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Profile Of A Modern Pharisee

The Pharisees were one of the major Jewish sects in the days of Christ. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently clashed wit h this religious group on multiple issues. Even though the Pharisees do not exist in the way they did in the 1st century, many religious leaders and laypeople today still fit the profile of a Pharisee. Here are some traits of the Pharisees, both ancient and modern:

1. The Pharisees cared more about their traditions than they did about obedience to God.

The Pharisees believed in the Law of Moses, and observed it strictly. They were so careful to observe the Law of Moses, in fact, that they observed additional guidelines that were meant to help them avoid violating the Law. The Pharisees ultimately observed these guidelines to the neglect of the finer parts of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and love. Jesus clashed with them and called them out on this point (see Matthew 23:23-24). Today, we call this practice "legalism". Legalism is a hallmark of Pharisees, both ancient and modern.

None of this is intended to diminish the importance of God's Law as revealed in the Old Testament. The Law, when used properly, reveals our sinful condition before a holy God. The Law serves a purpose and was designed by God as part of His plan. However, the Law was not intended to be used in such a way that mercy and grace are neglected. In fact, these things are written into the Law itself (see Exodus 22:22-26, for example). If you use the Law for a purpose other than what it was intended, you may be a modern-day Pharisee.

2. The Pharisees were hypocrites.

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be one thing, but is really the opposite. For example, a thief who condemns stealing is a hypocrite because, while he pretends to believe that stealing is wrong, he himself chooses to steal. The Pharisees were hypocrites in a similar way. They were hypocrites because they pretended to live a lifestyle devoted to God, but refused to be obedient to God in certain matters. They were hypocrites because they claimed to be teachers of God's Word, yet neglected certain portions of God's word. They were hypocrites because, while they claimed to seek God's favor, they were really seeking the praise and favor of men. They were hypocrites because they sought out disciples, but ended up driving them away from God (Matthew 23:15). They were hypocrites because they would appear to be righteous on the outside, but would not become righteous in a spiritual sense.

While we condemn the Pharisees today for their hypocrisy, there are individuals in our churches who get away with a modern version of  the exact same things that we condemn the Pharisees for. It is vital that every Christian examine himself or herself regularly, asking the Holy Spirit to point out any hypocrisy within him or her.

3. The Pharisees did not understand Scripture as well as they thought they did.

The Pharisees claimed to be disciples of Moses. Yet they did not understand the writings of Moses as well as they thought. If they had understood the writings of Moses, they would have understood about the One to whom Moses pointed (John 5:46). As it turns out, they did not understand the writings of Moses (or the other authors of the Hebrew Scriptures) as well as they thought they did.

I am not trying to undermine biblical interpretation by stating this. Interpreters of the Bible do a vital service for the church. The problem comes when one of two things happen. First, if someone conflates what Scripture says with what his or her interpretation of Scripture says, he or she may be a modern-day Pharisee. This leads to the second point. We must be humble enough to realize that our understanding of a particular passage of Scripture could be incorrect. We must diligently study the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us to a proper understanding of the Scriptures. If you are so close-minded about what Scripture says that you will not allow the Spirit to correct your understanding, you may be a modern-day Pharisee.

4. The Pharisees challenged Jesus maliciously.

The Pharisees of Jesus' day challenged Him constantly in an attempt to find fault with Him. They did not simply ask Him questions in order to gain a better understanding of an issue or to hear a different perspective. Rather, they consistently came to Him with malicious intent, attempting to discredit Him and to find a fault in Him that they could condemn. The attitude here is the hallmark of a Pharisee. There is nothing wrong with the fact that they approached Jesus. There is also nothing wrong with the fact that they asked Jesus questions. The problem was in their maliciousness toward Him. They were trying to undercut Jesus by attacking Him. If you are a religious leader and you try to undercut Jesus, you are likely a modern-day Pharisee.

5. The Pharisees led people away from God.

The Pharisees did not point people to God. Rather, they made them "twice as much a child of hell" than they were (Matthew 23:15). Furthermore, the Pharisees "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces" (Matthew 23:13a).The point is that they led people toward their traditions, but away from God and full obedience to Him. If your disciples are not growing closer to God, it is time to examine yourself. You might just be a modern-day Pharisee.

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