The difference between faithful and Pharisee

Every Christian has Pharisee potential. At times, there is a fine line between faithful and Pharisee.

If you are like me, you are looking forward to the midterm elections so we can get rid of all those commercials! Most of the political ads are slanderous, and I wonder what our children think when they see and hear the vitriol—of our leaders.  

No wonder so many teenagers are struggling with depression and social anxiety. They have been given a set of standards by various sources that certainly don’t encourage kindness. Words are like weapons these days and people are getting hurt. Our culture is getting hurt. 

A lot of Christians who run for office use faith for political advantage. 

I want to vote for a faithful person but not a Pharisee. 

The difference between faithful and Pharisee

The Pharisees knew more about God than almost anyone in the culture. They also lived lives of strict obedience to the rules as their witness. That’s why all of us who have “learned the ropes” of our faith have Pharisee potential. 

It isn’t that the rules were all that bad. In fact, most of them made a person look “set apart” from the culture and helped to keep them from sinning. If a Pharisee worked hard to follow the hundreds of rules that had been written by Jesus’ day, they wouldn’t have had as much time or opportunity to commit a sin. 

Or so they thought, until Jesus came. 

John the Baptist and Jesus called the Jewish leaders a “brood of vipers.” Their words and their witness didn’t lead people to know and love God. Instead, they kept most people from wanting to know God. Their words were like venom that poisoned the people from knowing the truth about God, who loved them and wanted to be their Father. 

So, you see why it is easy for the faithful to have Pharisee potential. Does our witness attract people to want God as their Father? And do our words speak God’s truth, or do they offer a message we think will impress or influence others? 

Paul defined the faithful Christian witness in his letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote, “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:14–15). 

The Pharisees’ big mistake

I think most Pharisees start out wanting to please God. They wanted to be seen as people who have a faithful witness to others. They wanted to faithfully follow the rules and guidelines of their faith. 

The Apostles and the true prophets of the Old Testament spoke similar messages to the faithful of their day.  

The Apostle Paul said, “Hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” There is a reason the Apostles were given that title in Scripture. Apostolic teaching was the anointed word from God.  

In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah spoke a message from the Lord saying, “Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Jeremiah 23:16). 

Every generation has people who spoke God’s truth and people who only thought they did. The Apostle Peter explained the difference: “Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). 

The Pharisees made some mistakes along the way that led them to become “a brood of vipers.” Most of the laws and rules the Pharisees worked hard to follow were manmade, man-authored. God hadn’t given those rules; people had. Jeremiah spoke about the false prophets who were filling people’s minds with “vain hopes.” Jeremiah’s warning should be seriously considered by God’s people today. 

The true prophets weren’t usually the most popular preachers. In fact, many of the prophets lost their lives because they refused to preach what the people wanted to be true. The truth has always come from people who “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” and willing to write, teach, and speak God’s biblical truth. 

The best way to remain spiritually strong

Paul spoke about the difference between milk and solid food in 1 Corinthians 3:2.

Baby Christians need milk. They need to have someone consume the meat of God’s word and process it into spiritual food that others can benefit from. 

Mature Christians have learned to pick up their Bibles and consume God’s word directly for themselves. Christian maturity is the ability to consume the solid food of God’s word. We all need good teaching, but that teaching should cause us to learn how to understand the Bible for ourselves. We need to focus on the voice of the Holy Spirit as we read and study. The Holy Spirit will never alter, edit, or contradict God’s word. His voice simply gives us the ability to receive God’s truth at the deepest levels. 

How much spiritual steak are you consuming each week? How much milk? How often do you read God’s word for yourself and prayerfully listen to his voice teach you truth?  

Christians need to consume more steak.

Fight the Pharisee with faith

I will end this blog post with a request. I want you to spend some time with one of my favorite passages about consuming the pure truth of God’s word. God’s word is wisdom, and Proverbs 2 is about the benefits of consuming God’s pure wisdom. 

Pharisees followed men’s words and ideas and failed. The faithful follow God’s word and stand firm in its truth. They are counted among the righteous. Proverbs 2 explains why. Pray before you read that chapter and ask the Holy Spirit to speak the words of Scripture as God’s message of instruction for your life. Hear God’s voice of truth as you read.  

We all have Pharisee potential. Thankfully, God gave us his Holy Spirit to guide us back to the truth. Jesus called him the “Helper” and the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26). Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you the rich truth of Proverbs 2 today. 

Christians are called to be witnesses and are gifted with the Spirit of Christ. Let’s strengthen our faith and fight the tendency to act like a Pharisee. Our culture needs to know and love their heavenly Father.