Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We Need More Pharisees

The Pharisees get a “bad rap” in the New Testament because Jesus called some of them on their inconsistent practices (Matthew 23:13ff.). Indeed, he told some of them that they were children of the devil (John 8:44) — pretty strong language! The epithet “Pharisee” has become synonymous with “hypocrite,” and nobody wants to be accused of being Pharisaical. But the fact is, all Christians are Pharisees. If you believe the Word of God should be your guide for living, if you believe in miracles, and if you believe in the resurrection of the dead you’re a Pharisee — for those things were what distinguished the Pharisees from other Jews of the first century. The apostle Paul was a Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), and used his identification with the Pharisees to stir things up among his accusers (Acts 23:6-7). Jesus certainly cared about the Pharisees or he wouldn’t have tried so hard to straighten them out, to make them into more effective and accurate teachers of his people.

Contrary to common opinion, the Pharisees weren’t trying to get people “saved” by keeping the most stringent provisions of the Law of Moses. They were actually developing “workarounds” so the Law would be easier for more people to keep. For the Lord had given the Law as an act of grace (Deuteronomy 7:7ff.), in order to prepare the people he had chosen as his witnesses to lead an orderly and successful life in the land he had promised to give them. Our culture of today has experienced the disappearance of many standards of upright and compassionate behavior, and a diminished belief in the resurrection and in God’s miracle-working power. So we don’t need fewer Pharisees, we need more.