As I continue to grow and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and learn more of God’s grace, I have become more conscious of a struggle that rages within me. It’s a struggle between the man I so desperately want to be and the man I have the tendency to be.
I struggle, because I know that on the inside, there lurks a darker spirit that, from time to time rears its ugly head and when it does, I am more akin to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than I care to admit. This morning I want to use the story of Jesus’ interaction with Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman, from Luke 7:36-50, as a way to give you some insight into three areas of phariseeism that I struggle with and how, through God’s word, I’m working to overcome them. It’s my hope that as you look through the window of my soul you will reflect upon your own and if there is a Pharisee lurking inside of you, I pray that you will take heed this lesson and implement the remedy of how to overcome your own pharisaical tendencies.
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. (37) And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, (38) and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. (39) Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (40) And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” (41) “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. (42) And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” (43) Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” (44) Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. (45) You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. (46) You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. (47) Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (48) Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (49) And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” (50) Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luk 7:36-50)
The Pharisee in me is Apathetical (Luke 7:44-46)
When Jesus entered Simon’s house he did not receive the customary acts of greeting and hospitality. Simon did not go out of his way to make sure that Jesus was comfortable. In fact he didn’t even give Jesus the basics of what was expected in the relationship between a host and a guest. Simon did not provide Jesus with water to wash His feet with (a necessity in that day). Simon did not greet Jesus by giving Him a kiss (sign of affection and greeting). And, Simon did not even give Jesus any oil to anoint his head with (refreshment both in smell and looks). Simon failed to provide the basics elements of what was considered reasonable hospitality.
We’re left to wonder why Simon ignored Jesus. Perhaps he thought someone else would take care of Jesus needs, maybe a slave or another guest. Perhaps he thought Jesus would find the water and oil and take care of Himself. I don’t know the specifics but this I do know, Simon acted in a apathetical way. There is no hint in the text that he cared for Jesus. We don’t find him trying to greet Jesus and then instructing someone to provided and perform the necessary task of washing and anointing. We don’t hear him telling Jesus where to find the water and oil is so He could, “clean Himself up” so-to-speak. At least if Simon would have done those things we would not peg him as apathetic. In the action of doing nothing, Simon clearly demonstrated he didn’t really care about Jesus he was apathetic to Jesus’ needs.
Was apathy not a hallmark of the Pharisees? It’s seen in their treatment of widows and how they would devour their possessions and left them penniless (Matthew 23:14). They were apathetical toward their parents in that they would pledge all their possessions to the Lord so as to not have “waste” their finances on supporting their parents (Matthew 15:5-6). Their lack of care for the infirmed (John 9:1-41) and the social outcast (Luke 7:39) is well documented. And Jesus condemned them for being apathetic toward the burdens they placed upon men in general (Matthew 23:4). It was a hallmark of the Pharisee to care for no one but themselves.
If I allow the Pharisee in me to take over, if I give up on the struggle, if I lose the fight, then the Pharisee in me takes charge and then my attitude toward my fellowman can become one of apathy:
- The Pharisee in me is apathetic and doesn’t want to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Instead of “bearing the burdens of others” (Galatians 6:2) the Pharisee in me want me to say, “Suck it up. There’s no reason to cry” or worst yet he wants me to just ignore their pain, and say and do nothing.
- The Pharisee in me is apathetic and doesn’t want to “share” the things I’ve worked so hard to get (1 John 3:16-18). Instead of sharing my goods and helping those in need, the Pharisee in me wants to say, “May the Lord bless you with what you need. Now depart in peace, be warmed and filled.” (James 2:15-16)
- The Pharisee in me is apathetic and doesn’t want to “bear the scruples of the weak” (Romans 15:1), he doesn’t want to “help the [spiritually] weak.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV). Instead of caring for the conscience of the weak, the Pharisee in me wants me to say, “It’s not my fault their spiritually weak. They need try harder at being more spiritual.”
- The Pharisee in me is apathetic and doesn’t want to “look out for the interest of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Instead of praying for others as fervently, as I would pray for my family, or myself the Pharisee in me wants me to say, “Focus on yourself and your needs. If you don’t pray for yourself, nobody else will.”
Woe to me if I allow the apathetical Pharisee in me to have his way; then I would be nothing more than a viper whose heart is poisoned with apathy (Mat thew 12:34, 23:33).
The Pharisee in me is Hypocritical (Luke 7:36-40)
Soon after Simon, Jesus and the other guest sat down to eat a woman of questionable reputation, a sinner in the eyes of all, made her way into the dining area. Simon had not invited this woman but she had come anyway because she knew Jesus was there. She knew Jesus would forgive her of her sins. In an outward demonstration of her faith and love, the woman humbly washed Jesus’ feet with her tears; she meekly anointed them with fragrant oil; and she respectfully kissed them with her lips. As Simon watched in disgust, he thought within himself that Jesus was no prophet worthy of honor because “if Jesus were a prophet” Simon reasoned “he would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39) Jesus, knowing Simon was having these thoughts, answered Him by saying, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” (Luke 7:40) In the classic style of the Pharisees, Simon replied with words of honor. He replied with words that veiled the true nature of his heart, “Teacher, say it.” (Luke 7:40)
What one word best describes the Pharisees? It’s hypocrite. Fifteen times, in the book of Matthew, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as hypocrites[i]. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed His disciples to not “sound the trumpet” like the hypocrites when they performed their charitable deed (Matthew 6:1-4). He also taught His disciples to not “pray to be seen of men” like the hypocrites did when they prayed in synagogues or on street corners (Matthew 6:5). Additionally, He directed His disciples to not fast like the hypocrites who only fasted to be seen of men (Mathew 6:16-18). Three times Jesus said, “they have their reward” (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). Because of their hypocrisy they have a reward of damnation fore “God resist the proud and give grace to the humble.” (James 4:6).
If I allow the Pharisee in me to rule, if I give up on the struggle, if I let up in the fight, then the Pharisee in me takes charge and then my focus turns from what God thinks of me and my service to what men think of me and my service:
- The Pharisee in me is a hypocrite and doesn’t pray often (1 Thessalonians 5:17). So when it comes time to pray publically, the Pharisee in me says, “Use eloquent words, pray longer and pray for things that others neglect so everyone will think you’re more spiritual than them.”
- The Pharisee in me is a hypocrite and doesn’t want to confess my sins but has no problem pointing out other people’s sins (Luke 18:9-14; James 5:16). The Pharisee in me says, “Everybody knows this other guy has problems. But I have a reputation to uphold. What would people think of me if they knew my problems?”
- The Pharisee in me is a hypocrite and doesn’t want to live like a Christian seven days a week. The Pharisee in me says, “I’ll give God Sunday but the rest of the week is mine.” See Matthew 23:23-24
Woe to me if I allow the hypocritical Pharisee in me to have his way; then I would be nothing more than a whitewash tomb whose heart is dead with hypocrisy (Matthew 23:27).
The Pharisee in me is Judgmental (Luke 7:40-48)
After Simon granted Jesus permission to speak, Jesus delivered a parable that allegorically represented the situation between Simon, Jesus and the sinful woman. In Jesus’ parable there was a creditor (God) who had two debtors. The first debtor owed five hundred denarii, in Simon’s judgment this would have represented the sinful woman. The second debtor only owed fifty denarii, in Simon’s judgment this would have represented him. He would have judged himself to be 10x less sinful, if sinful at all, than the sinful woman. In Simon’s eyes he judged himself more righteous than the sinful woman, because he thought he had committed fewer sins than she had.
If there was a group of people who were good and judging others it was the Pharisees. They judged Jesus as being a “glutton and drunkard” because his mingling with “tax collectors and sinners” in order to teach them the gospel (Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 7:34). They judged Jesus and the blind man of John 9 as being a “sinners” because Jesus healed on the Sabbath (9:16) and the blind man was born blind (9:34).
If I allow the Pharisee in me to rule, if I give up on the struggle, if I let up in the fight, then the Pharisee in me takes charge and then I begin to pass judgment on others:
- The Pharisee in me is judgmental and doesn’t want to admit that other people’s actions can be pure, even when they’re doing something that I personally wouldn’t do (James 4:11-12). The Pharisee in me says, “He has to be up to no good, I know it. I would never do anything like that. We need to tell some others and then go confront him about this.”
- The Pharisee in me is judgmental and doesn’t want to acknowledge that a weaker brother could be just as spiritual as I am, even when he believes things I wouldn’t believe (Romans 14:1-13). The Pharisee in me says, “Go set him straight and tell him he needs to believe what I believe.”
- The Pharisee in me is judgmental and doesn’t want to reach out to people who don’t fit the profile of what I think a Christian should look like (Matthew 9:11-13). The Pharisee in me says, “Don’t bother talking to that person, look at them, they don’t look like they care about religious things.”
Woe to me if I allow the judgmental Pharisee in me to have his way; then I would be nothing more than a blind fool whose heart is blinded with self righteousness (Matthew 23:16).
How then do I keep the Pharisee in me at bay, how do I fight against him… learned three important lessons from an ex-Pharisee, the apostle Paul:
Be Honest with God
The first step in overcoming the Pharisee in me is to be honest with God, I need to confess to Him my sins and my weaknesses. After Paul received his, Damascus Road Calling, he spent three days in prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). What do you think he praying for? All sorts of things but especially during this time I see him being honest with God about who he was, a sinner. In 1 Timothy 1:12-14 we see him offer a quick prayer of honesty to God, I doubt this was the first time he had prayed that same prayer.
To combat the Pharisee in me I must be like the Paul and the Publican and confess that I am a sinner Luke 18:10-14. I must bring myself to a state of humility saying “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Is it hard? Sure, it’s amazingly hard to be honest with God about my sins. But let me let you in on a little secret… He already knows about my sins, He just wants me to see them the way He does.
I can be honest with God through Christ who strengthens me. And by God’s grace I can overcome the Pharisee in me.
Be Open with Others
The second step in overcoming the Pharisee in me is to be open with others, I need to confess my sins and weaknesses to others. No more putting up a front; no more trying to maintain an image; no more double-lives; just pure honest openness with others. Paul was open an honest with others about his life as a Pharisee (Acts 22:4-5, 26:9-11; Galatians 1:13, 23; 1 Timothy 1:12-15; 1 Corinthians 15:9). He didn’t try to hide anything. He was always quick to say, “This is what I was… But by the grace of God… This is what I am today.”
In my fight against the Pharisee in me I have to be open with others about my sins and weaknesses. Because only way to destroy the temptation to be a hypocrite is to be willing make known what’s on the inside. And let me tell that’s humbling. It’s humbling to tell people you failures against sin. It’s humbling to I messed up. It’s humbling to say I still struggle. How can we ever receive the help to “bear the burden of sin” if I’m not first willing to say to be open with others and say, “I need help.”
I can be open with others through Christ who strengthens me. And by God’s grace I can overcome the Pharisee in me.
Be Willing to Change
The third step in overcoming the Pharisee in me is to change. Paul changed. He changed from a persecutor of the Way to a proclaimer of the Way. He changed from an arrogant man to a humble man. He changed from a blasphemer to one of pure speech. He was an ex-Pharisee and I can be one too. But I have to be willing to change.
In my war against the Pharisee in me I must be honest with God, open to others, and willing to change. It does no good to be honest with God but not repent. It does no good to be open with others and not let them hold me accountable. I have to be willing to let the old man die and I have to put on Christ and His qualities (Colossians 3:5-14). I have to be willing to change by putting my trust in Him, not in myself. Is it hard? Sure, change is always hard, especially when it comes to change myself.
I can change through Christ who strengthens me. And by God’s grace, I can overcome the Pharisee in me.
I’m not a perfect a man. There is a Pharisee inside of me that must be put to death. Through Christ, I will overcome.
[i] Mat 6:2, 6:5, 6:16, 7:5, 15:7, 16:3, 22:18, 23:13, 23:14, 23:15, 23:23, 23:25, 23:27, 23:29, and 24:51.