The bulk of my study here is derived from Matthew 12:1-37 ESV
One of the many characteristics that are brought up today by Christians regarding Pharisees relates to their judgmental attitudes. I think many envision their hatred for Jesus and their part in His crucifixion. I didn’t want to just “go there”, but wanted to understand a bit more where Jesus was coming from and why His interactions with the Pharisees and the Scribes were so dramatic.
Reading from Matthew, the first thing that comes to mind is that the Pharisees had developed a very pristine and detailed rule book to follow in order to be considered holy. It appears, based on these rules and the Pharisee’s call to follow them, they viewed God as a God of Demands. “Do this and don’t do that”. This clearly is exposed at the beginning of this chapter as they confidently confront Jesus because His disciples were plucking wheat to eat on the Sabbath. It is very clear that the Pharisees elevated the rule of not working on the sabbath as a clear sign of the holiness of God. In other words, those who broke this “law” could not follow God, while those he did not break this “law” were holy. Jesus, for His part, clearly references the true law in His response to the Pharisees, clearly indicating where these man-made additions were faulty. He specifically highlights in verse 7, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
You see, I contend via this interaction that the Pharisees’ view of God was skewed and Jesus wanted to make sure others in that time saw it, too. Where the Pharisees believed “follow the rules, God demands it, OR ELSE!”, Jesus obviously viewed God’s role and ethos differently. For example, even as the Pharisees ruled, the Old Testament clearly stated that God was merciful, slow to anger, and loving (Psalm 145:7-9). I believe that is why Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this Truth, exposing that they had changed God’s role and were trying to conform people to a false God.
As Matthew 12 continues, we see the Pharisees stuck to their guns and their view of God. When Jesus attempted to heal a man, they immediately hoped to convict Jesus by asking if it was LAWFUL to heal a man on the Sabbath. Because, again, the Pharisees clearly viewed their definition of the law (do not work on the sabbath) as exceedingly more important to adhere to than aligning with mercy or love (healing); their God did not work that way. Jesus quickly points out the hypocrisy of their question, clearly showing this would not even be raised if one of them had a sheep in trouble on the Sabbath, and ends with “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Through all of the interactions that occurred in this chapter between Jesus and the Pharisees, it seems to have boiled down to this; for the Pharisees, God looked only at their external compliance with their definition of the law of God. For Jesus, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). That is why, for example, Jesus declared lustful looks as adulterous based on the desires of one’s heart while the Pharisees only condemned those caught in the physical act of adultery (Matt. 5:27–28). In all of these interactions, the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus lay in His non-compliance to their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that were based on their interpretation of God’s law. Not only did they create and enforce their hundreds of man-made rules, but they treated then as if they were Scripture, so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law, but also, in some cases, actually violated it (see Mark 7:9–13).
In today’s world, I fear we have all fallen guilty in this regard. Too often, we establish a “game book” that defines if we are righteous or not. If we are “in” or “out”. And, if each of us are truly honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge that most of the time, our rule books are stacked to assure WE are in and THEY are out. For example, in Deana’s youth REAL Christians didn’t own TVs, girls NEVER wore pants, secular music was of the devil, and kissing before marriage was fornication. However, the denomination she was in has been exposed to have one of the highest case histories of sexual abuse by their male pastors. Their rules seem to provide a list to check off to assure “righteousness” on the outside of their lives, while it appears not enough on the inside. That is not God’s way.
We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Even, as has been the case in recent months in the USA, create government laws in the name of morality or Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture, especially if we then claim someone is NOT a Christian based on these convictions. So much judgment among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, let’s be careful that we are not modern-day Pharisees.