Copyright - Zac Poonen (2010)
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FIFTY MARKS OF PHARISEES
In the gospels we read of three
leavens that Jesus warned people against:
The leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15)
The leaven of the Sadducees (Matt.16:6)
3. The leaven of the Pharisees (Matt.16:6)
These represent three types of
The leaven of King Herod was
worldliness. In Mark 6:20, we read that Herod enjoyed listening to John
the Baptist. But two verses later, we read that he also enjoyed watching Salome
dance (who was probably scantily dressed and dancing in a sexually provocative
way). There are Christians like that today, who can enjoy listening to a
powerful sermon on Sunday morning and then enjoy watching a filthy movie the
same afternoon. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist because John was a
fiery preacher unlike the boring Pharisees. But enjoying listening to a fiery
prophet doesn’t mean that one is spiritually minded. Worldly Christians are not
usually hypocrites like the Pharisees. They enjoy worldly entertainment and
don’t hide the fact that they enjoy it.
The leaven of the Sadducees
was false doctrine. They were liberal in their beliefs. They did not believe in
angels, or miracles or the resurrection or the spirit world. There are
Christians like that today who are “cessationists”.
They don’t believe that God does any miracles today and they don’t believe that
the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to Christians today.
The leaven of the Pharisees
was primarily hypocrisy. They were doctrinal fundamentalists and they were
righteous in their external lives. Jesus Himself gave them a certificate in
these two areas (Matt.23:3, 25). They tithed, prayed and fasted
regularly, and kept the external commandments of the Law and even engaged in
missionary work. There are Christians today who do all these things but who are
still like those Pharisees.
Some Christians could have a
mixture of all of these three
From the above description, one
would imagine that Jesus’ greatest conflict would have been with the followers
of Herod or the Sadducees. But it was not so. His greatest conflict was with
the fundamentalist Pharisees who preached holiness! And it was the Pharisees of
all people, who were most eager and determined to crucify Jesus.
Today in Christendom, the
Sadducees and Herodians are not as dangerous as the
Pharisees. A Herodian may be going to hell. But he
cannot lead others astray, for it is obvious to everyone that he is a worldly
person. As for the liberal Sadducee, no-one is likely to be deceived into
imagining that he is spiritual, when he does not believe in miracles or even in
the resurrection from the dead.
The most dangerous person in
today’s Christendom (as in Jesus’ time) is the Pharisee, who has all his
doctrines right, and who preaches “holiness”. But his “holiness”
is a legalistic holiness produced by laws and rules. And his “righteousness”
lacks the “the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit” (Rom.14:17).
Such a man is dangerous because he can mislead Christians into a false
It is important therefore, for us
to understand the characteristics of Pharisees. Not much is written about the
characteristics of Herod’s followers or of the Sadducees apart from what I have
already mentioned. But when it comes to the Pharisees, a great deal is written
about them in the gospels. So God must be wanting us
to study their characteristics.
All believers whose doctrines are
fundamental and who are pursuing after holiness are in danger of becoming
Pharisees – without even knowing it. Since most of us fall into that category,
let us approach this study with deep humility.
There are at least fifty
characteristics of Pharisees that I have discovered in the gospels. If even one
of them fits us, then we are Pharisees, even if we don’t have the other 49
characteristics. This is not a comprehensive list. If you look into your own life, you may
discover some other characteristics that are not mentioned in the Bible.
The spirit of the Pharisee is
diametrically opposed to the Spirit of Christ. That is why it is so serious.
Just as we would not want an atom of the spirit of hell in us, we should not
want an atom of the spirit of the Pharisee in us either.
One primary mark of God’s blessing
is that the Holy Spirit gives us light on ourselves. If we do not progressively
get light on the un-Christlike areas in our life, we
are not really being blessed by God. Health and wealth are not the marks
of God’s blessing, because many unbelievers have both of these – even more than
When God shows us areas of un-Christlikeness in our lives, He wants us to cleanse
ourselves from them (2 Cor.7:1), so that we can partake of His Divine
nature. Thus our personal life, family life and church life will become
brighter and brighter. We will then be liberated from legalism and only then
will be able to fly like the eagles in the sky. We will remain earth-bound if
we do not see “the Pharisee within us”.
God gives us His word so that we
can have light on ourselves – and not for us to see Phariseeism
in others. It is only when we see Phariseeism
within ourselves and cleanse ourselves from it, that
we can be useful to God in His work.
Pharisees glory in their connection to godly men.
“Do not suppose that you can
say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’” (Matt.3:9).
A Pharisee knows he is not godly
himself, and so he seeks to be associated with “Brother X”, who has a
reputation as a godly man, so that he can claim godliness by association. There
are many carnal Christians today who glory that they are members of a church
that is led by a man who has a reputation for godliness. They live off that
reputation, even though they have zero holiness themselves. Pharisees mingle
with godly people and imagine that they are holy too.
You can be part of a very good
church and yet go to hell, if there is un-repented sin in your life, or if you
have a grudge against another. If you imagine that God will condone and ignore
all your backbiting and evil speaking, just because you are a part of a good
church, you are mistaken. You will get a big surprise in the day of judgement. Maybe you were saved once upon a time. But you
are probably lost today. So don’t ever glory in your connection with godly
Pharisees glory in external righteousness
Jesus said, “Unless your
righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter
the kingdom of heaven. (Matt.5:20)
What did Jesus mean here? Do we
have to fast, pray and tithe more than the Pharisees did?
Jesus was not talking about quantity
at all – but quality. He was saying that the quality of our
righteousness must be far superior to that of the Pharisees if we want to enter
God’s kingdom. And He went on to explain this in the remaining verses of the
chapter. The righteousness of the Pharisees was only external.
They gloried in their obedience to the laws of God on the outside. But
Jesus said that it was inward righteousness that God looked for – not just
avoiding external murder, but avoiding inward anger as well; not just avoiding
external adultery, but avoiding inward lusting after women as well.
Jesus said that anger and sinful
sexual lust were so serious that a person could go to hell for these sins (Matt.5:22,29,30). Most Christians do not take these inward sins
seriously – because they are Pharisees. They glory in their external
testimony before men. There could be other areas too, where your righteousness
is only on the outside. “Man looks on the outside, but God looks at the
heart” (1 Sam.16:7). What other believers think of your spirituality has no
value before God. He looks at your thoughts, motives and attitudes. Don’t glory
in your reputation before people, if your heart is unclean.
Pharisees do not mingle with sinful people
“The Pharisees said to Jesus
disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with sinners?” (Matt.9:11).
Pharisees will mingle only with
their own crowd of “holy” Pharisees. They criticised
even Jesus for mingling with sinners. Is your holiness one that prevents you
from mingling with your unconverted relatives? It is true that we can find fellowship
only with God’s children. But we can be friendly with all. Jesus was
known as the “Friend of sinners”. If you want to be like Jesus, you must
be a friend of sinners.
A Pharisee will not attend the
wedding reception of an unconverted relative, because he feels he will be
polluted thereby. Jesus however would have gladly attended an unconverted
relative’s wedding reception. He went to the homes of sinners, where they
probably had dancing and drinking going on. He would share the gospel with
those sinners. Contact with them didn’t defile Him because His righteousness
was inward. It is true that He spent most of His time with His
disciples. But He spent a lot of time talking to sinful people. How can we win
sinners to the Lord if we are not friendly with them?
A good question you can ask
yourself is this: How many people in your church were brought to the Lord by
you? Even though you may have been in your church for 20 years, you may not
have brought a single person to Christ. Don’t you think this indicates
something about your life? Many elders too have not brought a single person to
Christ in many, many years. The reason could be that they are Pharisees. If you
honestly acknowledge your Phariseeism in this area,
God can use you to bring others to Him.
Pharisees are ascetics
“Why do the Pharisees fast, but
Your disciples do not fast?” (Matt.9:14).
Pharisees forced people to fast
and pray. They emphasised bodily disciplines like
fasting as a means of becoming spiritual and they boasted about it.
Jesus fasted even more than the Pharisees. But He did not fast in order to
be holy. He fasted because He was holy. And Jesus did not boast
about His fasting like the Pharisees. Neither did He ever force people to fast
– not when He was on earth and not today. Fasting has value before God only
when it is totally voluntary. Otherwise it becomes a dead work.
People of all religions practise some forms of asceticism, like fasting. Some even
stop having sexual relations with their wives in order to be holy. But that is
not the way for a Christian to be holy. The mark of a perfect man is not
that he disciplines himself in matters of food and sex, but that he can control
his tongue (James 3: 2). Then we must control our thoughts and our eyes.
Jesus could enjoy a good meal.
They called Him “a gluttonous man” (Lk.7:34). His very first
miracle was making extra wine at a wedding! That looked like one of the most
unnecessary miracles that Jesus ever did.
Those guests had already drunk so much wine; and Jesus made 600 litres of wine for a wedding party of perhaps 200 guests –
which would mean that He made 3 litres of wine per
person!! What was the need to make so much wine for them? We would have thought
that Jesus’ first miracle should have been a more “spiritual” miracle
like raising the dead! One reason why He did this miracle was because He came
to demolish a religion of externals that taught, “Don’t touch this. Don’t taste that”, etc.
I have met Christians (in certain
denominations especially), who subtly mention their periods of fasting in their
conversation. They say words like, “I just want to share with you a precious
word the Lord gave me when I was on a 21-day fast recently”. Their main point
there is to impress you with the fact that they fasted for 21 days. All their
other words are secondary. Jesus however told us never to let anyone know when
we fasted. But Pharisees boast about
There is certainly an important
place for discipline in eating and sleeping and sexual matters in the Christian
life. But this is definitely not a matter that we should tell others about or
Pharisees are very critical of others in small matters
“The Pharisees said to Jesus,
‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”(Matt.12:2).
The Pharisees knew that the Law
permitted the Israelites to pluck grain to eat, when they walked through
anyone’s field. But what they questioned here was why the disciples were doing
this “work” on a Sabbath day. Pharisees are very critical of people in
small matters. In Matthew 15:2, they asked Jesus why His disciples
didn’t wash their hands ritually, as taught by the traditions of the elders.
Pharisees are always watching other believers for some small thing to find
If you are an elder brother and
you are like that, then it is likely that your church too is full of Pharisees
- because the majority of people in any church usually develop the habits of
their elder. We see that in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. If however the
elder brother is free from Phariseeism, then the
chances are that most of the people in his church will also be free from Phariseeism.
I would say therefore to every
believer: Do not follow your church-elder if he is a legalist and a Pharisee.
Submission to an elder is required only in church matters and not
in personal matters. By that I mean that if he announces that the Sunday
meetings will start at 10 am, then obey him and go at 10 am. In the meeting,
when he announces Song No.45, obey him and join with the others and sing Song
No.45. When he asks the congregation to stand, you also stand. And when he
tells everyone to sit, you also sit down. That is all that
“submission to an elder” means. But you don’t have to follow his example
in his life, if he is not a worthy example to follow. Otherwise, you will
destroy yourself too. Follow Jesus Himself and never follow a legalistic,
Pharisaical elder – whoever he may be – even if he is the seniormost
elder in your fellowship. You must submit to an elder in other areas of your
life, only if you have full confidence in him as a man of God.
Pharisees live by rules
“And a man was there whose hand
was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the
Sabbath?” – so that they might accuse Him” (Matt.12:10)
Pharisees live by rules. They
don’t live by the life of Jesus. Their ridiculous rules taught that a sick man
must not seek for healing on the Sabbath day. Many leaders of churches today
also have made ridiculous rules that make life difficult for their flock. Those
Pharisees had asked Jesus this question only “so that they might accuse him”.
The same is true of many church leaders today, who also are quick to accuse
anyone who violates some small rule that they have made. God is the only
Lawgiver (or Maker of rules) in the universe. If you make rules for others in a
church, that Almighty God Himself has not made, then you will be acting as if
you are God – and that is “the spirit of the antichrist” (See 2
Thess.2:4). Then like those Pharisees, you will end up joining hands with
Satan, the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev.12:10).
As an example, take the matter of
women veiling their heads. The Bible
says that women should veil their heads when they pray or prophesy (1
Cor.11:5). But some church-leaders
teach that women must veil their heads always (24 hours every day)
because they should be “praying always.” But their inconsistency is seen
in the fact that they don’t insist (by the same principle of “praying always”)
that men must therefore keep their heads uncovered always (and never
wear a cap or a hat). Their inconsistency is also seen in the fact that they
permit the sisters to veil just 15% of their heads (just the back part of their
hair, because it is inconvenient to cover the entire head during the heat of
the day!!). Pharisees are thoroughly inconsistent, but are blissfully unaware
of their inconsistency. The only ladies I have seen who cover their heads fully
are some Roman Catholic nuns like the late Mother Teresa. I have found almost
all the others who emphasise this as a law
(and judge others for not obeying it) to be inconsistent. They are hypocrites
and Pharisees. God intended the veiling of the woman’s head to be a symbol and
not a rule. So I personally don’t waste
any of my time checking up whether every sister has veiled 100% of her head and
whether any strand of hair is visible under the veiling!!
Pharisaical elders are also
lenient to their own family members in many matters like this, but strict with
others. That’s why Jesus told those Pharisees, “If your donkey falls into a
pit on the Sabbath day, what will you do?” They cared for their own
donkeys, but not for a sick man.
Church-leaders need to be very careful that they don’t exempt their own
family members from the rules they make for others.
Pharisees are motivated by jealousy and hatred
“The Pharisees went out and
conspired against Jesus, as to how they might destroy Him” (Matt.12:14).
Your jealousy of someone may not
reach the point where you kill him.
But you must remember that jealousy and hatred are the first steps to murder. This was how
Cain progressed: Jealousy….hatred…..murder.
The Pharisees were jealous of
Jesus because He could do many things they could not do and therefore was more
popular with the people than they were. Even Pilate (who knew very little about
Jesus) could see that the Pharisees wanted Jesus crucified only because they
were jealous of Him (Matt.27:18). When you are jealous of someone, it
will be very obvious in your speech and your conduct.
You can be jealous of someone who
can preach better than you, or who has wealth or spiritual gifts that you don’t
have. Then you will find it very easy to look for some small fault in him in
order to criticise him. And you will long to see him
fall in some way. The religion of the Pharisees is the religion of Cain.
The history of the human race
begins with two streams - one spiritual (Abel) and the other religious
(Cain). Cain’s primary sin was jealousy of Abel. These two streams finally
end in Jerusalem (the true church) and the false
If we follow the religious and jealousy-filled stream of Cain, we will ultimately
end up as a part of Babylon
– even if all our doctrines are evangelical.
Pharisees are suspicious and assume the worst about other people
“The Pharisees said, “This man
casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the
When Jesus cast out a demon, the
crowds said, “This must be the Son of David (the promised Messiah)”
(Mt.12:23). But the Pharisees were disturbed by the fact that Jesus did
something they themselves could not do. And so they assumed the worst.
Even when someone does something
good that blesses others, Pharisees will attribute an evil motive for that
deed. If, however their own children had done the same thing, they would have
boasted about it and attributed the best of motives – because Pharisees are
partial towards their own family members, but very critical of others.
Pharisees are very suspicious of others and cannot believe that anyone would do
anything with a selfless motive – because they themselves are so selfish. If
you are a Pharisee, you will find yourself attributing wrong motives for the
good that others do and being critical of those whom others appreciate.
Pharisees are very careless in their speech
“The Pharisees said, “This man
casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the
Pharisees speak rude and hurtful
words about others carelessly and pass judgement on
others in their speech. Imagine calling the Son of God, the “head of the
How did Jesus respond to that evil
criticism by the Pharisees? Jesus
replied saying, “You have spoken against me, an ordinary man. You are
forgiven. But make sure you don’t speak against the Holy Spirit” (Mt.12:32).
Jesus forgave those Pharisees (as a Man). But God in heaven did not forgive
When we sin against anyone, there
are two elements to such a sin – (1) a horizontal element – against the other
person; and (2) a vertical element – against God. That person must forgive you;
and God must also forgive you, if your sin is to be blotted out. But before God
forgives anyone, that person has to repent first. So even if a human being
forgives you the horizontal element of your sin, you will still face the judgement of God for the vertical element, until you repent
and ask for His forgiveness. If one of those Pharisees had gone to Jesus later
and said, “Lord I am sorry for calling you Beelzebul.
Please forgive me”, and then asked God to forgive him, then only would his sin
have been blotted out, not otherwise. Jesus warned us that we would be
condemned by the words we spoke, at the final judgement
Do you have a sickness that is not
being healed, despite all your prayers and medical treatment? Is it possible that you have disobeyed God’s
command in Psalm 105:15 “Do not touch my anointed, and don’t do any
harm to my prophets”? Have you spoken something carelessly about a godly
brother? Maybe that is why your sickness is not being healed. Perhaps you have
carelessly judged men who are ten thousand times holier than you are and who
have done ten thousand times more for God than you have done. Repentance and an
apology to that person alone will bring your healing.
Pharisees neglect their family responsibilities in the name of
“Why do you transgress the
commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, `Honor your father and
mother’….But you say, `Whoever says to his father or
mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his
The Pharisees invalidated God’s
commandment to honour parents by saying that a person need not support his
needy parents if he had given his money in the temple treasury box. Let the poor father be sick and die, because
his “holy” son has given his money for missionary work!!
A modern-day equivalent would be
something like this: The Pharisee would say to his wife, “I have to go for the
church-meeting this evening. So I cannot help you with the work at home.” Or he
could be sitting with his Bible in the morning studying the tabernacle (in Exodus
25), asking God to speak to him, while his wife is struggling to get the
children ready for school, preparing breakfast for them, and looking after a
crying baby. The Lord will be trying to tell this Pharisee, “Shut your Bible,
forget about your ‘tabernacle-study’ and go help your wife in the kitchen”! But
he cannot hear God, because his Pharisaical ears have become deaf to God’s
A major part of our being
spiritual is to take responsibility for any work that needs to be done at home.
“If a man does not care for his family needs, he is worse than an
unbeliever” (1 Tim.5:8). .
Pharisees are easily offended
“The disciples came and said to Jesus, ‘Do You
know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’ Jesus
said, ‘Leave them alone.’” (Matt.15:12-14).
When Jesus corrected the Pharisees
for teaching people to dishonour their parents (as we
saw above), they were offended. Pharisees are easily offended by any word of
rebuke or correction that the Lord may give through an elder brother. One of
the kindergarten lessons in the Christian life is to get victory over “getting
offended”. There is no hope that you will ever be delivered from Phariseeism if you don’t seek to be totally free from
getting offended when corrected. .
I know people who were once in our
church who were so offended by some correction they received, that they left
the church altogether. They are wandering in the wilderness today and there is
every possibility that they will be lost eternally. I can assure you that like the Pharisees, you
could be on your way to hell too, if you have been
offended by some correction you received.
Jesus told His disciples to “leave
them alone”. We are not to go after offended Pharisees trying to bring them
back to the church. We must obey the Lord and leave them alone. If they repent,
then they can come back to the Lord and to the church. Not otherwise.
Pharisees are spiritually blind
Jesus said, “They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind
man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt.15:14).
Pharisees are great scholars of
the Bible. But they are spiritually blind and so they don’t have any revelation
on spiritual realities. And when these blind leaders lead other blind people,
Jesus said “they will fall into the pit (of hell) themselves and those who
follow them will also fall into the same pit” (15:14).
Never follow a blind man, Make
sure your leader/elder is a man of spiritual vision, who loves God’s people.
Lack of love is what causes spiritual blindness and it leads to preachers
preaching in a way that condemns people. A man who loves Jesus sees the
Lord so clearly that he can lift Jesus up in His sermon and show Him to you. It
is such a leader that you should follow and whom you should long to be like.
Pharisees are hypocrites
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke
The word “hypocrite” is
actually a Greek word that has been imported into the English language and
means. “actor”. If you went to Greece in the
first century and asked people where all the hypocrites were, they would have
replied, “At the theatre”. The hypocrites come on the stage there and practise their hypocrisy (acting) for a couple of hours and
then go home to live their normal lives.
In a Hollywood
movie, a man may play the part of John the Baptist and act very holy for a
short while, because he is an expert actor. But in real life he may be a
drunkard and an adulterer.
Today most hypocrites are found in
churches, where they also act their part for a couple of hours on Sunday
mornings. They do a great act of praising the Lord at that time, every Sunday.
But if you were to go to their homes during the week however, you will soon
discover that they were only acting a part on Sunday mornings. In their normal
lives at home, they are not praising God, but complaining, grumbling,
gossiping and quarrelling with one another.
Are you like that - acting a part
for others to see in the church meetings, but quite a different person in your
office and in your home?
Pharisees seek to catch others in their words
“Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it
lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” (Matt.19:3).
Pharisees seek to catch people in
something they say in order to accuse them before others.
They may even ask you questions to
try and trip you up. We read in Matthew 22:15 that “the Pharisees
plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said”. (See Luke 11:54
I have had similar experiences
too. At times, believers from some churches (who are
convicted by what I preach and who want to accuse me of preaching heresy) have
visited me and asked me questions in order to catch me in some word that I may
say. They are not interested in being free from sin in their lives but
only in finding some fault in others. This is exactly how the Pharisees were.
They would take Jesus’ words out of context and accuse Him of heresy. Modern-day
Pharisees have twisted my words too in a similar fashion..
If we love someone, we will always
place the best construction on anything he says. We will say, “Perhaps I
misunderstood what he said. Perhaps he was joking”, etc., A Pharisee however
will never make such an allowance for anyone. It is written of Jesus that “He
would not judge by what His ears heard or by what His eyes saw” (Isa.11:3).
This is the example that every godly man will follow.
Pharisees are hard-hearted
“This people honour Me with their lips,
but their heart is far away from Me.” (Matt.15:8).
The heart of a Pharisee is hard,
because it is far from God. If you place butter close to a fire, it will
melt immediately. But if you put it in the freezer, it will become hard. It can
even become as hard as a rock, so that you will need a chisel to cut it. The
heart of a Pharisee is like that. God is a fire, and if you live close to Him
your heart will always be soft. Even rocks will melt in the presence of God.
If you are hard towards others,
you can be certain that you are living far, far away from God. The Pharisees
were hard on others because they were millions of miles away from God.
Pharisees honour God with their lips and sing beautiful songs of praise, “O
Lord, Thou art worthy”, etc. But they do not judge themselves. A person who
listens to God will judge himself always and never judge others - that is one
mark of a man who has a soft heart.
I have observed however that even
though Pharisees are very hard on people, many of them are very tender towards
their own family members. They make rules for others but will not impose those
rules on their own family members. They are full of partiality and hypocrisy.
We must have convictions. I have
my own convictions as to what I permit myself to possess or to do. But I do not
impose my convictions on others, in matters where Scripture is silent. I don’t
tell people whether or not to have a TV set. I think a computer connected to
the Internet is far more dangerous than any TV set. I warn people of the
dangers of both of these gadgets. But I do not make rules for others, like the
Pharisees do. I know Pharisees who told others never to possess these gadgets,
but who had to eat their words later on, when they themselves bought computers
out of necessity.
Pharisees cannot appreciate loud praise in public.
“When the chief priests and the scribes saw the children
shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant” (Matt.21:15).
Pharisees are disturbed when
people raise their voice to praise God. They believe that reverence for God
demands that His people be silent in His presence or at least subdued in their
praise. Jesus however was delighted when He heard the children shouting praises
to God because it reminded Him of heaven!
Heaven is a place where there is loud and continuous praise – at times
as loud as thunder (Rev.19:6). We haven’t attained to that decibel-level
as yet, in our praise meetings. But that is our goal. Pharisees would even be
disturbed if someone said an “Amen” or a “Hallelujah” in response to something
they heard in a message!! They would look around to see who said it. They feel
that such words should not be uttered in a church-meeting! They feel that
everyone should sit through church-meetings as though they were in a
funeral-service. Watching them while they sing, one would think that they had
not yet heard that Jesus has risen from the dead!!!
Pharisees have knowledge without obedience
Jesus said, “The Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair
of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do
according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them”
In Matthew 23, Jesus exposes more characteristics of the Pharisees
than we find in any other chapter in the Bible. Matthew 23 is
a chapter that is the very opposite of 1 Corinthians 13. To
be led by Law is the opposite of being led by Divine Love through the Holy
Spirit. So if we want to be led out of Phariseeism
and legalism into a life of Divine love, we must study Matthew 23
The Pharisees sat in the chair of
Moses, which meant that they had gone to Bible colleges and got their doctorate
degrees and had a lot of accurate knowledge. Jesus even told His disciples to
do all that the Pharisees taught. So what the Pharisees taught must have
been right. But they did not obey what they knew to be right.
Knowledge is a very useful thing,
but it can also be very dangerous. Knowledge coupled with obedience alone will bring
spiritual life. Knowledge without obedience however brings spiritual death. It
is better not to have any knowledge at all, than to have knowledge and
not obey. Knowledge can be compared to the food we eat and the digestive
process to obedience. It is when food is digested that it becomes part of our
body. Rice and curry are turned into flesh and bones – a miracle that is no
less than water being turned into wine. And our bodies perform this miracle
But if the food we eat is not
digested, then that food can kill us – because undigested food will rot inside
our stomachs and make us sick. Have you noticed when you vomit, that the food
that comes out of your stomach stinks and tastes rotten? It may have been tasty
chicken curry when you ate it. But it had a very different taste when you
vomited it out. That’s also what happens when we accumulate knowledge and do
not obey. And that is why many Christians stink spiritually. The ones who stink
the most are the ones who have the maximum amount of knowledge and the least
amount of obedience. Pharisees are like that. But the sad part is that they
themselves do not realize that they are stinking. A spiritual person however can smell that
stink very quickly. A godly man can discern a Pharisee in five minutes of
conversation with him. Their eyes are either haughty or full of adultery (Prov.6:17;
2Pet.2:14). Many women who lived a flirtatious life in their unconverted
days do not cleanse their spirit fully after their conversion. The result is
that even 20 years after their conversion, their eyes are still flirtatious. I
say to all young men: Stay clear of such sisters.
Pharisees do not practise what they
“Pharisees say things and do not do them” (Matt.23:3).
This verse is the opposite of Acts
1:1 where it is written about Jesus that He “did (first) and (then)
taught”. The Pharisees taught but did not do. They did not practise what they preached. Jesus however did first and
then preached only what He had already done!! These are two opposite spirits.
Those with the spirit of the Pharisees will build the harlot church Babylon. And those with
the Spirit of Christ will build the bridal church Jerusalem.
Jesus never preached what he had
not first done. How long do you think Jesus took to prepare the Sermon on
the Mount – (Matthew Chapters 5, 6 and 7) - the finest sermon that
anyone has ever preached? It took Him 30 years to prepare that sermon. It came
out of His life and not just from His mind.
When you preach a sermon that you
heard from someone else, that only comes out of your head. It is mere
knowledge. There is neither life nor anointing in it. If you want to preach as
Jesus preached, then you must first live the Word and then preach it. Some
people have asked me. “Brother Zac, can I preach your sermons in my
ministry?” And I have told them, “Yes,
if you live them out first and are honest to admit where you got them from.”
God says, “Have any of these preachers bothered to meet with Me and listened
to Me and then lived out my Word?... I never sent
these preachers, I never spoke to them, but they preached anyway” (Jer.23:17,
18, 21 -
When you preach someone else’s
sermon, without living it out yourself or telling people where you got it from,
you are just seeking honour for yourself. That is a dangerous habit and can
result in spiritual death for you, because God has said, “I am against the
preachers who get all their sermons secondhand from others and who say, ‘This
message is from God’” (Jer.23:30, 31 – Message and Living).
For some 30 years now, I have
tried my best to ensure that I preach only what I have first practised in my life. Let me give you one example: I have
never preached anywhere, urging people to go as missionaries to North India. Why haven’t I done that, when many hundreds
of missionaries are needed in North India.. Only because I have never lived in North India as a missionary myself.
Now listen to what I am going to
say and see if it is not true: Almost every leader of evangelical missionary
societies in India lives in
the comfort of South India and challenges others to go as missionaries to North India. These leaders send their own children to
good schools and colleges in South India. But
they tell their missionaries who are in remote villages in North
India (where there are no schools) to send their children to some
distant boarding schools. I am not here to judge these leaders, for God is
their judge. But I do say this that I will never follow their example. I
would be a Pharisee if I preached as they did, because I would be asking others
to do what I am not doing myself. Only someone who has lived in North India and brought up his children in the difficult
circumstances there, has the right to tell others to
do the same thing. All the rest are Pharisees. This principle applies in many
other areas too.
Don’t ever preach on anything that
you have not done yourself. Don’t try to advise parents who have teenage
children how to bring them up their teenagers, if you yourself have never
brought up teenage children aright yourself. That would be as foolish as a
bachelor telling parents how to bring up their children. Many a time, we can
bless others by just praying for them and keeping our mouths shut as far as any
advice is concerned.
Can you teach Chemistry without
studying Chemistry first? No. If your college-degree is in English, you can
only teach English. That is such a simple truth that every teacher knows. But
Pharisees do not understand something as simple as that.
Pharisees bind heavy burdens on others
“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but
they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger”
Pharisees try to appear spiritual
by preaching high standards for others to follow but do not follow those
I remember a youth camp many years
ago, at which I was one of two speakers. The other speaker preached saying that
everyone must give 10% of their time to God (just like tithing money),
meaning that everyone should spend 2 hours 24 minutes every day in
Bible-reading and prayer. During the question time that followed, one of the
young men asked me whether I agreed with this teaching. I told them that I did
not agree; and then I asked the other speaker openly, “Brother, do you spend 2
hours 24 minutes everyday in Bible reading and prayer?” He sheepishly said,
“No”. Everyone then saw that he was a hypocritical Pharisee who was tying heavy
burdens on others that he did not lift himself. That is just one example.
There are people who urge others
to give 10% of their money to God, who do not give 10% of their own gross
income. They are hypocritical Pharisees. The Christian world is full of
Pharisaical preachers who place impossible standards before others that they do
not live up to themselves. These are the preachers who build Babylon and who destroy the work of God. They
use God’s Word to burden people instead of blessing them.
I love the Message
translation of Matthew 23:4 that reads thus: “Instead of giving you
God’s Word as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it
in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They take pleasure in
watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger
Such preachers treat God’s
children as donkeys who are to carry heavy loads. The same message from the
Bible can be preached in two ways – as a burden or as a blessing.
It all depends on the preacher.
It is because of Pharisaical
preachers that many young people are fed up of attending church meetings. Jesus
preached from the same Old Testament that the Pharisees preached from. But He
liberated people with those Scriptures, whereas the Pharisees bound them with
greater chains with the same Scriptures. The same thing happens when Pharisees
Pharisees seek honour from men
“The Pharisees do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matthew
Jesus said that the Pharisees would pray
standing in the street-corners and pray loudly (Matt.6:1). Jesus was
obviously exaggerating here – but with a purpose. He was a great master at
exaggeration whenever He wanted to highlight an important point. He spoke of
people having a log in their eye and of those who swallowed camels! I have also
sought to follow Jesus’ example in this matter of exaggerating a point in order
to drive it home. We should certainly
not exaggerate when giving a report. We should not say, “200 people came
to my meeting when only 150 people came”! But the type of exaggeration that
Jesus used to drive home a point is very valuable.
Jesus spoke once about Pharisees
who pray in order to get honour from people. Haven’t we all prayed publicly to
get honour from others? We have often listened while praying, to hear if anyone
would say a “Hallelujah” or an “Amen” to our prayer. This is Phariseeism, for we have then prayed to people and not to
God. We need to cleanse ourselves from this sin.
Preachers can preach to get
honour? I judge myself after every sermon I preach to see if I have sought to
please God or man and to see where I can improve the quality of my preaching.
Every cook wants to improve the quality of his cooking. But unfortunately very
few preachers seek to improve the quality of their preaching. This is why most
preachers are always boring to listen to. They are conceited enough to imagine
that they are delivering powerful, anointed sermons. They don’t even ask their
wives what they think of their preaching. Through these past many years, I have
sought to improve continually in my preaching, because I want to preach in the
same gripping way that Jesus preached and with the same fire and passion that
There are other areas too where we
are tempted to seek honour from people. You may be writing reports of your
work, not to glorify God but to impress others with what you are doing for God.
In our churches, from the time we started in 1975, we have never sent a report
or photograph of our work to anyone, anywhere in the world. We felt it was
sufficient if God knew what we were doing.
Seeking honour from people is one
of the sins that are never spoken of in most churches. Seeking honour is what
makes a person a Pharisee. And Pharisees will only build Babylon.
To build the true church of our
Lord Jesus Christ, we must cleanse ourselves from all seeking of honour from
Pharisees think that holiness is in the style of one’s clothes
“The Pharisees broaden their phylacteries (small cases
containing Scripture texts worn on the forehead) and lengthen the tassels of
their garments” (Matt.23:5)
Another characteristic of
Pharisees is to glory in the “holiness” of their clothes!!
God had told the Israelites to
attach tassels (a bunch of loose threads bound at one end and hanging free at
the other) to the hems of their clothes with a blue cord – to remind them every
time they saw those tassels of God’s commandments that came from heaven (Num.15:38).
The Pharisees would make their
tassels a little longer than those of others. They could then glory that while
the tassels of others were only 3 inches long, theirs
were 6 inches long – proving that they were holier!!
There are many Pharisees today too
who glory in the “holy” clothes that they wear!! Someone once gave me a very colourful Hawaiian shirt. What would you think of me if you
saw me wearing that shirt? It would shock some Christians. That would reveal
their Phariseeism to them. We have so many ideas that
are completely contrary to Christ’s - because we don’t meditate sufficiently on
the Scriptures. We are afraid of what people will think of us if we wear a
certain colour of shirt. But Jesus’ holiness was not
in His clothes.
Pharisees observe others carefully
to see what they are wearing – clothes, shoes, earrings, etc., – in order to
find something to criticise. They have eyes like an
eagle for such matters.
Jesus spoke against men wearing “effeminate
(malako – Greek) clothing” (Matt.11:8).
And the Holy Spirit exhorts women to dress “modestly, discreetly and simply”
(1 Tim.2:9; 1 Pet.3:3). Other than that, holiness is not found in the
clothes we wear. Holiness is primarily inward.
Pharisees love positions and titles of honour
“ They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking
in the most prominent positions,
preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees,
and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’. Don’t let people do that to you,
put you on a pedestal like that (Matt.23:6-8 – The Message).
Pharisees love the honour of
becoming elders in a church. And Pharisaical wives of elders are also proud of
the honour their husband has. If you have the tiniest bit of pride that you are
an elder in a church or that your husband is an elder, you are certainly a
Pharisee of the first order. Such elders
can only build Babylon.
There is no difference between the Pharisees of those days who loved to be
called “Rabbi” and the Pharisees of today who love to be called, “Pastor,
“Reverend, “Right Reverend”, “Father”, and all the other ridiculous titles that
Christian leaders have taken to themselves. You can have that spirit even if
you call yourself a “Brother” – but with a capital “B”. Such Pharisees love to
sit on platforms at all public functions to be recognised
I got a letter some years ago from
a Bible Seminary in USA
offering me an honorary doctorate, because of my Internet ministry and all the
books I had written. They asked me just to fill up a form and return it. I
never replied. Would Jesus have been interested in getting an honorary
doctorate? Certainly not.
The above passage goes on to say,
“Don’t let people put you on a pedestal. You all have a single Teacher, and
you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting
them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God;
let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’.
You have only one Father, and He’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you
into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them -
Christ. Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff
yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to
simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty” (Matt.23:8-12 – The
Many believers in our churches
have tried to get me to take charge of their lives. They ask me to tell them
what they should do. I refuse to tell them. I give them my suggestions and then
tell them, “Now go and ask God first whether you should do as I say. If He
doesn’t give you peace about it, then throw away my advice and do what God
tells you to do. Your only leader must be Christ”.
There are many church-leaders who
do not follow Christ’s teaching in this area but who love to tell people how to
run their private lives. Such elders are Pharisees who are building Babylon. They are under
the law themselves and they bring their flock under the law too. They do not
know the freedom of the Spirit, because they love titles, position and honour.
Pharisees corrupt others
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you shut off the kingdom of
heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those
who are entering to go in”(Matt 23:13)
Sincere, young people who become
believers are corrupted by Pharisaical leaders. These young people may have had
great zeal to overcome sin and to live for God when they were first converted.
But then they see their leaders standing on big platforms like film-actors and
preaching and collecting plenty of money “in Jesus’ Name” from people,
and using that money to live like film-actors in their private lives. Thus
these young people, who started out wanting to follow Jesus and to live like He
did, now end up wanting to live like these famous preachers. And they imagine
that if they are faithful, then one day they too will become famous and be able
to live like film-actors. Thus these Pharisaical leaders corrupt them and
hinder them from following Jesus and entering the kingdom of God.
Young people today lack good role
models whom they can follow. Unfortunately, hardly any preacher today can say
like Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor.11:1; Phil.3:17).
So I say to young people: Look at Jesus and follow His Example. And if you find
someone who is following hard after Jesus, then look at him and follow his
example as well.
Pharisees take advantage of poor people
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you devour widows’ houses”
We don’t know how exactly the
Pharisees “devoured” the houses of these widows. They may have urged
those poor widows to give their property for “the work of the Lord”,
telling them that God would bless them for it – and then taken possession of
their property and enjoyed it themselves . Thus they
would “even rob the widows”, as Israel’s unjust judges had done 700
years earlier (Isa.10:2).
This very same exploitation of
poor people is going on in the 21st century too. Christian TV preachers are notorious for
getting poor widows and pensioners to give them large sums of money by assuring
them, “God will bless you and heal you of your sicknesses, if you give money
to my ministry”. Since most old widows and pensioners have many sicknesses
and other problems, TV preachers know how to exploit this for their own
benefit. They use every psychological trick and many emotional appeals and
verses from the Bible to squeeze money from these poor people. The poor widows
believe these greedy deceivers and send their meager savings to them. The
preachers then use this money to live in grand style themselves – buying
private jet planes and property, etc.
This pattern of swindling the poor
started in America
in recent times, but has now spread all over the world and is now found among
many Indian preachers too. Such Pharisees are daylight robbers and thieves.
What a testimony Paul had, that he
could say towards the end of his life, “We wronged no one, we corrupted no
one, we took advantage of no one” (2 Cor.7:2). That should be the testimony
of every servant of God at the end of his life.
It is evil and Satanic
to take advantage of poor believers – in any way.
Pharisees pray long, impressive prayers in public
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because for a pretense you make long
prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation” (Matt.23:14).
I have observed through the years,
that those who pray the longest in public are those who are prayerless
in private. They are all Pharisees. Next time you hear a man giving a long
oration in public prayer, recognise that he is a
Pharisee. In a time of public praise, if the leader asks everyone to limit
their praising to one or two minutes each, everyone must do that. But Pharisees
will not listen or obey. They feel their prayers must be longer than that of
others. The only reason for that is their arrogance, their pride and their
fantastically high opinion of themselves!
The Bible commands preachers to “prophesy
according to the proportion of their faith” (Rom.12: 6). That
means that the length of our sermons should be proportionate to the maturity of
our life. But 90% of the church-leaders I have met preach long, boring sermons
and disobey this command every Sunday. Once again, the only reason for such
disobedience is their fantastically high opinion of themselves!
Pharisees do missionary work and make people twofold children of
“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you travel around on sea and
land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much
a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt.23:15)
Pharisees may be
missionary-minded, but their so-called “converts” go to hell, because
they do not bring their converts to genuine repentance and faith.
Pharisees may engage in a lot of
“religious work” (which is fundamentally different from doing God’s will) – and
even with a lot of sacrifice. They may become “full-time Christian workers”,
but their converts will be double the children of hell – because they do not
preach repentance and they assure people who have never turned from their
sinful ways that they are born again just because they “believe”. Likewise,
they convince people that they are filled with the Holy Spirit (when they are
not) just because they babbled some gibberish - which is totally different from
the genuine gift of tongues. Thus they make people double the children of hell.
They were already living in sin, as children of hell, to begin with. But now
they have been convinced by some Pharisaical preacher that they are “eternally
secure”, because they repeated the “magic” words, “Lord Jesus come into my
heart” – even though their attitude to sin has not changed. Now they are just
told to make sure they pay their tithes regularly and a place in heaven is
assured them. Thus they are insulated against the gospel. Because when they now
hear a gospel message they don’t feel they need to respond to it because they
are “eternally secure”. What a tremendous deception is going on today. I have
told people in some of our own churches that they are not born again, even
though they have been sitting in our midst for many years. Many Pharisaical
elder brothers have zero discernment when it comes to assessing whether a
person in born again or not. They allow all types of people to join their
churches and these are the ones who cause them many problems later on.
Some Pharisaical elders are
partial to the poor. They make poor people feel important in the
church just because they are poor. And these elders think they are being
like Jesus! (This is the opposite of those preachers who are partial towards
the rich - James 2:1-4.). God knew that there could be this evil
tendency among “super-spiritual elders”, and so He warned Israel’s
leaders, “You shall not be partial to a poor man” (Exod.23:3). By
showing such partiality and making these poor people feel important in the
church, just because of their poverty, they make these poor people twofold the
children of hell. Jesus was not a Communist who came to equalize the poor with
the rich. I am not a Communist either. I am a Christian. I respect people who
are humble and God fearing, irrespective of whether they are rich or
poor. But many church-leaders confuse Christianity with Communism.
We can deceive ourselves as a
church in two ways. One is by imagining that we are a wonderful church because
we have many rich, educated and cultured people in high positions in our church
(but most of whom are ungodly). The other way is by imagining that we are a
wonderful church because we don’t have any rich, educated people, but
only a bunch of poor, uneducated people (but most of whom are ungodly)! Both
churches are Babylonian –with different colours.
Don’t imagine that poor people are all spiritual or that rich people are
all unspiritual. Poverty does not equal godliness. Don’t make people
twofold the children of hell.
Pharisees interpret Scripture without revelation from God
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `Whoever
swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the
temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which
is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, `Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever
swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ You blind men, which is more
important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore,
whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on
it. And whoever swears by the temple,
swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears
by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”
(Matt. 23: 16-22).
The Pharisees interpreted
Scripture with their minds, without any revelation from God. So they would
modify God’s Word according to their own ideas and preach that as God’s law.
There are Pharisaical preachers doing that today too. They don’t understand the
spirit behind God’s Word, but preach it according to the letter –
and “the letter kills” (2 Cor.3:6). These preachers don’t see
their inconsistency either, when they disobey that same word in some other
Here is one example. Some
church-leaders teach that the wearing of jewellery is
a sinful luxury and look down on any sister who may be wearing even imitation jewellery (that costs just 400 rupees). But those same
preachers may have spent more than a million rupees in building their own house
with many luxurious fittings in it. But they don’t see their inconsistency and
hypocrisy there. They ease their conscience by saying that Scripture does not
speak against the use of expensive marble flooring in a house, but only against
jewellery (1 Tim.2:9; 1 Pet.3:3)!! But
Scripture actually urges us to avoid all unnecessary luxuries.
There are many other examples like
this. Such church-leaders do not have the revelation of the Holy Spirit on the
Word. Instead, they interpret Scripture to suit their own convenience and judge
Pharisees are sticklers for the letter of the law
“You Pharisees tithe mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law” (Matt.23:23).
Pharisees take some small aspect
of a commandment in Scripture, and emphasise that.
They “major on minors”. There is a lot of preaching like that today.
Such preaching will make a church full of legalistic people who are proud of
their obedience in minor matters but who are unconscious of their utter disobedience
in major matters. Jesus did not tell the Pharisees not to tithe dill and
cumin etc. What He did say was that the major matters in God’s Law needed more
emphasis than tithing.
I studied through the four gospels
once and wrote down all the subjects that Jesus emphasised:
He preached on repentance, poverty of spirit, gentleness, purity, mourning for
sin, paying one’s taxes, being born again, worshipping God in spirit, love,
humility, marital faithfulness, breaking with human traditions, etc. But He never
once spoke on how people should dress or whether women should wear jewellery or veil their heads. He did speak however on
living a simple lifestyle and on not loving money.
I then studied the epistles to see
what subjects were emphasised much by the Holy
Spirit, and what subjects were emphasised very
little, or not mentioned at all.
Thus I discovered what I should emphasise most in my preaching and what I should give less
importance to. If you study Scripture
like that, you will be balanced in your teaching and you will avoid becoming a
Pharisees have no justice, no mercy and no faithfulness
“You Pharisees have neglected the weightier provisions of the
law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should
have done…..” (Matt.23:23)
The Pharisees were unjust and
unfair in their dealings with people. They had no mercy towards those who had
failed and they were not faithful in their private lives. But with all these
lacks in their lives, they still considered themselves holy, because of their fastings and prayers and Bible knowledge, etc. They were
like a bride going to her wedding whose bridal gown was all dirty and messy but
who was only concerned that she should walk gracefully into the wedding. If
there is selfishness, pride, unmerciful attitudes and unfaithfulness in our
lives, then to glory in our religious activities is only to deceive ourselves
that we are spiritual. We need to recognise what the
weightier matters of the Christian life are – and concentrate on them first.
Pharisees strain out mosquitoes and swallow camels
“You Pharisees, hypocrites and blind guides -
who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt.23:24).
Pharisees are very careful in
small unimportant matters (straining out dead mosquitoes). But they neglect to
obey the commands in Scripture (swallowing dead camels). Jesus was not thereby
telling the Pharisees that it was all right to swallow dead mosquitoes. He was
showing them their inconsistency in neglecting more important matters.
Such Pharisees are careful in
small matters such as wearing clean clothes when going to the church meetings,
or in keeping their houses neat and tidy. These are good habits. But when it
comes to more important matters such as seeking God earnestly to overcome anger
and sexual lust, or helping in the practical work in the church, or travelling
to the villages to bring people to Christ, they are not so keen – because these
matters require the sacrifice of one’s convenience, time and money.
The Message Translation
paraphrases this verse thus: “Do you have any idea how silly you look,
writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, but nitpicking over
commas and semicolons?”
Bible Memory competitions held in Bangalore
that many Christians participate in to get a prize of a few hundred rupees. To
win that prize, one has to write down not only all the words of the Scripture
passage accurately, but also place all the commas and the semi-colons
accurately!! Some believers spend weeks and weeks memorizing the correct places
for these commas and semi-colons in order to win this prize. But all the while
they live in disobedience to the Scriptures in their homes. But that does not
disturb them. You can win the first prize in such Bible contests and still be a
Pharisee of the first order.
Love is the ultimate end and goal
of the gospel (1 Tim.1:5) – to love God with all our heart, soul and
strength and to love our fellow-believers as Christ loved us. If we pursue after
this love, we will know instinctively what the most important things in the
Christian life are.
Pharisees concentrate on having a good testimony externally only
“You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but
inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of
the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also”
Pharisees clean the outside of
their lives, but do not bother about the state of their hearts, which are full
of self-indulgence and greed. They live with selfish motives, thinking only of
getting more and more money and honour and comfort for themselves and their
families. But outwardly they are pious and religious and even active in all
sorts of “ministries” that other Christians can see. Thus they get a good
reputation before people.
God tests us to see whether we
seek His approval or man’s. One who is careless about impurity in his heart but
only concerned to have a good testimony before people proves thereby that he
has no fear of God at all. He is a Pharisee. People look at us on the outside,
but God looks at our hearts (1 Sam.16:7). The primary mark of a godly
man is that he seeks to keep his heart clean and pure before God.
Pharisees say they would never have done the evil that others
“You Pharisees build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the
monuments of the righteous, and say, `If we had been
living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in
shedding the blood of the prophets.’” (Matt.23:29, 30).
Pharisees look at the sins and
failures of others and say, “We would never have done that. We would never
dress like that. We would never have behaved like that. We
would never have spoken like that”, etc.
We need to recognise,
even as the best of Christians, that we have the same
corrupt flesh that every child of Adam has. Pharisees do not recognise the corruption in their own flesh. A godly man
would acknowledge that he is capable of committing any sin that anyone has ever
committed. He will acknowledge that it is only God’s restraining grace that has
kept him from committing many sins. An old saint of God, when
he saw a criminal being led to his execution, said, “There, but for the
grace of God, go I”. That saint recognised
that he was capable of committing every crime that the criminal had committed,
if it were not for the restraining power of God’s grace that he had opened his
heart to receive. Every godly man will acknowledge that. But a Pharisee will
never admit it.
Pharisees persecute God’s prophets
“I am sending you prophets…Some of them you will kill and
crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute
from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous
blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of
Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered
between the temple and the altar” (Matt.23:34, 35).
Pharisees are offended when they
hear the truth from a prophet. And so they will persecute such preachers in one
way or the other. They like those preachers who flatter them, but hate those
who rebuke them and correct them. The Old Testament prophets told Israel about
their sin, straight to their faces – and all of them were persecuted and some
of them were even killed. If you are
offended by rebuke or correction from a godly man, it is very likely that you
too are a Pharisee.
Pharisees care much for the opinions of people
“The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from
men?” And the Pharisees began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say,
`From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” And
answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” (Matt.21:25-27).
The Pharisees were always
concerned what others would think about them if they took a stand on a
particular matter. Their convictions were determined not by what God’s Word
taught, but by what the people around them would think of them. They were not
concerned about the opinions of the Romans or the Greeks. But they were
concerned about the opinions of their fellow-Jews.
If you are more concerned about
what people in your church think about you than to do the right thing according
to your conscience, then you are a Pharisee. Many preachers do and say things
in order to please some group of people in their church whose favour they desire. Many believers want their children to
behave properly, not for the glory of God, but because they want honour for
themselves as parents. And so they make many silly rules for their children,
and make them act like “tin soldiers”.
In 1987, my eldest son finished
school and got admission to two colleges – to IIT in India
and to a better college in the USA
(with a scholarship as well). When he told me that he preferred to go to the U.S. college, I said “All right. I will send you there”. [Today,
numerous young people from our churches in India
have gone to the U.S.A.
But in 1987, there was not even one such case in our
churches. There was also a Pharisaical idea in the minds of many
brothers that “spiritually-minded people in India
will not go abroad or send their sons abroad – either to the Arabian Gulf or to
My son was therefore surprised when I agreed to send him and asked me, “What
will people in our churches say when they hear that you have sent your son to
the United States?”
But I was not going to let my children live according to the rules that
Pharisees had made. I wanted them to live in freedom in Christ. So I told him,
“That will only test whether I am free from the opinions of others.”
Interestingly, some who were
critical of my sending my son to America,
a few years later sent their own children to America. Pharisees are like that:
They preach very strict rules to others, but modify those rules when it comes
to their own family members. It is extremely rare to find even elder brothers
who are totally free from showing partiality to their family-members.
We can lose our children to the world, if we
are concerned about the opinions of others. Don’t ruin your children’s future,
by listening to the foolish, legalistic rules that Pharisaical elders in your
Paul said, “I have been
crucified to the world, and have been set free from the stifling atmosphere of
pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate”
(Gal.6:14-Message). Seeking to
please people is like living in a room filled with a foul smell. Get out and
live in the fresh air of freedom in Christ.
Pharisees love money
“The Pharisees were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14).
When we think of the Pharisees, we
don’t usually associate the love of money with them. But in actual fact this is
one of the clearest marks of a Pharisee. Even if you do not have any of the
other 49 characteristics of a Pharisee, but have just this one, you are still a
Pharisee. Pharisees will nit-pick about small rules in the Law, but when it
comes to money they love it immensely.
Jesus had just said (in Lk.16:13) “You cannot love God and
Mammon (material wealth)”. The Pharisees scoffed at that statement
(v.14), because they were lovers of money and felt that they loved God
too. A believer can use material
wealth as his servant (any amount of it) but the moment he begins to love it,
he becomes a Pharisee.
God gave us material things to
use and people to love. The devil has
succeeded in reversing that in the human race and as a result people love material
things and use people (for their own advantage). Jesus came to turn
us right side up – so that we can love people and use material things (to bless
people). Godly people deny themselves many material things so that they can
bless people with those things. That’s how Jesus lived.
Many preachers who are sticklers
for little rules that they impose on others are themselves great lovers of
money. They even neglect their responsibilities in the church in order to make
more money for themselves – because they are Pharisees and their minds are
always on money.
Pharisees imagine that they are better than others.
“Jesus spoke this parable to some people who viewed others with
contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee…who prayed to
himself: `God, I thank You that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:9-11).
In this parable we observe first of all that
this Pharisee didn’t pray to God. He prayed to himself (v.11). He
thanked God in his heart, that he was better than others. He didn’t say that
aloud, for then he would have lost his reputation for humility!!
Suppose one day, someone loses his
temper at you and gets angry. But you control your temper and keep quiet. Then
you secretly congratulate yourself and say, “Lord, I thank You
that I am not like this person. I thank You that I
have self-control”. You have, at that moment, prayed the same prayer that the
Pharisee prayed. That other person fell into a 10-foot pit called “anger”.
But you fell into a far deeper 1000-foot pit called “spiritual pride”.
Which of you was worse? That person may be convicted later of his anger and
repent and come back to the Lord. But you may never see your self-righteousness
– and thus never repent of your spiritual pride! Finally, in God’s eyes, that person ends up
better than you.
Spiritual pride is like an onion.
When you peel off one layer, you think you have finished with it. But there is another layer underneath – and another underneath
that, and yet another underneath that – and so on. We will never
eliminate spiritual pride completely from our lives on earth. But we can make
the onion quite thin, if we judge ourselves faithfully – instead of judging
Spiritual pride is also very
subtle and can clothe itself in the garb of humility!! A Sunday-School teacher
was teaching this story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector to her children.
At the end she said (words that sounded exactly like the Pharisees’ words),
“Children, thank God we are not like the Pharisee”!! We laugh at that and we
say “Thank God we are not like the Sunday-School Teacher”!! Yes, spiritual
pride is indeed like an onion!!
Pride and selfishness are two sins
that we will never be totally free from, until Christ returns and we become
like Him. These sins are like onions with innumerable layers. If we cleanse
ourselves as soon as we see one layer of either of these, in us, we can
gradually reduce the size of these onions. Our longing should be to make these “onions”
as thin as possible, before Christ returns. If you are doing that, you are on
the right track – and you will never be a Pharisee.
Pharisees trust in their own righteousness
“He also told this parable to some people who trusted in
themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9).
There is a righteousness of faith,
which is a gift from God. And there is a righteousness which we can produce
ourselves. The way to find out which one you have is to ask yourself whether
you are proud of your righteousness. If so, then you must have produced it
yourself. If you had the righteousness of God which was received as a gift from
Him, you would be thankful for it, but you could not be proud of it. Pharisees
have a righteousness that they are proud of.
You can be proud of a book that
you wrote. But you cannot be proud of a book that someone else wrote. So if you
are proud of some good quality you have in your life – whether humility, or
generosity, or prayerfulness, or whatever, you must have produced it yourself.
If you are generous and hospitable, and you are proud of it, then those
qualities may be just human qualities, and not the divine nature. Because if
they were part of God’s nature that He had given you freely, how could you
boast about them? To be hospitable is a good virtue, but if you are proud of
it, then your hospitality stinks before God.
This principle applies in other
areas too – that have nothing to do with righteousness. Maybe you can sing
better than others, or play an instrument better, or preach better. Or perhaps
your church is larger than someone else’s church. Anything that you are proud
of is the result of your own labour. If it was God’s
work, you could not boast about it.
Many boast about the sacrifices
they have made for the Lord. That makes it obvious that they have not seen the
immensity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for them. Can you see a single star
when the sun is shining? No. When the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary
becomes as bright as the sun in our minds, all our petty sacrifices will
disappear like the stars in the daytime – and we won’t even call them “sacrifices”
any more. If you can remember all your sacrifices, then you must be in the
darkness still – for it is only at night that we can see the stars!!
Come in faith and humility and
receive the righteousness of God that he offers you in Christ – and give Him
all the glory for it, all the days of your life. Then you will never be a
Pharisees look down on others
“Jesus spoke this parable to some people who viewed others with
contempt” (Luke 18:9).
There are various reasons why
people view others with contempt. They may have been taught by their parents
from childhood to look down on others who are inferior in social status, or
wealth or education etc. Or if you are very intelligent and top your class in
school, you can begin to view others in your class with contempt. If, in
addition, you are unfortunate enough to have foolish parents who make you
imagine that you are a genius, then matters could be even worse.
Let me plead with all parents: If
your children are intelligent, please don’t ruin them by boasting about them. I
made it a rule in my house that my sons were never to tell anyone about their
rank in class or the prizes they got anywhere. I knew that if they became
proud, they would lose the grace of God immediately. Then they would fall into
sin and never be able to fellowship with ordinary brothers. I fear that many
parents have ruined their children thus.
It is a common habit among
children to make fun of someone who cannot speak English (or whatever their
mother-tongue is) with a good accent. Beware of encouraging that in your home.
Did any of us come out of our mother’s wombs speaking with a good accent? We
should thank God for any ability that we have. But we should never be proud of
it. Do you know what accent they speak with in heaven? The
accents of humility and love. Let us learn those accents
Perhaps you are a woman who keeps
your house spotlessly clean, with everything in its proper place. Then you see
someone else’s home untidy and slipshod – and you despise her. You are then a
Pharisee; while the person whose house is untidy may be a godly person.
Some brothers have very poor music
sense and if they start singing a chorus in an open time of praise in the
church, they will invariably sing totally off tune. Don’t despise them, because
God doesn’t listen to the music. He listens to the words. And that brother
singing the wrong tune may be more sincere than you are,
who can sing the right tune. Personally, I have thanked God for such brothers,
because they humble all the clever musicians in the church. It is Pharisee musicians who destroy the
church, not the non-musical brothers. God loves non-musical brothers just as
much as anyone else - but He rejects Pharisees. Many a surprise awaits such
Pharisees when the Lord returns.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t
come first in your class, or that you shouldn’t keep your house tidy, or that
you shouldn’t sing in tune. Not at all. By all means
let us do all these. But let us be humble about them – and not despise anyone
else who cannot do what we can.
There are many areas like this
where we can despise others quite easily. It says in Job 36:5 that “God
is almighty, but He doesn’t despise anyone”. The more we become like God, the more we will
value people and never despise anyone – for anything.
So let us cleanse ourselves and
learn to look at people as God looks at them. “What do you have that you did
not receive from God? How can you boast then about anything or despise anyone
else?” (1 Cor.4:7).
Pharisees exalt themselves over others
“This tax-collector went to his house justified rather than the
Pharisee – for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled” (Lk.18:14).
Pharisees cannot be justified by
God because they exalt themselves. God humbles all those who exalt themselves
There are many subtle ways in
which we can exalt ourselves over others. We can behave in ways that make
others feel small and inferior to us. Gifted people and musicians are in great
danger here. You must not play a musical instrument in a church meeting in a
way that makes people admire you. You are there to help people to worship God
and not to get them to worship you!!
Sometimes married couples speak
about the joys of married life in the presence of single sisters who are older
and not married. They are exalting their marriage relationship when they speak
like that, without any consideration for the feelings of those single sisters.
We must not hurt others by such testimonies. Pharisees are totally
inconsiderate about the feelings of others. That is why they cannot be declared
righteous (justified) by God, because God justifies only the humble.
There are many other ways in which
we can exalt ourselves over others. We must ask the Holy Spirit to make us
sensitive in this area.
Pharisees boast about their accomplishments
“God, I thank You that I am not a swindler, or
unjust, or an adulterer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I
get…….” (Luke 18:11, 12).
We face a great danger whenever we give a report
of what the Lord has done through us. We must give our testimony for the glory
of God – but we have to be ever so careful that we are not boasting about our
accomplishments like the Pharisees did. Preachers especially are in great
danger here. Many reports of Christian work that are sent by Christian workers
to Western countries often have a spirit of boasting. Those workers are trying
to prove that they are doing a great work for God – and possibly even subtly
implying that they are doing a greater work than some other mission is doing in
There must be zero boasting about
what we are doing for the Lord, if we want to be free from Phariseeism.
We must keep our work for the Lord
hidden for Him alone to see. We cannot receive grace from God if there is even
a smell of boasting in our lives – for God gives His grace only to the humble.
Pharisees accuse others
“The Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having
set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has
been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to
stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were
saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him”
The Pharisees had not understood
the heart of God behind the law that stated that adulterous women must be
stoned. God did not love to see women stoned to death, but He did want to put a
severe deterrent in the way of adultery. The Pharisees were not actually interested
in obeying the Law here. All they wanted was to find some grounds to accuse
Jesus. They had already accused the sinful woman and now they wanted to accuse
the sinless Son of God as well. That is how Pharisees are. They have no fear of
God and would accuse the godliest men as much as they would accuse anyone else.
The Pharisees thought this was a
“Catch-22” situation, where whatever Jesus said would give them grounds
to accuse Him. If He said, “Stone her to death”, they would accuse Him of
lacking compassion; and if He said, “No. Don’t stone her to death”, then they
could accuse Him of not keeping the Law of Moses. It was like tossing a coin
and saying, “Heads we win, tails you lose”. We will win either way. But
they didn’t win. They lost! Jesus did not reply immediately but sat down and
waited for a word from His Father. As soon as He heard the Father’s reply, He
told them, “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone”. One
sentence from the Father was enough to solve the problem.
If you listen to the Holy Spirit,
you won’t have to preach a long sermon in situations like this. One
sentence can shut the mouths of your enemies. God gives such words of wisdom
even today to those who are not Pharisees and who do not accuse others. God’s
promise to such people is “I will give you the right words and such logic
and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute!”
(Lk.21:15 – NASB and Living Bible).
Was Jesus against adultery? Yes,
He certainly was. But He was much more against legalism than He was against
adultery. We see that very clearly here:
The adulterous woman was on one side of Jesus and the legalistic
Pharisees on the other. In the end we find only the adulterous woman at Jesus’
feet. The others were driven away by the word that Jesus spoke. Adultery was
only a speck in the woman’s eye compared to the massive logs of legalism and
hatred in the eyes of the Pharisees.
Now ask yourself how many times
you have accused good brothers and sisters of things which are not even one-millionth
as bad as adultery. Think of the things you have spoken about them behind their
back, in your house and elsewhere. Every time you have indulged in such
accusations, the log in your eye – your hard, judgemental,
accusative attitude towards others – has become bigger and bigger and made you
more and more blind to spiritual things. Who have you harmed ultimately? Yourself, more than anyone else.
Do you think that a man with a log
in his eye can be an eye-doctor to remove specks from the eyes of others? You
need to hear the word of the Lord saying to you, “Leave your brothers and
sisters alone. They only have a few specks in their eyes. The log in your eye
is much worse than all their specks put together.”
Why was Jesus so much against this
spirit of accusation? Because, when He was in heaven, He had heard Satan (the “Accuser
of the brethren”) accusing people “day and night” continually (Rev.12:10).
When Jesus came to earth and saw people having that same spirit, they reminded
Him of Satan. Jesus hated this spirit of accusation then and He hates it even
today. Do you realise that when you accuse others
you remind Jesus of Satan? Most believers don’t see this – because the log
in their eyes has blinded them.
If there is one message I have
preached for 30 years it is this: If you want to progress
spiritually, stop judging others and start judging yourself. Use
your microscope on yourself and not on others. And after you have judged
yourself, I’ll tell you what you should do. Judge yourself some more. When should
you stop? When you have become completely like Jesus Christ. The apostle John
told believers at the end of his life, “When Christ appears, we will
be like Him…and everyone who has this hope will purify himself, just as Christ
is pure” (1 Jn.3:2,3).
How then should a church-leader
correct someone who is wrong? With mercy – with tremendous mercy, with as much
mercy as the Lord has shown him. Jesus did not ignore the sin of adultery that
this woman had committed. No. He first told her with great compassion, “I
don’t condemn you.” Then He warned her strongly, “Don’t ever commit this
sin again.” God’s grace doesn’t condone our sin! It forgives our sin
first and then warns us not sin and then helps us not to sin.
Why did all the Pharisees go away?
They should have come all to the Lord in brokenness saying, “Lord, please
forgive me. I have got light on my own hidden sins and my hard legalistic
attitude now. I see now that I am much worse than this woman. Please have mercy
on me.” But not one of them came to Jesus like that.
What about you who have been
finding fault with so many people for some fault or the other that you see in
them? Will you let the Lord break you today?
When some people have come to me
and apologised for something they said or did against
me, I have sensed that they were not broken. This proved that they had not
really repented of their sin. They were just obeying a law to keep their
conscience clean. I forgave them immediately. But I am certain that they will
fall into those sins again, because they are legalistic. They had realised technically, that they had disobeyed “Law
Number 347 – Thou shalt not speak evil against an
elder brother behind his back” and needed now to apologize. So they go
through the formality of an apology, in order to obey “Law Number 9 – Thou shalt apologize to the one thou hast wronged”!! But
nothing has changed within them. They go on with their lives as before.
When God gives us light on our own
sins, we will be so blinded by that light, that we will fall at Jesus’ feet
like a dead man (Rev.1:17) and we will consider ourselves to be “the
greatest sinners on earth” (1 Tim.1:15). Have you ever felt like that? Or
do you just feel that you slipped up slightly? Then you are a Pharisee and it
cannot go well with you until you repent of stoning poor people who have specks
in their eyes. Let God to break your stubborn heart.
James 2:13 reminds us that “God will be merciless in judging
all who have not shown mercy to others”.
And church leaders are usually the Number One culprits in this area.
Parents also need to be careful that they are not unmerciful to their children.
A church-leader who falls into adultery can
never destroy a church, because every believer knows that adultery is a sin,
and that leader will be removed from his position immediately. But if a
church-leader is a legalist, he is a far greater danger – because he is
preaching “holiness’. And those who don’t have light on legalism will
follow him and become legalists themselves. As a blind Pharisee he will thus
lead others also into the deep pit of legalism into which he himself has
Have you actually seen that your
attitude of judging and accusing others is worse than if you had fallen into
adultery ten times? How would you repent if you had fallen into adultery
ten times in the last one month? You must repent even more than that for having
the spirit of accusation.
Pharisees imagine that God is their Father when actually Satan
is their father
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me……You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the
desires of your father” (John 8:42, 44).
Jesus told the Pharisees to their
faces that their father was the devil. Some preachers believe that no human
being is a child of the devil. But Jesus stated otherwise; and He knew the
truth about this better than any of us do. Those Pharisees imagined that God
was their father, when in fact Satan was their father. It is the same with
Pharisees today. Children manifest the nature of their father; and Pharisees
are “accusers of the brothers”, like their father the devil. It
is simply amazing that so many “Christians” keep on accusing and
condemning other believers and yet don’t seem to realise
that these are the characteristics of Satan. So he must be their father! How
can such people imagine that their father is God? That is total blindness! The
Pharisees in the first century didn’t believe what Jesus told them. And today’s
Pharisees don’t believe it either.
I have sometimes told people who
have attended our church for many years that I did not feel that they knew the
Lord, despite their having repeated the words, “Lord Jesus, come into my heart”
at some time in the past – because I did not see any fruit in their lives that
indicated that they knew the Lord. Many church leaders are not faithful (like
Jesus was) to tell people the truth. They are more interested in their own
reputation than in saving people from hell. Thus the blood of those unconverted
people is on the hands of such leaders.
Pharisees are liars and murderers
Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to
do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does
not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a
lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
The Pharisees had a murderous
desire towards the woman caught in adultery. But today’s Pharisees have become
more civilised and murder people only with their
Have you murdered anyone’s
reputation by spreading evil stories about him – even if the stories were true?
When Satan accuses believers to God, he never tells any lies to God. He speaks
the truth, because he knows that he can’t tell lies to God. He tells God the
truth about your sins, but in a spirit of accusation. In the same way, it is
possible to tell true stories about a believer with the spirit of the accuser
in order to destroy his reputation. None of you would spread such tales about
your own children. If your daughter fell into adultery, would you tell
everybody in your church about it, or would you try your best to cover it up?
Many of your sons and daughters have done foolish things in the past. But you
parents have lovingly covered them up and protected their reputations. Why
don’t you do the same when it concerns another brother’s son or daughter? We must get rid of all “murderers” from the
Pharisees are also liars. I have
observed one thing again and again through all these years: Whenever a believer
backslides, he begins to tell lies immediately. It is almost as though Satan
takes over his heart and tongue immediately. They will sugar-coat their lies
and pretend as if they are being honest. They will beat around the bush and
talk about everything except the truth. They will not look you straight in the
face when they speak. The devil is the father of lies. But he needs a mother to
produce those lies through. And it is only when you give your heart to the
devil that he is able to produce a lie through you. Peter asked Ananias, “Why
has Satan filled your heart to tell a lie” (Acts 5:3). A preacher who tells
a lie has given his tongue to Satan at that moment. He cannot then expect God
to use his tongue and anoint Him to preach, until he confesses his sin and
repents and forsakes that habit.
We must hate lying as much as we
Pharisees persecute those who don’t listen to them
“The Pharisees told him (the blind man who was healed), “You
were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out (of
the synagogue). (John 9:34).
The Pharisees could not heal that
poor man who was born blind. But when Jesus healed him, they were upset and
called him a sinner and put him out of the synagogue.
threaten to put people out of the church if they won’t obey the leader’s
orders. Pharisaical elders love to have authority over others and to control
them. Jesus said that if a brother sins, we should go and speak to him and try
and win him. (Matt.18:15). Excommunication should be the last option.
Our goal must always be to try and win the brother who sinned.
Believers may fall into sin and do
wrong things. When that happens, his church-leader has an option: To speak to
him as Jesus would, or as a Pharisee would. Jesus
would seek to win the brother. But the devil will want to destroy him.
Pharisees are in league with the devil and will harass and persecute those who
do not listen to them, or who do not submit to their authority.
Pharisees are jealous of those who can do miracles that they
“The Pharisees said, ‘What are we doing? For this man is
performing many miracles’. From that day on they planned
together to kill Him” (John 11:47, 53).
Here, in John 11, Jesus had
just raised Lazarus from the dead. The Pharisees should have been excited about
it. But they were not - because the Man who did the miracle was not from
their group!! Jesus belonged to
another denomination!! The Pharisees were green with jealousy over this.
Jealousy is such an obvious thing, that even a worldly person like Pilate could
recognise it in the Pharisees (Matt.27:18).
Beware of jealousy.
Pharisees are jealous of those who
do miracles. I am not talking now about the counterfeit “miracles” being
done by television evangelists today that fool many believers. We have all seen
plenty of those. I am talking about real miracles that are taking place even
today. But you don’t see those on television or at the so-called “healing
crusades”. The real miracles taking place today (exactly as in the Acts of
the Apostles) are in places where the gospel is being preached for the
very first time – for example, in some places in North India. Many don’t realise the fact that in the Acts of the Apostles,
the miracles God performed were in places where the gospel was going for the
first time. The people through whom God is doing such miracles today are
ordinary, unknown believers; and just like Jesus, they also do not advertise
the miracles they have seen.
God is a God of miracles, and if
you cannot trust Him to do a miracle for you, then you are a Pharisee. When you
are sick you must pray to God for healing, and not just accept the sickness. We
have some privileges as God’s children that others do not have. We can “taste
the powers of the age to come” (Heb.6:5). And if it is not God’s will to heal
you (for any reason), then you can ask Him to give you “something better
than healing”, as He gave Paul (2 Cor.12:7-10). If you are an elder
in a church and some sick person comes to you for prayer, you must pray (with
whatever faith you have) that God will heal him and draw him closer to Himself
thereby. And when God answers your prayer, be careful to give Him the glory and
not to boast about it – or else you will end up as a greater Pharisee.
Pharisees judge godly people for not doing something that they
“The Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, because He does
not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16).
Pharisees assess people not by
their godliness but by whether they observe some religious ritual or not. They
were certain that Jesus could not be from God, because He did not keep the
Sabbath the way they kept it. We too can have our own ideas as to how
something should be done in the church; and if someone does not do it that way,
we can write him off as ungodly. Prejudice is a powerful evil that can destroy
The Salvation Army (founded by
William Booth in the 19th
century in England)
does not have “breaking of bread” in their services. One reason they
gave for that was that many of their converts were drunkards and were tempted
to go back to their alcoholism, when they smelt the wine at the communion. They
did not practise water-baptism either, because they
said that many who were baptized had not really been converted. But William
Booth was one of the godliest men of his time; and he and his wife brought
thousands to Christ from the dregs of society, all over the world. What would
you think of such a man? Pharisees would reject him outright. But if I were
living in England 150 years ago, I would have joined him in the work he was
doing of bringing drunkards and prostitutes and thieves to Christ – a work that
no-one else was doing. I don’t agree with their doctrines in these two matters.
But I would not assess a man’s godliness by whether he agreed with me on
baptism and the Lord’s Table.
We have to be careful that we
don’t speak empty words of criticism against godly men like William Booth. It
is true that Paul criticised Peter for a compromising
stand that Peter took (Gal.2:11). But Peter had recognised
the grace that God had given Paul (Gal.2:9). So when such a man as Paul criticises Peter, that is
But who are the ones who are criticising godly men today? Invariably,
those who have done nothing for the Lord themselves, and those whom God has not
borne witness to in any way. Such foolish believers dare to criticise godly men whom God has used a thousand times more
than them. That is Phariseeism.
Pharisees test God by asking Him for signs
“The Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign
from You’” (Matt.12:38).
Pharisees always want some sign or
miracle to be assured of the truth. They cannot live by simple faith. And that
is why religious charlatans are able to deceive such Pharisees with their false
signs and wonders today. Don’t ever imagine that asking God for a sign or a
miracle is a mark of spirituality. It’s the mark of a Pharisee. We find this
statement repeated in Matthew 16:1 as well.
Pharisees have no concern for lost sinners
“The Pharisees said, ‘This crowd which does not know the Law is
accursed’” (John 7:49)
Today’s Pharisees can have the
same attitude towards those going to hell and say, “O these people who don’t
accept Christ as their Saviour are going to hell.”
That is true. But such a comment also exposes the speaker as a Pharisee who has
no concern for the lost. If you have no concern for those who are going to hell, that would clearly prove that you are a Pharisee.
When we witness to others, our
concern should be their salvation and not that their blood should
no longer be on our hands. I have seen Christians distributing tracts
indiscriminately to people and sticking tracts in people’s letter boxes and
cars, and then being satisfied that they have done their part. “God did not
send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be
saved” (John 3:17). But a lot of the tract-distribution being done today by
many believers only results in condemning those
unbelievers. It is done with the selfish motive of easing the believers’
conscience and not with love and a burden to bring those lost people to the Saviour’s feet. Many of these tract-distributors imagine
that they have a concern for the lost. But they don’t. They are Pharisees.
Pharisees value their traditions more than God’s Word
“Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘You are
experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your
tradition’” (Mark 7:9).
All churches have traditions of
some sort or the other. If those traditions have become more important to you
than God’s Word, then you are a Pharisee. Jesus told the Pharisees that by
exalting their traditions above God’s Word, they had progressively (1) “neglected
the Word of God”, (2) “set it aside” and
finally (3) “invalidated it” altogether (Mark 7: 8-13).
We all need to ask ourselves
whether any of us have been guilty of the same sin. Are your traditions more
important to you than loving God with all your heart and loving your
fellow-believers (in every denomination) exactly as Jesus loved you? Do you
reject a child of God just because he does not keep your church-traditions? If
so, you are a Pharisee.
Pharisees justify themselves
“Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘You are
those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts;
for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God’”
A Pharisee justifies himself in
every situation. He cannot humbly acknowledge his error and take the blame for
his sins and his mistakes.
Adam could not take the blame for
his sin. When God asked him “Did you eat of the tree?” there was only one
answer that was right: “Yes Lord”. But he didn’t say that. He
first blamed his wife for giving him the fruit and then blamed God for giving
him such a wife!! (Gen.3:12). This is what is meant by justifying
oneself. As a result Adam was driven out of paradise.
The thief on the cross who was
saved was totally different. He said, “I deserve my punishment.” (Lk.23:41).
He did not blame his parents for bringing him up badly, or his friends for
leading him astray, or the judge for being prejudiced or partial or too hard.
He simply said, “I am totally deserving of this punishment.” As a result, he went with Jesus to paradise
that very day – for paradise is made for those who accept the blame for their
own sins and who don’t blame anyone else.
If you are one who blames your
wife or God or any other person, in order to justify yourself, you are a
Pharisee and you are on your way to hell.
Jesus’ closing words to the
Pharisees are fearful: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you
escape the sentence of hell?” (Matt.23:33).
“Since we have a kingdom that
nothing can destroy, let us please God by serving Him with thankful hearts and
with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire. So continue to love
each other with true brotherly love” (Heb.12:28 to 13:1).
Phariseeism is like the pus inside an infected boil on your skin.
As you squeeze out the pus each day, you will find more and more pus there
until it is completely cleansed. So we must squeeze out all the Phariseeism within us, until nothing is left.
May we honestly acknowledge, “Lord,
I am the guilty person. It’s not my husband, or my
wife, or my brother, or my sister, or anyone else, who is a Pharisee. It is me.
Please have mercy on me and deliver me completely from my Phariseeism.
Give me grace to be a godly man and a disciple of Yours.
And help me to be merciful to others at all times, just as You
have been merciful to me.”
May the Lord help us walk this way
all the days of our life, so that we can have an abundant entrance into His
kingdom one day.
Amen and Amen.
Copyright - Zac Poonen (2010)
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