Thursday, May 14, 2015

ISI 19: Modern-Day Pharisee

[This Bible study starts here.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question:
            What are three little things that always make you smile?  What are three things you are a little bit afraid of or phobic about?

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:

            “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:7

            “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:20

            There’s an older couple in our area.  They are a nice enough couple, but the wife is the kind of person who likes to comment on everyone else’s business.  On which plants you should get out of your yard, on how you should keep your outside lights on for safety, on which neighbors voted and which didn’t, and on how you shouldn’t be up that high on a ladder. 

            But her favorite past-time is noticing every time someone else’s lawn gets too high.  That’s pretty much what they do all summer . . . mow their lawn every three days and watch everyone else’s grass grow.  Lawn height seems to be one of their biggest concerns. 

            Last summer, a new family (I’ll call them “the Smiths”) moved into the neighborhood.  There are two young kids and a single mom who works a lot.  And so their lawn doesn’t get mowed often. 

            Just after they moved in, no one in the neighborhood had met them yet but their lawn was above the height limit.  And the older neighbors reported them to the city, without ever having said “Hi” or welcoming them to the neighborhood.

            Shortly afterward, I saw the young Smith boy out there in the 90 degree heat and oppressive mosquitoes, fighting a tiny electric mower for hours while trying to cut their lawn, struggling up and down all the big ridges around their yard. 

            And when it was done, the older busybody neighbor (I’ll call her “Fanny”) had the nerve to sneak over there and put a note on their garbage can which said, “This is how the neighborhood is supposed to look.  Signed, The Neighbors.”  (I learned this after meeting Momma Smith.)  And this isn’t the first time she has done this to new neighbors.

            When I heard about it, I . . . WAS . . . ANGRY!  And I was aching for the new neighbors and for how they must feel.  They had just moved in, didn’t know anybody, and now they were being treated like the lowly scum of the neighborhood.  Law-breakers! 

            Plus, they didn’t have a dad around to mow the lawn or to even pat the son on the back and say, “Good job, son.  The lawn looks great.”  My heart broke for this boy and for the family.  And I was so angry with that Judgmental Fanny.

            How could she be so concerned with lawn height, and not concerned at all with the way a new neighbor might feel?  She cared more about the lawn and less about making this family feel welcomed.  She cared more about how the neighborhood looked and less about the struggles that this “single-mom family” was going through.  She cared more about “following the rules” and less about having compassion and grace and understanding for the hurting, for the outsiders.  She cared more about the outside than the inside. 

            And that’s when I realized that this is what a modern-day Pharisee looks like.

            Pharisees were all about strict rule-keeping and about maintaining positions of authority over other people.  They were more about keeping people in line and less about people’s hearts.  They were more about polishing up the outside and making sure the “neighborhood” looked good than they were about cleaning up their insides, their heart attitudes, and showing compassion for others.  No wonder Jesus saved His strongest words for them. 

            No wonder Jesus said that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees you won’t enter heaven.  Their righteousness was about what’s on the outside.  It was about maintaining appearances, following rules, keeping the law to the letter for the sake of keeping the law, and keeping others in line. 

            But Jesus’ kind of righteousness is about what’s on the inside.  It’s about a faith that reflects a heart change, about compassion, forgiveness, serving others, grace and mercy, and drawing others to God through love and truth together. 

            Pharisees may have had truth, but they lacked love and compassion.  They may have been full of knowledge, but they weren’t wise.  They may have made sacrifices for their faith, but they didn’t understand grace.  They may have been good at keeping and enforcing rules, but they lacked forgiveness and mercy.     

            And without love, compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, you are not representing the God of the Bible, but a god of your own making.  If you are all about the rules and cleaning up the outside, you will misunderstand and misrepresent what the Gospel is all about.

            Anyway, I was bothered for days about how Pharisee Fanny treated the Law-Breaking Smiths.  And I wanted to do something about it. 

            Now, I could have easily chosen to not get involved, to say that it wasn’t my fight.  But when I put myself in Momma Smith’s shoes and considered how alone and harassed she must have felt, when I thought about how those two children must feel so unwelcome in the neighborhood and like outcasts, it became my fight. 

            Even my husband got worked up, saying, “How dare Fanny!  Who does she think she is?  I feel like sticking a note on her door!” 

            And of course, it would feel good for a moment to know that we stuck it to her, that we made her feel like scum for a change.  But I chose to handle it a different way. 

            For one thing, I felt so sorry that the boy had to mow the lawn, without a dad to do it or to encourage him.  (I know how it feels to be a child of divorce.)  And I felt sorry that I couldn’t get out there and help him myself.  (The heat and mosquitoes were so bad that we hadn’t gone outside in over a week.) 

            But I knew that there was something I could do to encourage him: I could bake him some oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookies.  And I brought them over with a note saying that I noticed how hard he worked to mow the lawn in the oppressive heat and bugs.  I said that I was proud of him and that I thought he was a great young man.  I said that since I couldn’t mow the lawn for him, I decided to at least make him cookies. 

            I wasn’t able to make his problems go away, but sometimes we just need someone to acknowledge us and to say, “Good job.”  And that’s the least I could do for him. 

            And on one of my walks, I introduced myself to Momma Smith and told her who reported them to the city and who sent the note to them so that she didn’t have to wonder if everyone was watching her.  I told her that this older couple has been known to do this to others and that watching everyone else’s grass grow is what they do for a hobby, so she shouldn’t take it personally. 

            I told her that all of us in the neighborhood know that this is what Fanny is like, that we have all been under her critical eye.  I didn’t want this new neighbor to feel all alone and judged.  So I let her know that we were standing with her and that the lawn didn’t bother us at all.  I am more concerned about what kind of person my neighbor is than what their lawn looks like.

            The new neighbor smiled in relief and thanked me.  She said that after the note Fanny left, she was feeling like everyone’s eyes were on her, watching her and judging her.  And now she could relax because she knew exactly who to watch out for and that the rest of the neighbors are not judging her and/or they have also been in her place before. 

            But I didn’t stop there.  Fanny had complained to the city about the Smith’s lawn, and so I decided to send a note and stand up for them.  I wanted the city to see the Smiths as people, as a family with difficult circumstances, instead of just as “law-breakers.” 

            And so I sent a letter about how our “older neighbors, who have nothing better to do than watch everyone else’s grass grow, reported the new neighbors.”  I told them that the new family is a single-parent home with no dad around, that the mom works long hours to provide for the kids, that the kids are still so young, and that the young boy is the one who has to struggle in the heat and bugs to mow their lawn. 

            And I pleaded with the city that, if Fanny complains again, would they please “show a little mercy to this new family who are good people, but who are stretched-thin and in need of a little grace and mercy.” 

            Just a little grace and understanding for them is all I was asking for.  

            Isn’t that what we all want and need?  A little grace and mercy and compassion? 

            Well . . . all of us, that is, except the Pharisees.  They have their rules.    

            We looked at this example in the “Forgiveness” lesson, but let’s look at it again here.  In John 8, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees bring before Jesus a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. 

            But they were not really concerned with the woman.  They weren’t even really concerned with their rules this time.  Their purpose in doing this was to trap Jesus, “in order to have a basis for accusing him.”  (So they didn’t even have a right reason for wanting to keep the law, such as wanting to glorify God or do right by Him.  They simply wanted to use the law to further their misguided, ungodly agenda, to eliminate the competition, and to make themselves look better.) 

            These religious leaders asked Jesus if she should be stoned.  After all, that’s what the law says.  To them, she is just a law-breaker, nowhere near the high-and-mighty spiritual level that they are on. 

            But Jesus doesn’t answer them.  He doesn’t jump in the trap.  He doesn’t focus on if lawful punishment should be applied.  He doesn’t focus on the moral laws she broke.  Instead, He focuses on what’s really going on in the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, on the condition of all of us before God the Father.  And He writes on the ground. 

            We don’t know what He wrote – maybe the Ten Commandments, maybe the hidden sins of the people there.  But after He writes, He says, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (Verse 7)  And one by one, they all leave.  With the older ones leaving first.

            Jesus was more disturbed by the unforgiving, self-righteous attitudes of the “spiritual elite” than He was by the shamed, guilty woman.  And this should be sobering to those of us who are more bothered by what everyone else is doing wrong than by what we are doing wrong.  To those of us who are so eager to accept forgiveness that we don’t deserve, but who are so unwilling to give it to others.  To those of us who see the speck in someone else’s eye, but fail to see the plank in ours.   

            Also, Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from.  He was much more concerned with where she was going.  Jesus wasn’t nearly as concerned with where the woman was coming from.  He was much more concerned with where she was going. 

            “‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared.  ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’”  (John 8:11) 

            I point this out because I think too many people don’t realize how ready and willing God is to forgive.  To forgive others and to forgive us. 

            We hold onto bitterness toward others for their offenses . . . when God Himself has forgiven them and is so willing to forgive us for our offenses.     

            Or maybe we won’t let God forgive us or we won’t forgive ourselves.  We hold onto our guilt for things we’ve done wrong as a sort of punishment, too full of shame to accept God’s forgiveness and love and healing. 

            But God is much more concerned with where we are going than where we’ve been.  He is so willing to forgive us, even if it is hard to accept.  Jesus never criticized the woman for her mistakes.  He did not condemn her to a life of shame and guilt.  He extended grace, inviting her to be free.  

            He extended grace and He invited her to be free!   

            Pharisees and forgiveness do not go together.  Pharisees cannot forgive others.  And they cannot see the ways they fall short or admit their shortcomings or seek forgiveness from God for their offenses. 

            But we worship a God of forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace.  And we need to forgive others because God forgives us.   We need to focus on how we fall short before Him and not how others fall short before us.  And we need to accept His forgiveness and let it make us free.  And then, in thankfulness for His grace and mercy, we need to “Go now and leave our life of sin.” 

            After sending that letter to the city (and a letter to the Smiths explaining that I had sent a letter to the city standing up for them and that I hoped it was okay with them), I could finally rest easier.  I may not have been able to stop someone else from throwing stones at her, but I had done my part to watch out for my neighbor, to stand up for the harassed. 

            And I would much rather be known for standing up for and standing with the “grass-height law-breakers” then be known for being so concerned with “the law” that I mercilessly fail to see the hearts of my fellow humans and fail to share God’s love, compassion, mercy, and grace with them. 

            “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” 

            Or put another way, “I desire compassion, not rigid rule-following.”
            (And a couple days later, she sent me a lovely note saying how thankful she was to have neighbors like us and how it touched her heart that I did what I did.  I’m so glad that I didn’t just turn the other way and act like it was none of my business.)

What makes a Pharisee?

            After a quick study of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law (I am putting them in the same group for the purposes of this study), I wrote down some characteristics of these “spiritual giants.” 

            I think it is wise for all of us to spend some time studying our own hearts, to see if there is any “Pharisee-ness” there, to see if any of us are a “Pharisee Fanny.” 

            And I think this is one reason why God included so much about them in the New Testament and why He warned us to not be like them . . . because it is an easy trap to fall into.  It is so easy to point the fingers at others instead of examining ourselves to see how we might resemble them, even if just in our hearts.  So here goes . . .

1.  We already looked at the woman caught in adultery.  In this example, the Pharisees were more concerned with strict law-keeping than they were with a woman’s life and soul. 
            Yet they weren’t even keeping the law for the right reasons anyway.  They kept strict laws to keep others in line, to lord it over others, to trip others up, to appear more righteous, to work their way to heaven, and to have some control over their salvation.   
            And in this adultery case, they were “keeping the law” in order to trap Jesus.  They were looking for loopholes or inconsistencies in His theology so that they could discredit Him.  They didn’t really want to know what He thought about it all.  They were not concerned with trying to understand Him better or to learn from Him.  They simply wanted to tear Him apart.
            [This “trapping” is also seen in Matthew 22:15-22.  In this case, they even used flattery to try to suck Jesus in.  “Teacher . . . we know you are a man of integrity . . .”      
            But they did not really want His answer; they just wanted to trip Him up and ruin His reputation.  They had an agenda from the beginning and did what they could (flattery) to try to accomplish it. 
            Sometimes we stroke other people’s egos or look like we are asking for their “great wisdom” or try to get all buddy-buddy with them, when in reality we have a self-glorifying agenda and we are just using them to carry it out.  And it’s just a side-benefit if we can knock them down a notch in the process.  It makes us look better.  Right?] 
            And they were more concerned with the woman’s guilt than with their guilt before God.  They wanted to see her punished, yet never gave a thought to the ways they sinned - not until Jesus wrote on the ground to remind them.  They were dogmatic and self-righteous, thinking that they had all the answers, even though they were completely blind to the truth.  
            How about those of us who feel like our rituals and strict spiritual disciplines somehow elevate us above others and earn us brownie points with God on His great, big “spiritual scoreboard”?  (Note:  There is no great, big “spiritual scoreboard.”)  We smugly feel like, “We do it better!”  And if others are not doing it our way then they must not be as devoted or as righteous.
            We talk right, pray right, think right, act right, serve right, and dress right.  So, surely, God must be extra-pleased with us.  And others just don’t measure up to us.  Those people in the shabby clothes.  The ones who show up late to church, all flustered and disheveled (not polished like us).  The ones with the run-down houses, who apparently don’t deserve the kinds of blessings that we earned.  The ones who don’t sing in front of church or help in children’s ministry, like we do.  The ones who are not as intelligent as we are . . . because if they really were wise, they would see things our way.  The ones who go for counseling because they can’t handle their problems themselves.  The ones who struggle with addictions and anger and lust.  Oh my!    
            [The very fact that we have judgmental opinions about someone else’s level of spiritual maturity based on what they do or don’t do (or what they struggle with, or what they have or don’t have) betrays the fact that there is a bit of “Pharisee” in us somewhere. 
            I’m not talking about wise discernment here - when we can accurately discern the condition of someone’s heart based on how they think, talk, and act.  I am talking about when we are critical and judgmental about them based on their outsides, based on if they act the way we think they should act and on how much they resemble us.] 
            And what about those of us who are more concerned with people’s behavior than we are with the condition of their soul and heart and what’s going on inside of them? 
            We don’t care about what they are going through, how they are hurting, or with helping them find their way.  We care more about their bad habits, their unpleasant personality quirks, and with comparing ourselves to them so that we look better and feel better. 
            And we care more about their sins and the ways they fail than about the ways we sin and fail.  We can’t see ourselves as sinners in need of regular forgiveness because we are too busy finding faults in others – faults that we don’t want to forgive them for. 

2.  “But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to escape the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’’”  (Matthew 3:7-9)
            Pharisees might do work for God, but not from a place of repentance and humility.  Their “fruit” is for show, to make them look more righteous than others, to help them “earn” heaven.  They even get baptized for show (and for fire insurance), not because they are repentant and want to live rightly before the Lord.  Everything they do is simply to gain attention, admiration, power, and one more point on God’s scoreboard. 
            And they feel entitled to preferential treatment because of who their father was.  Maybe they were used to getting preferential treatment because of Abraham, and so they have never really made their faith their own or learned to spiritually stand on their own two feet.  They don’t consider who they are before the Lord because they feel like He will honor and bless them for their family history and ancestors.
            Don’t some of us do these same things?  We don’t really live truly repentant lives from a humble, broken heart.  We repent and “do the right things” for show or to earn points with God or to feel better about ourselves. 
            Yet we don’t really believe that we are that bad or that sinful.  We simply repent and do the right things because “That’s what you are supposed to do” . . .  not because we have truly seen ourselves for the sinners that we are, desperately in need of a Savior, daily leaning on Him in dependence, humbly falling on our faces before Him, knowing that we need grace as much as the next person.  We have not been broken before Him; we simply do what we are “supposed to do.” 
            Maybe we are riding the coattails of our parents’ faith?  Maybe we’ve never made our faith our own, but we’ve borrowed it from others?  Maybe we haven’t yet stood on our own before God, without the protective cover of “My dad is a great man of God” or “My mom sings in the church’s choir”? 
            We have lived for years behind our parents or our “good deeds,” thinking this will be enough for God. 
            Yet we fail to realize that He looks past all of that and sees right into our hearts. 
            And if we really want to get right with Him, we have to examine our hearts, too - to see what He really sees, to know who we really are before Him and how big He really is and how small we really are, and to learn how much we really, desperately need Him, His forgiveness, His mercy, His love, His grace. 
            We have to drop the masks and the protective covers and the impressive lists of things we do for Him . . . and we have to stand before Him, empty-handed and naked and humbled.  And then, we will find the free love and grace that we have worked so hard to earn over the years through our good deeds.  Love and grace that can never be earned, but that can only be accepted by a humble heart.   

3.  “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. . . . And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.”  (Matthew 6:1-2, 5)
            Pharisees - spiritual hypocrites - do not do their good deeds out of genuine concern for others or to honor God.  They do their good deeds to gain attention, admiration, and praise from others.  It’s not enough for them that God sees or that He is glorified; they want praise from others and to steal a little of God’s glory for themselves.  It makes them feel better and like what they did mattered and was appreciated.  They might be doing this because they are super prideful.  Or they might be doing it because they are insecure.  They do not feel good about themselves unless others notice what they do.

4.  “Some men brought to [Jesus] a paralytic, lying on a mat.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’  At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming.’”  (Matthew 9:2-3)   
             The teachers of the law thought they were standing up for God by accusing Jesus of blasphemy.  Yet, they didn’t even really know God.  Because they were talking to Jesus – God in the flesh – and couldn’t recognize it.  They acted like they knew so much about God, yet they couldn’t recognize the Truth when it was standing right in front of them. 
            I think a lot of people in our country who call themselves “Christians” do not even know the God that they claim to stand up for.  They act like they know Him and that they are honoring Him, yet their lives do not reflect genuine faith in Him.  Nor do they know what the Word says, yet they act like they represent it.  This might lead them to say things that sound good and right but that are not biblical.  Their faith is skin-deep.

5.  “[Jesus’] disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look!  Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’”  (Matthew 12:1-2)
            Pharisees are overly concerned with what others do, with following the laws to the letter.  There are no exceptions.  No grace.  No understanding.  Just rules to enforce and people to punish.  And they want to make sure that others are held to the same standards that they are.  (Yet they hold others to them more strictly than they do themselves.  As we’ll see.)  They don’t like others to have “freedoms” that they don’t have.  They want everyone else to be as burdened down with rules as they are.  There is no room for grace or “gray areas” or letting others live their own lives before the Lord.  They feel like they know the way that everyone should live and they have no problem telling that to others.  And they live like everyone else is accountable to them, not that we are all accountable to the Lord for how we live.
            Have you ever said, “It’s not fair” or “But they get to . . . ” or “But look what so-and-so did?”  Anytime we compare ourselves to others or others to us, anytime we act like others are accountable to us or that our rules are “The Rules,” we are entering “Pharisee Land” - where actions are more important than the heart and where we are the ultimate judge instead of God.
            Pharisees like to make mountain out of molehills.  They like to make tiny infractions of their great, big “Rules” into grounds for eternal punishment.  They care more about how people don’t follow their rules than they do about how we all fall short of God’s rules.
            My mom learned this lesson once.  She was a youth leader (basically, the youth pastor.  Yep, I was a bit of a Preacher’s Kid for a time.)  And one day, one of the teens was outside the youth building smoking.  And my mom went out to confront him.  She scolded him and told him that he could not be here if he was going to smoke. 
            And you know what happened? 
            He left. 
            And never came back. 
            And she later told me that she realized what a mistake she had made and that she learned a big lesson.  She had made it more about what he did than about who he was and how God saw him. 
            It’s the “clean the outside of the cup” thing that the Pharisees do in Matthew 23:25.  They are more concerned with polishing up the outside than dealing with the filthy, sinful inside.  As long as they look good, they feel they are doing okay.  But God is more about the heart!  And He basically says, “Worry about the outside later.  Let’s tackle your heart first!”
            My mom made this teen feel like he had to clean up his behavior and “do it right” before he could be acceptable and become one of “the righteous people.”   
            And it turned him off to God, possibly forever.    
            Our God is about grace and forgiveness and mercy and loving us before we clean our outsides.  He is about meeting us where we are, not making us meet Him where He is.  He wants our messy hearts, not a polished performance.  And yet we so often make it about rule-following, polishing the outside, withholding forgiveness from others until they “do it our way,” and withholding forgiveness from ourselves and shrinking back from God until we “do it right.”  So sad!  And so destructive and hurtful!             

6.  “Then [Jesus] said to the man [with the shriveled hand], ‘Stretch out your hand.’  So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”  (Matthew 12:13-14)
            Pharisees are filled with jealousy whenever someone else accomplishes something great.  It makes them feel small by comparison.  They did not like seeing that Jesus could do something they couldn’t.  It made them feel “less than.”  And they were so busy being jealous that they failed to see and appreciate what God was doing.  They failed to be happy for the blessings that someone else got.  They did not have compassion on the hurting like Jesus did.  They were too proud and too full of self-importance to feel any compassion.  They were always jealous.  Always proud of what they had that others didn’t have, or coveting what others had that they didn’t.  Anything to elevate themselves over others.
            Don’t some of us serve at church for the wrong reasons?  We serve not because we feel God called us to do it or because we have a humble heart that wants to honor Him.  We serve because we want to stand out or earn favor or impress others or prove our worth and righteousness. 
            And when we serve for the wrong reasons, we get upset when we see others doing “more” or “better.”  And we push ourselves to top them.  (Or we try to discredit them or find fault with them so that we can knock them down a notch.)  We try harder and harder to be more impressive or to get involved in more church things or to make God more pleased with us.  We don’t like to see others shine more than we do. 
            Nor do we like to see them get blessings that we don’t.  After all, we are doing so much for the Lord, shouldn’t we be getting bigger and better blessings?  More answers to prayer?  Larger, more glamorous roles?  (Trust me, I have fallen into this, too.) 
            But it is all for the wrong reasons.  And we are never content in our roles, never able to see the hurts in others and have compassion on them, and never content with our blessings.  Jealousy is exhausting! 

7.  “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  They looked for a way to arrest him, . . .”  (Matthew 21:45-46)
            Pharisees cannot take criticism or hear the truth about themselves.  Instead of having a soft heart and being teachable, they attack whenever they are confronted or corrected.

8.  “While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus.  And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.  The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’ 
            But the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.’”  (Matthew 9:32-34)
           Once again, Pharisees cannot handle it when someone else does “better” or “more.”  In this case, their jealousy and pride blinded them to Jesus’ teachings and the fact that a miracle happened.  They were too focused on the fact that Jesus broke their rules, offended them, and stole the spotlight.  They couldn’t see God standing before them because their own wisdom, pride, and power-hungry selves got in the way.  They didn’t like how Jesus made them feel about themselves, so they tried to tear Him down, to shed doubt on His character, in order to take out the competition.  They wanted to regain their position as “top dog.”  And what better way to do that than to accuse Him of being demonic.
            I think we can sometimes miss what God is doing because we are too focused on how it affects us and makes us look.  Maybe we are jealous that others have a bigger role than we do.  And instead of being happy for others and happy that God is glorified and that great things are happening, all we can think about is how “overlooked” or “insignificant” we feel. 
            Maybe we ignore parts of Scripture because we don’t like what it says.  It offends us.  Humility doesn’t sound appealing.  It conflicts with our ideas of how we want to live.  God’s Word threatens us and our comfort and our ideas of self.  And so we tear apart anything that we don’t like.  (Or we just sweep it under the rug.)  We try to discredit it in some way so that we don’t have to really pay that much attention to it. 
            We are more about soothing our ego, pumping ourselves up, and living the life we want to live than we are about truly understanding and applying God’s Word and doing things His way.  And instead of seeing God for who He really is, we make Him into the god we want Him to be so that we can feel good about ourselves and keep living our lives the way we want. 

            There are many more references to Pharisees and “teachers of the law” in the Bible (such as in Matthew 15, 16, 19, 23, and Luke 18).  Read some of them, and look for new insights.  It might be convicting.   

My hope

            Recently, I have been thinking about our country’s desire for power, wealth, success, status, revenge, etc.  We are truly a bunch of Pharisees.  Stepping on others to get our way.  More concerned with what others do wrong than with what we do wrong.  Tearing others down to make us feel better or look better.  Holding up our rules as The Rules, our truth as The Truth, even shredding God’s Word a little bit so that we can keep living as we are living.  More concerned with what’s on the outside than what’s on the inside.  More concerned with polishing up the outside than cleaning up the inside.  Failing to have compassion on others because we don’t see them as hurting people and we don’t see ourselves on the same level as they are at the foot of the Cross.  We are so big and they are so little.  We are so big and God is so little. 

            And I realize that my prayer for my sons is not so much that they succeed in life and in career and make a great name for themselves.  Yes, I would love it if they did.  But I care more that they succeed in being good husbands, fathers, and neighbors.  I would rather they spread compassion than legalism.  Truth and love, not truth or love.  It wouldn’t bother me as much if they failed in business pursuits, but it would bother me greatly in they failed in loving and serving their families and neighbors.  If they failed to live humbly before the Lord and do His work.  I would rather they lose jobs than lose the respect of God and their wives, children, and neighbors.   

            This is my prayer for them - that their priorities reflect the priorities of God. 

            Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness.  (Matthew 6:33) 

            Loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving their neighbors as themselves.  (Mark 12:29-31) 

            Acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.  (Micah 6:8) 

            Doing everything for His glory.  (1 Corinthians 10:31) 

            Committing to their wives and raising godly families.  (Psalm 127:3-5, Prov 5 and 22:6, Mark 10:5-12, Eph 5:25-33 and 6:4, Heb 13:4, 3 John 4) 

            Forgiving others as we have been forgiven.  (Mark 11:25, Matthew 6:14-15) 

            This is where the real rewards are.  The ones that matter.  The ones that last.  This is how we “build up treasure in heaven and not on earth.”  (Matthew 6:19-21) 

           “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:20)

            For most of us, this takes a huge shift in focus, to stop thinking about self and start thinking about others.  From rules to compassion.  From power and being served to humility and serving others.  From judging others according to our ideas of who they should be to seeing them as God sees them.  From trying to get the speck out of their eye to noticing the plank in ours.  From judging ourselves on how we compare to others to seeing ourselves through God’s eyes.  From needing the approval of others to having it be okay that God alone sees what we do for Him and that He is pleased with us.  From the trappings of this temporary world to glory of the eternal one. 

            But considering the fact that this is what our eternal rewards are based on, it is well worth it!  And there will be no greater joy than to someday hear, “ . . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!. . . Come and share your master’s happiness.’”  (Matthew 25:21)

            [Now, before we close out this Bible study soon, I want to throw a challenge out to you and your group, giving you a few weeks to talk about it and pray about it.  If you want to, try to think of something practical that your group can do to share God’s Love, Healing, and Truth with others.  (Take some time to pray and ask God for His leading.)  These things are not meant to be hoarded by us; they’re meant to be spread.  Discuss some ideas that you can either do on your own once this study ends or that you can do as a group.  Ideas such as:

            -  start a letter writing campaign to encourage others, maybe prison inmates

            -  gather food for food pantries

            -  invite neighbors over for dinner or invite them to church

            -  walk around your neighborhood and pray for the houses you walk past

            -  do random (or secret) acts of kindness

            -  make a list of people you need to forgive (either in person or in your heart) and those who you need to seek forgiveness from . . . and then do it!

            -  listen to only Christian music for a month or (if you don’t already) read your Bible every day for a month and see how it affects you

            -  adopt a Compassion or World Vision child ( and

            -  look up Samaritan’s Purse and see if you believe in what they do and what they stand for enough to support them (

            -  start a Bible study in your home or mentor a younger Christian

            -  make a “How Can I Pray For You?” button or shirt and wear it out in public.  And then pray for others if they ask for it.  (This one would be awesome to try.  Scary, but awesome.)

            -  or maybe you are already the type that tries to do everything and help everyone, and maybe you need to just stop, learn to say “no,” simplify your life and schedule, and do something for yourself.  Start a garden or a journal, put up some birdfeeders, talk daily walks by yourself or with your family, start painting or collecting rock or studying a topic of interest, buy some new clothes, go out and do something relaxing and enjoyable.  Just for you!  Start being the person that God made you to be.  You don’t have to be everything to everybody.  Just be you.  Enjoy being you! 

            At the last lesson, I will include a question to prompt you to discuss any ideas that you had or challenges that you want to present to the group.  This may be an exciting way to continue on the journey you have been on with this study, to reach out to others and let them see Christ in you.]    


1.  Does this topic bring up any thoughts or questions?  Any other Bible verses?

2.  How would you describe a “Pharisee”?  What are some other characteristics of them?  Why does Jesus save His harshest words for them? 

3.  Did you find any other passages about Pharisees?  What did they teach you?  Did any from this lesson stand out to you?  Why?   

4.  Like the lawn height, can you think of any rules (even church rules) where you have made (or are currently making) mountains out of molehills?  How does it you and your relationships?  What is God telling you to do about it? 

5.  Have you seen examples of this in others, in society, or in churches?  Or have you been on the receiving end of someone making a mountain out of a molehill?  What effect does it have?

6.  When Jesus said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” why did they all leave?  Why did the older ones leave first?  What does this passage teach us about ourselves?

7.  Does knowledge equal wisdom?  How might knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge negatively affect us and our churches?

8.  At what point do our “rituals and spiritual disciplines” become unhealthy and self-glorifying?

9.  What are some good things that we might do for the wrong reasons, some “false fruit”?  Why might we be doing them?   

10.  I said that we “live behind our parents and our ‘good deeds,’ thinking that this is enough for God.”  What else might we hide behind?  Why might we do this?

11.  If these things (question #10) don’t make us right with the Lord, what does?  How do we get right with Him?

12.  I said that Pharisees might be doing their “acts of righteousness” before men either because they are super prideful or because they are insecure?  What do you think about this?  What are some “acts of righteousness”?  And why else might we do these things before men?  (Any examples you’ve seen of people or yourself doing this?) 

13.  And why and how should we be doing our “acts of righteousness”?  Any examples you have seen of someone (or yourself) doing it the right way and for the right reasons?

14.  “I think a lot of people in our country who call themselves “Christians” do not even know the God that they claim to stand up for.  They act like they know Him and that they are honoring Him, yet their lives do not reflect genuine faith in Him.  Nor do they know what the Word says, yet they act like they represent it.  This might lead them to say things that sound good and right but that are not biblical.  Their faith is skin-deep.” 
            Have you seen examples of this in society?  What effect is it having on society and the church?

15.  Can you think of any examples from your own life about “the speck vs the plank”?

16.  Is comparing ourselves to others and comparing others to ourselves an easy trap to fall into?  Does it happen often in churches and among Christians?  About what kinds of issues?  And what effect does it have? 

17.  How can we keep ourselves from falling into an unhealthy type of “comparison”?  Are there any healthy types of “comparison”? 

18.  Do you think Christians, in general, struggle with judging the outside of the person instead of looking at the inside?  What kinds of “outside things” do we tend to focus on?  Have you ever experienced this, done it to others or had it done to you? 

19.  Do we address behavior issues instead of heart issues, in others or in ourselves?  Examples? 

20.  Why might we get jealous?  What kinds of things make us jealous?  How about for you?  What effect does jealousy have on us, our relationships, our life, and our faith?  What is the cure for jealousy?   

21.  We already looked at this in the “Forgiveness” lesson, but why might we struggle with forgiving others?  How about you personally?  Any examples?  Anyone you need to forgive?

22.  Anyone you need to seek forgiveness from? 

23.  Why might we struggle with feeling like we can’t approach God?  Like we can’t accept His love and forgiveness?  Can’t forgive ourselves?  How might we try to earn His love, forgiveness, and attention?  Does it work?  What does He say about all this?

24.  I said that Jesus is more concerned with where we are going than with where we have been?  What does this mean?  Do you think it is true?  If it is, how should this knowledge affect how we live and how we treat others?

25.  What are some ways that Christians might use others to get ahead or to make themselves feel better or look better?  Any examples?  How does this hurt the body of Christ?

26.  What does it take to move us from selfishness and condemning others to selflessness and compassion?  Has God ever worked in your heart in this area?  How?

27.  Why is it so hard sometimes to do things for God’s glory alone and to be content that He sees what we do and that He is pleased?  What gets in the way of contentment and working for His glory?  Have you ever experienced this?

28.  How might God’s Word “threaten us and our comfort and our ideas of self?”  What do we sometimes do in response to this?  How should we handle it?

29.  “We are more about soothing our ego, pumping ourselves up, and living the life we want to live than we are about truly understanding and applying God’s Word and doing things His way.  And instead of seeing God for who He really is, we make Him into the god we want Him to be so that we can feel good about ourselves and keep living our lives the way we want.” 
            What do you think about this?  What does it mean?  Do you think it is an accurate picture of mankind, in general?  And what else might we be “more about”?

30.  I said that my prayer is that my kids’ lives reflect the priorities of God, and I listed some verses that show what His priorities are.  This is not a full list.  What priorities and verses would you add to it?  Which speak to you the most in your life right now?  How can you “apply” them and live them out?

31.  For most of us, this takes a huge shift in focus, to stop thinking about self and start thinking about others.  From rules to compassion. . . .”  What else do we need to shift our thinking from and to, in order to live as God wants us to live?  For you personally? 

32.  Are there any other thoughts or questions that you want to add?