by Steven Chan
The Bible exhorts us to study the Scriptures (2 Tim 2:15) as it would make us wise unto salvation and equip us for every good work (2 Tim 3:15-17) and when we apply the Word of God continually and consistently, we would be able to mature in our understanding and be able to discern between good and evil (Heb 5:14). We must avoid becoming dull of hearing (Heb 5:11) and having itching ears turn our attention to fables and doctrines shaped by man’s own wisdom (2 Tim 4:3-4).
In Matt 16:6-12, Jesus warned against the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, referring to their doctrines. What was so dangerous about the doctrine of the Pharisees?
In Luke 12:1, Jesus explained specifically what He was referring to with this warning: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” This means that we should be careful that we do not fall into the same error of being hypocrites.
1. In Matt 23:2-5, Jesus described some of the acts of hypocrisy of the Pharisees “They say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.” We need to be aware that we are not in the same category as the Pharisees. Do we demand of others what we ourselves would not do? While it is good that we encourage each one to do more for God, let’s be careful lest we be judgemental in our own hearts towards others whom we view as not doing more for God or not doing the right things, when we ourselves commit the same shortcomings. We all need to be encouraged to do more for God and not just say only. If we encourage all to do personal evangelism, we need also to try our best to do the same lest we fall under the same condemnation as the Pharisees – say only but do not do.
The other danger is that of doing things just to be seen by men. They would do things just so that they can win the accolades or approval of men. They desire to be highly esteemed by men whether it be to show their intelligence or ability to preach or teach – “out of envy and strife” (Phil 1:15). We need to be careful lest we be puffed up. The apostle Paul himself recognised this danger in 2 Cor 12:7: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
2. In Matt 23:23-25, Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
The danger that Jesus warned us here is that of the hypocrisy of being very strict on matters of the law – but paying significant emphasis on the minor things of the law while neglecting the weightier/major matters of the law such as “justice, mercy and faith”.
This is the kind of hypocrisy that would cause the Pharisees to do what they did in John 8:4-5: “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?”
They were very keen to stone the woman caught in adultery rather than have mercy on her and to help her to repent so that she can be saved from her sins. Instead of being concerned with the salvation of her soul, they seemed only keen to punish her by stoning her. They did not show mercy towards her.
When Jesus replied them and said in John 8:7: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”, “then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (John 8:9). They did not see their own faults but only the faults of others.
We need to examine ourselves and our attitudes towards those who sinned. Jesus was not teaching that we should not condemn sin; He was focusing on our attitude towards those who sinned. There’s no doubt that adultery is a sin and that the woman is a sinner. But is there not a place for mercy to be shown towards her? Without approving/endorsing her sin, Jesus told her: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
This does not mean that we should not show disapproval of sin committed by brethren. In Acts 8:21-22, the apostle Peter said to the recently converted Simon: “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you.”
Brethren do stumble and fall at various times in their lives. Do we quickly and gleefully jump on them and circulate their names as sinners throughout the brotherhood and mark them as sinners – without any mercy or compassion whatsoever? The Bible says in Gal 6:1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
Sometimes brethren stumble in their lives and offend us. Do we do likewise to them by returning evil for evil? Do we say: “He did not help me when I was in need, now I will not help him! He did not visit me when I was sick, I will not visit him now. He was not kind to me last time; so I will not be kind to him now”? Listen to what the Bible says:-
Rom 12:17-20: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
1 Thess 5:13-16: “Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.”
1 Peter 3:8-9: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
In Neh 9:17, the Israelites declared that in spite of their unfaithfulness and repeated rebellion, God had dealt with them graciously and mercifully: “But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them.” Can we not extend the same kind of mercy to those who stumble and fall as was also evident with how the father treated the return of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32?
3. Jesus said in Matt 23:24a: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” It is said that the gnat is a tiny flying insect no bigger than the head of a pin. The Pharisees were accused of focusing on straining out very tiny matters the size of a tiny gnat while swallowing or allowing significant errors to go unchallenged. For example, one could enter into intense contention on whether a person is sinning by being late to worship service by 10 minutes because of being delayed by an unforeseen traffic jam while at the same time he readily accepts that a believer is already saved even though he has not been baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. Clearly the camel of an error has been swallowed while he is arguing about the ‘gnatty’ issue of whether a person is sinning if he was late by 10 minutes to service.
In Matt 23:24b Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.”
We should be careful that not to maintain an external form of godliness whereas our inner self is unclean being full of unrighteousness such as selfishness, self-indulgence, evil surmising, lust, self-importance, pride, etc. As the Psalmist said in Psa 51:6: “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts”
We should carefully examine our lives and resolve to exterminate any form of hypocrisy within us. Just because we are religious and prayerful does not mean that we are impervious to hypocrisy. Consider the Pharisee who prayed thus: Luke 18:11-12: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
Be careful that we do not unconsciously permit similar hypocrisy to creep into our lives such that we start thinking and behaving like the Pharisee, “I am not like so & so who does not attend services regularly. I attend most of the services….etc” The Bible instructs us in 1 Peter 2:1-3: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
If and when we judge the actions of others, let’s be careful that we ourselves do not fall short in that very thing. Consider the words of Jesus: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”(Matt 7:3-5)
The religion of the Pharisees was rejected because it was filled with hypocrisy. We should be take heed of our Lord’s warning when He said: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” – lest we fall into the same condemnation.