How to Survive a Pharisee Apocalypse

hands-984032_640Do you know how to survive a zombie apocalypse? Within the church, we’re at much higher risk for a more dangerous contagion. Let me start with a little story.

Once, I worked with a mother who requested help. She’s on her own with no extended family and was struggling to know how best to manage her children. So, she did the right thing and reached out for support.

The problem being that support arrived like the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

One program arrived bringing its staff and they decided she’d benefit from a second program with their staff who referred her to programs three and four with their staffs. Finally, everyone received messages from the frantic mother: “I know you all meant well but please stop helping now! Two weeks ago, I was only overwhelmed with my children. Now, I’m overwhelmed with all of you, too!”

That used to happen to my youngest child when she was small. Hannah has a VERY helpful father and a VERY helpful older brother. Hannah would ask for a little direction on a project but too often, it would unleash a tsunami of assistance. After not too long, I’d hear, “MOM! Tell Dad and Zack to stop helping already!”

The Pharisees liked to help people, too. I’m sure many Pharisees started out with very helpful intentions. They wanted to help themselves and hedgerow-455139_640other people live by God’s laws. They decided they could be most helpful by building “hedges” around the laws. Sort of godly guardrails. They figured that if it was sinful to violate a certain law, the best way to avoid sin was to not even get close to breaking the law, so they added rules (rules that God didn’t add) as a protective hedge. They grew very proud of their hedges and their ability to stay on the right side of their hedges. Their pride was a sin and led to even worse sins. Worse, they passed this sin onto others who started off wanting to be helpful. These men who spent their lives waiting for the Messiah woke up one day to find themselves in conflict with the Messiah.

The conflict occurred because Jesus arrived like the Edward Scissorhands of Pharisaical hedge-clippers.

You see, contrary to modern PR, God is an intrepid freedom-lover. He created an entire world for us to explore and His heart is that we’ll explore it in His company. He isn’t interested in surrounding us with a playpen of formal religious rules. He provided the law to school us in holiness and our inability to save ourselves so that we’d welcome His Messiah. Instead, we crucified Him for the sake of our love of checklists, grading systems, and rules

Jesus assured His disciples that when He left them, He would send them a helper in the form of the Holy Spirit. The word He used stems from paraklētos, a Greek word meaning helper, intercessor, one who comes to one’s side, an advocate. The problem is that most of us don’t trust the Holy Spirit to do His work.

elderly-152866_640Oh, we trust Him to guide us but we doubt He can guide our brothers and sisters very well. We wouldn’t put it that way. We know the Holy Spirit knows His business but we wonder if others will listen to Him as well as we do. When we think like this, we place ourselves at risk of the Pharisee apocalypse.

Of course, God has designated shepherds, counselors, and teachers within the Body of Christ. Their help isn’t the problem. It’s the self-deputized meddlers, the junior holy spirit trainees, that are an issue and it’s as easy to fall into this trap as it is to click on a viral link in a spam email.

God gives us plenty of guidance on how to help without transitioning to Pharisee mode. My favorite is this: Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” Galatians 6:1-5

Remain immersed in Jesus Christ. Of course, we want to help others but we need to be in constant conversation with Jesus and back off when He tells us to stop helping. My daughter liked the challenge of her projects and felt proud when she figured them out with minimal assistance. The single mom wanted help but she didn’t want the whole world to start telling her how to raise her kids.

The most helpful believers in my life have been the ones who ask me questions. What does God’s Word say about what you’re deciding? What are you hearing from the Holy Spirit in prayer? What support do you feel you need? What godly role models do you have for this choice? How is this choice working out for your life and for those around you?

I don’t watch horror movies. When I want to scare myself, I read about Jesus and the Pharisees. I know my own Pharisaical tendencies and see how easy it is to become infected with the same self-righteous virus that infected them. The longer I walk with Christ and the more I know, the more I’m aware of this pitfall. Jesus warned the disciples that what affected the Pharisees could spread like yeast.

Never mind a zombie apocalypse –  learn how to survive a Pharisee apocalypse. How do you prepare to resist the Pharisaical hordes?

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    The Conversation

  1. One of the ways I forestall the pharisaical apocalypse is by reading and pondering such articulate, insightful, challenging, and often humorous authors such as yourself.

    Thank you for aiding me in my quest. 😀

  2. Bruce Brady says:

    Great post, Lori. My desire, my heart, is to help others. But I find myself slipping into Pharisaical tendencies whenever I’m away from the Word and conversations with the Spirit for too long. So I make a conscious effort to spend alone time in God’s Word and in prayer. Then, stay prayerful throughout my day. While I know I have Pharisaical tendencies arises from my humanity, I also know that it’s God’s desire for us to stay connected with Him at all times to avoid those tendencies. And live freely in His Truth.

  3. Patty Schell says:

    Hey there, Lori. This is very timely. I was just speaking with my leadership team about how free advice at prayer time can kill a group. Everyone has a solution for any given request. A ‘we don’t need to pray, I know just what you need’ attitude takes over. Your comment about trusting the Holy Spirit to do His work in others is great. I had not thought to put it that way. In addition, it will allow the requestor and God build a stronger relationship. Thank you for lending your words and thoughts. Great job as usual.