No, seriously, are you a Pharisee?

In Christian circles, that term is used so often to demonize something or someone, I have never met a person who would admit to being one. Or like one. Or even knowing what that would really look like. I think it’s time to redefine it, or at least start at defining it.

Pharisees were the religious ruling elite of their day. People looked to them to understand scripture, help them apply it to their daily lives and walk closer to the Lord. Sound like anyone? That’s right, pastors and church leaders!

Before you get out your pitchforks to come looking for me, simmer down for a moment and read on. Being a pastor or church leader does not make you a Pharisee in the demonizing sense of the word we think of. What being a pastor or church leader does is put you in the same seat of authority the Pharisees had in Jesus’ day. It must be taken seriously, with great humility and dignity. If you are a pastor and church leader who is more aware of your giftings, your credentials or your experiences than familiar with your weakness, failings and faults, then you are in danger, my friend.

The Pharisees were the ruling elite in Jewish daily life, but what made them reprehensible as a whole was that they had completely lost their way because of their own authority.

13When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

21After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

Acts 4:13-17 & 21

Challenging Authority

Here we have the words of the Pharisees to Peter and John after healing a blind man, whom everyone in Jerusalem apparently knew. This event caused 2,000 people to follow Jesus that day. The Pharisees were disturbed by the fact that Peter and John were preaching Jesus and healing in His name. What is sad is that, just like during Jesus’ life, they were more concerned with losing control of the people that they could not see the miracles, signs and wonders that were being done in front of them. They were only concerned with squashing what challenged their authority.

And there it is. Is God doing things around you that are truly awesome, but not necessarily through you? Is your authority challenged when God speaks, acts or moves through someone else? Is your heart numb to excitement for someone else when God moves in their lives, or are you jealous of being “left out?”

The Pharisees weren’t born Rosemary’s baby. They were just like you and me. What soured them is a continual and habitual slide toward knowing that they, and only they, held the keys to God’s kingdom and that anyone who wanted to enter in had to go through them. When you have arrived there, you are in a dangerous place.

Do you speak evil of miracles? Do you downplay what God is doing because you question the character, authenticity, etc. of what someone else or another group is doing?

Pharisees Today

I had an exchange with a church elder several years ago about a fast that our church was going to participate in. I had felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to fast 10 days and invite the church to join me. It is only the second time I ever felt led to do that. When I met with several of the elders, they thought it sounded like a good idea. The rub came in when this elder said we should recommend that the people just give up something like Facebook for the fast.

I disagreed with him and told him we should let the people choose for themselves how they would fast. If they wanted to fast on nothing but water for 10 days, who am I to stand in between the Lord and them. The man burst into an angry tirade at me about how the people in that church couldn’t hear the Lord for themselves and there was no way we could do that.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did he really just say that? I was dumbfounded. How could a leader, whom I had seen gifted in the past, say something so absurd? He could hear the Lord, but they couldn’t? Why wasn’t he offended at the sound of that statement leaving his mouth?

But that’s how it goes. If we allow ourselves to be the gate through which all people must enter the kingdom, we will find ourselves saying and believing things today that would have caused us the same blindness the Pharisees had to Jesus and the apostles so many centuries ago.

I don’t blame you if you do not like the word Pharisee, but examine closely your life today, especially if you are a leader, and see if all (or any) spiritual roads around you must travel through you.

The answer may set you free.

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