theme. I know people who rely heavily on their audio bibles, listening to the words while they work or commute. Some people branch out and listen to podcasts or sermons. A lot of people use scripture journaling, or just journaling in general – I do this often. My personal favorite way to study is to work through a book or theme with a friend or small group of friends. And all of this is outside of just reading a chapter a day, going to Bible study on Sunday and/or Wednesday, and devoting time to prayer. None of these ways of study are wrong. None of them are more right than any other. And most of us use some combination of all that will change as we move through different seasons of life.

The trouble comes when we think our way is the right way or even the best way. We can’t look from the outside at someone and see how long their hardcopy Bible sits on the shelf and determine how steeped they are in God and His Word. We can’t look at how many hours another person sits listening to or reading sermons or devotionals and compare that to what we are doing.

Word on the Shelf vs. Word in the Heart

Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Well, John 1 tells us who the Word is…is He in your heart? What about Jeremiah 31:33, where the Lord says, “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.” The Hebrews writer reiterates this in his book, in chapters 8 and 10, where we are reminded that Christ is our High Priest, and the offering for our sins, the symbol of a new covenant that we will keep in our hearts. The laws we are to keep are given by Jesus, and we are reminded of them by John. Jesus says in John 6:29, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” And again in John 13:34, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” John drives it home in 1 John 3:23: “And this is His commandment: We must believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” (Slight preview for my 1 John 3 post coming soon. 😉) We spend time with Him, yes. We soak in the Word – both through the Bible and though the Spirit. But what that looks like is different for each of us.

We have to also be careful and not let how and how long we spend with God become a source of sinful pride. Thinking that because someone doesn’t study like us or spend their time doing the same things we do that we are better, or they aren’t enough. Does’t that make us kinda pharisaical? Jesus chastised the Pharisees and religious leaders for making their worship about show. About making sure everyone saw what they were doing. He said phrases to them such as, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” and “you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith,’ and “Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Don’t you think he caught a lot of them off guard? I’m sure they were flabbergasted at the accusations. They did everything right, didn’t they? Couldn’t anyone look at them and see that they were righteous? But they didn’t have mercy. They lacked faith. We don’t always trust – we think we have it all figured out and everyone else should just listen to us, instead of leaving it in God’s hands and letting Him work things out His way in His time. (Sidebar: I saw a video related to that you can find here if you are interested.) We don’t show love to each other – we may say the right words, but we are impatient or irritable or inconsiderate. Who does that sound like, lacking faith and mercy? Mmhmm.

You ever felt like this? I have. Sometimes I just want to shake someone and say, “Why can’t you get this? Why can’t you see it the way I do?” Well, maybe because this.

Maybe you’re just looking at it from different angles. Maybe in this situation, you’re both right. No one is calling it a 5 or a 7 – those are obviously wrong answers. But, as my friend Hannah says, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” What I see depends on what direction I’m coming from. What I understand depends on how God made me and what He has revealed to me. But we have to come together and practice that love for one another and that trust in Christ. Give each other grace and space for growth.

And quit being like Pharisees.

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