Christian Flashcards: Can You Find the Pharisee?

angry womanPeople these days seem to imagine that Jesus would be laid back and cool.

We appropriate a twisted version of grace that says Jesus came to say “It’s okay, man. You’re fine. I love you. Follow me and don’t change a thing about you.” Because of this, we’re drawn to the preacher with skinny jeans, mussed hair, excellent graphics, and sermons that make us laugh but we shun the uptight church lady who’s always harping about obedience and knowing the Bible.

If we had a deck of Christian flashcards and their photos were placed in front of us asking, “point to the Pharisee,” most of us would pick the uptight church lady and we would not necessarily be right. On the other side, God will reveal the Pharisaical robes of some of those cool preachers and He’ll reveal the heart of love exuding from some of those uptight church ladies.

Read a gospel. In these times when there are powers working overtime to distort His image, I find it necessary to be reading a gospel all the time in addition to my other Bible reading as a kind of antidote to deception.

Jesus said really hard things. Yes, He drew crowds but they scattered just as quickly and it didn’t take much to incite them to call for His crucifixion. You don’t kill people for being too nice. Leaders don’t see danger in someone who’s laid back and willing to go along to get along. Even theman-1600948_640 writers of Godspell in the ‘70’s knew the gospel story was one of a world-upsetting revolutionary.

Jesus called the Pharisees out for hypocrisy and for building “hedges” around the law. Jesus believed in the law. He didn’t come to destroy it but to fulfill its requirements on our behalf. The Pharisees, however, thought they were so wise, so superior to others, they often broke the law themselves. That’s bad enough but when teaching the law, they added to it in order to keep everyday people far from breaking them. They lived in fear of not being hard enough on others, about allowing their people to break the laws so sought to protect themselves by stiffening them. They weren’t obeying from hearts of love but of fear.

The laws are hard enough, right? No need to make them harder. And teachers should lead by example not using the guise of righteousness as a cover for their own bad choices.

Now, think about this. Some modern believers are so afraid of appearing like Pharisees, of appearing unloving, of creating any discomfort or sense of guilt, they’ve built a hedge around their own ministries by not ever teaching Biblical truth about currently touchy subjects. Secretly, they believe those truths. Secretly, they even obey those commands but they withhold the truth of them from others for fear of appearing to be Pharisees. This creates, in fact, a modern version of Pharisaism that too often goes unaddressed.

There is a time to remain silent about some of the more divisive commands but not to completely leave those truths out of the work of preaching and teaching.

On the other hand, not every uptight church lady (or man) is acting out of self-righteousness or a sense of superiority. Granted, some are, but many are coming from a place of love and concern for God’s flock. Knowing the Bible and reminding people that God’s commands are to be obeyed isn’t being a Pharisee. If you add to those commands or refuse to obey them yourself, well, now you’re talking, but accurately teaching biblical commands (which abound in the New Testament) and expecting believers to live up them is being like Jesus. I’ve personally been annoyed by some of the uptight church ladies and gents I’ve known through the years but usually found myself grateful to them for their unyielding commitment to truth and to God’s Word. I admire how many of them walk, unafraid, into other people’s ridicule or scorn for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of their listeners. We’ve allowed the world to hold up a fun house mirror to love and then we reject true love when it tries to help us avoid walking over a cliff.

woman-1246587_640It can be very lonely to be an uptight church lady standing firm on truth as the world (and other believers) keep pressuring her to sit down and be silent. To keep on speaking is a self-sacrificing act of love. The too-cool, compromising preachers are often surrounded by supporters but how will it feel to face that same crowd on the day the truth is clear to all?

I have never regretted getting to know believers I started out fearing because they seemed legalistic or Pharisaical. Sometimes, it turns out, they’re just that but I exercised love and that’s always worthwhile. Other times I discovered they were great reservoirs of love, courage, and biblical understanding and in my life, that has made all the difference.

None of us knows, as our generation becomes the “old folk” in the congregation, what truths will come under assault and how we’ll be perceived when we stand against the compromise. We all need to check constantly that what we’re proclaiming is biblical and not just cultural but our enemy engages in a constant assault of the truth we must guard against together. Even more reason to spend less time stereo-tying and judging and more time listening, loving, and getting to know those uptight ladies and gents along with the cool preacher in jeans.

They may not be as different as they appear and the Body of Christ may do well to listen to them both.

Praying for hearts of love even for the hard to love, listening to fellow believers but measuring everything against God’s Word, and interceding for (and speaking correction to) those who have given their hearts over to Pharisaism – this is a way to live. This is a way to follow Jesus.

If there were flashcards, these days would be easy but these are not easy times. Providentially, we have One who walks through them with us and guides us into the most excellent way.

Remember, I LOVE to hear from you, even when we disagree. Be sure to comment. Has anyone ever accused you of being uptight? legalistic? a Pharisee? Dismissed you as irrelevant without trying to understand you? How did you handle it?

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    The Conversation

  1. I probably have one foot in both worlds, Lori. A spiritual sandwich generation of sorts. The constant influence of my staunch, yet loving, mom who is now in Heaven, and my dedicated kids who love the Lord just as much, and are serving in a ministry trying to be relevant but without compromising the Truth of the gospels. They have a big job.

    • I’m also a bridge baby. I grew up on hymns and the start of contemporary praise music. I’ve seen several new translations of the Bible. It’s absolutely true that we need to constantly update methods and vehicles for delivering the gospel and discipling the young but the message should be consistent across generations.

  2. Pam Halter says:

    Yes, girl! Preach it! Seriously – you’ve hit it in the gut. I know the cool laid back churches can sometimes draw people in, especially young people, but once they’re there, what do they learn? Is it saving truth? I totally get not wanting to offend people, but am I more concerned with offending God or people? Sadly, I’m often more worried about offending people.

    You said: “I find it necessary to be reading a gospel all the time in addition to my other Bible reading as a kind of antidote to deception.” I love that SO much. I read Proverbs a lot, but this is good advice, and I’ll be adding at least part of one of the gospels to my reading. Thank you!

    • I believe many of the cool laid back churches are delivering truth. I attended one in Providence, RI full to the gills with 20-something’s with a vision for reaching their generation with biblical truth. They were creative, relevant, and cool while still standing firm on truth. God uses us as He designed us and there should be more freedom in that. My point is that hypocrites, Pharisees, and compromisers can be found in all forms. It’s a factor of action and internal geography not age, denomination, or dress code. Thanks, Pam!

  3. I’ve been a Pharisee where I promoted law over love. God knew deep in my heart I wanted to do right so He slowly over time revealed it and is slowly changing me to where I feel I’m more balanced in love and truth. It takes daily prayer, study and lots of praise, Thanksgiving and worship. And gratitude for who He is and who I am not…

  4. Isn’t it good that God doesn’t dismiss us, discard us, or give up on us, Jennifer. Likewise, we shouldn’t dismiss, discard, or give up on one another.

  5. Pam Halter says:

    I totally agree. I didn’t mean to imply more contemporary churches didn’t preach the Gospel and that only traditional churches did. We’re part of a community church on Sunday evenings that reaches out in all different ways. Small, but growing, and always preaching the truth.

  6. Your comment was great but we’re not the only people reading this conversation so I just wanted to clarify for others.

  7. Pam Halter says:

    True – thank you!

  8. What great insight. I’m sorry you’ve had some kickback. You have a fresh and truthful way of looking at God’s truth and have given me something to think about as I check my attitude. Family is family… in God’s world.