The Religion of the Pharisees (Part 8)
Matthew 6:1-8 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
As we continue to examine the religion of the modern Pharisee, let’s remind ourselves that the first place to look for it is within ourselves. It is the religion of sinful flesh, and we all have plenty of that remaining in us. Pharisaism is form without reality. It is the motions of religion devoid of the presence of Christ. And it is heartless. Don’t expect love or mercy or real kindness from it.
As our Lord warns us here in this second chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Pharisaical religion is about show. It is about self-glorification, not about the glory of God. The Pharisee craves to be seen, and he has numbers of ways of getting that attention. He gives money to the church and makes certain everyone knows about it — or at least those who are in a position to exalt him. In Jesus’ day trumpets sounded as the hypocrites dropped their money in the box. How much do you want to bet that the more you gave, the more trumpets sounded! Pharisees crave praise, and all too often they receive it in their churches.
The Apostle James warns us — no, he whacks us alongside the head — for showing preference to the rich. If we want to know what our Lord thinks about this kind of thing, just recall His actions when He went into the temple and cleaned house in what had become a den of thieves. Pharisees, likewise, profit from religion.
Another tactic for self-glory is prayer that isn’t prayer. Throwing yourself into some religious “posture” where others can see you and pronounce you the holiest one of all, is obnoxious to Christ. Unfortunately our own churches are too often characterized by people who pray in order to be exalted. Not by God, but by onlookers. “My, how that man can pray!” If you lead your congregation in prayer, you know what I mean when I say that in the very midst of these prayers we can find ourselves thinking, as our mouth continues to move, “now that was a finely-turned phrase!”
Here then is still another way to identify the religion of the Pharisees in ourselves and in our churches. It is a religion of show. It is not about God, but about man and man’s own glory. Pharisaism can preach the finest sermon, pray the most wonderful prayers, and be a major financial donor to the church. But the Lord sees it all for what it is. He rejects it. And His instruction to a church infested by it is this:
Mal 1:10 Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.
So beware of churches or ministries that put the limelight on individuals, especially if those individuals seem to be very comfortable in that limelight.
Why is all of this important to know in our efforts to expose abuse in the church and correct the injustice being done to its victims? Because where a church is infected with the religion of the Pharisee, the weak and oppressed are always dealt injustice. The heartless religion of the Pharisee has no heart. Only the letter of its traditions to be piled upon those who are already stumbling under a crushing load. Pharisees are so busy fulfilling their desire to be seen and heard and adored that they have no time nor empathy for the oppressed.
Go to Part 7 of this series