It is a sad commentary on the current state of certain segments of the Apostolic ranks when Pharisees are allowed the privilege of coming under the umbrella of our fellowship. What is sadder still is the fact that not many Pharisees could be helped, in the extremely unlikely event that such help would be accepted. Most of them wind up embittered, lonely and broken, having been chewed up and spit out by a monster of their own making. Some, however, manage to come to their senses and by the help and grace of God correct the course of their lives in time to avoid the certain and inevitable catastrophe of shipwreck. It is just such an awakening that occasions the writing of these few lines.
While there may be some that do not understand what a Pharisee is, most students of the Bible quickly recognize that a Pharisee – “a separated one” – is nothing but someone who has taken a good thing too far. And even though it is correct to be separate from the world, true Holiness is only achieved when one is also separated unto God. The holier-than-thou attitude of a Pharisee, however, is smoke in the nostrils of God! These are the ones of whom Jude speaks, who separate themselves for carnal, fleshly reasons, and are totally devoid of the Spirit.
Pharisees boast of keeping the Law, yet are quite incapable of truly comprehending it. A Pharisee will even go so far as to superimpose his own interpretations and interpolations as well as those of his fellows upon the Law, supposing that he has improved upon it, and excoriating any who will not blindly—yea, stupidly follow his ill-conceived and misguided initiatives. Who but a Pharisee could callously condemn adultery while possessing the heart and soul of a thief? Or, worse still, how could it be considered anything other than Pharisaical to abhor idols while committing sacrilege? Given time, the ideas of a Pharisee become his ideology, and his dogmas eventually wind up as his doctrine. Though we scorn him, he ought to be pitied.
Superficial thinking is the trademark of a Pharisee. Shallow, unscriptural exegesis characterizes the Pharisee’s defense of his positions. Not surprisingly, appearances are paramount to the Pharisee; thus, much effort goes into making a show and a pretense, while very little spiritual industry is applied to the things that would really make a difference in the heart. A Pharisee of long standing finds it hard to understand the needs of the common man, because the core teachings of the Law have been lightly passed over in favor of the rigid, crusty rituals that are so easily enforced upon the weak- and simple-minded.
To a Pharisee, Truth is the ultimate aspect of the Law, while Grace has been abandoned to the Charismatic as an inferior by-product of false teachings. Justice, Mercy and Love merely receive lip service; as a result, the ostentatious Tithing of tiny seeds far supersedes the Grand Purposes of the Law. The letter of the Law must be kept, even if it means violating the spirit of the Law. Should the Law-giver Himself ever stoop to walk among those to whom He gave the Law, he would be condemned and ultimately crucified by the Pharisees for not conforming to their concept of what the Law should be. It is the Pharisee that creates rules and sets standards for others that he never could or would have lived by—yea, that tempts God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
A Pharisee considers himself to be the grand epitome of the Law, while in reality he is a disgusting travesty of it. Pharisees chastise men who transgress their traditions, without even considering the fact that their traditions transgress the commandments of God. Who but a Pharisee would make a great show of polishing the tombstone of a prophet he would waste no time in killing, were he yet alive? A Pharisee will ostracize a good man because of his organizational affiliation—or lack thereof—without giving any weight or consideration to his convictions, intentions and circumstances. And each one he succeeds in drawing in to his slimy pit becomes as a result a two-fold more child of hell.
To the Pharisee, the Law has become the End, rather than the Means to an End. Instead of being a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, the Law has become so exalted that when Christ comes on the scene he is rudely shoved aside because He doesn’t fit into the Pharisee’s picture of how things are supposed to be. The Pharisee will never reach the intended aim of the Scripture, because he is forever preoccupied with the perceived superiority of his preparations for the trip; he constantly rides around and shows off his fancy “vehicle,” but never really goes anywhere.
The only righteousness a Pharisee possesses is self-righteousness. Instead of Holiness, Pharisees are clothed in filthy rags. A Pharisee will make a great show of filtering out the unclean gnats from his drinking water, while feasting upon foods cooked over fires fueled with camel dung. The Temple of God is the Pharisee’s idol, but the God of the Temple—Jesus Christ—is the object of his scorn. The image of godliness is more important to the Pharisee than the true power thereof—the symbol preempts the substance. The actual state of holiness is not discerned by the Pharisee, because his preoccupation is with looking holy.
Compassion is considered to be compromise by the Pharisee; the sick sinner deserves his condition, and the sorrow of the unregenerate is but his just due, as far as a Pharisee is concerned. The poor and needy? The undisciplined children? Too much trouble…. Yet, while they clean the outside of the cup, the inside of the cup is sickeningly filthy. Deception, malice, spite, envy, pride—all these and more lurk in the unlit recesses of the Pharisee’s heart.
Beware ye, Jesus said, of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. It should be noted that one of the definitions of hypocrisy is “the acting of a stage player.” With this definition in mind, consider this paraphrase: Watch out for those who call themselves “the separated ones” but who are really only acting the part. One of the strangest ironies of Scripture is the fact that the ones who prided themselves as being the very essence of holiness have, with the passing of time, come to symbolize absolute and unmitigated hypocrisy.
And so it is, even to this day. Listen to the prayer, testimony or preaching of a Pharisee. Who gets glorified? –The Pharisee, his doctrine or his deeds. Instead of having a treasure in an earthen vessel, the Pharisee’s treasure is his earthen vessel. The Pharisee is ever self-centered and self-sufficient; his god? –self! To survive, a Pharisee must constantly feed his ego.
Are any Pharisees ever converted? Not many. There are some, however, that have been brought out of the deep ditch of Phariseeism by the Grace of God. Please note: one of the easiest things for a former Pharisee to spot is a Pharisee. It is a dangerous thing to glorify one aspect of the Gospel while neglecting another. If we are to have the mind of Christ, we must not only grow in Knowledge, but we must also grow in Grace; otherwise we become Pharisees, with an unbalanced understanding of—and thus an improper application of—the Word of God.
Rev. Tim D. Cormier
Reprinted from the February, 1998 and July/August, 2003 editions of the Apostolic Standard.
(C) Copyright held by Tim D. Cormier. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, except for personal use, without the express written permission of the author.