Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Are You A Closet Pharisee?

Luke 11:37-42

Most Christians are sincere and well meaning in their walk with Christ. That goes for average garden variety Christians, so called "lay" people, and professionals - pastors and the like who make their living off of the gospel. What may be surprising is that even well meaning Christians can fall into the same sort of hypocrisy as the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day. \r
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The Pharisees. They started out a philosophical sect of Judaism around the 3rd century B.C. The name comes from the Hebrew word "to separate." Eventually they became a powerful political party in Israel in Jesus' time. Josephus, the noted Israeli historian, was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were one of three powerful sects in Jesus' time. The other two were the Sadducees and the Essenes (who hid the Dead Sea Scrolls)\r
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They came about during a time when the Greeks were trying to make the Jews more like Greeks. The people who later became the Pharisees rebelled against this strongly. Their aim was to preserve national integrity and strict conformity to the Law of Moses.\r
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(http://www.bible-history.com/pharisees/PHARISEESOverview.htm)\r
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The Scribes - also called lawyers - copied down the Law and were considered experts in it. They and the Pharisees were the leaders in Israel at the time of Jesus.\r
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One of the biggest problems of the Pharisees may have been that they looked at the Word of God as a possession to wield as a weapon to keep themselves justified and in power, rather than a living document to reveal their inadequacies before God, beg for His mercy, and seek His salvation.\r
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Believe or not, the Pharisees came from the middle class of their society-the businessmen and merchants. The vast majority were actually laymen. To get into a Pharisaical community one had to vow to completely follow the many traditions created by the Pharisees around tithing, ceremonial laws and dietary purity. \r
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Even though a lot of people supported the Pharisees, they were not themselves members of that group. \r
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That oral tradition actually started at the time of the Babylonian captivity. The people felt that they needed to draw a hedge around themselves, to keep from disobeying God again. By the time of Jesus this oral tradition (commentaries on the Law) were revered so highly that they were said to go back all the way to Moses. They were finally all compiled in 200 AD and are called the Mishna.\r
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The Mishna seeks to regulate with great detail every part of a person's life. It's the extreme of "legislating morality." It misses the big point - we don't make ourselves pure from the outside that works itself in, we become pure by getting new life on the inside that then works itself outward.\r
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This background is important for us to understand. The Pharisees did not start out as hypocrites who said one thing and did another. They were honestly trying to serve God and not fall back into sin. \r
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Their mistake was that they tried to create a rule for every possible situation instead of letting their lives be molded by the character of God. \r
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The Scribes also just wanted to preserve God's Word-a noble goal for sure. \r
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Both of these groups were well meaning-lay leaders and highly educated professional. But something happened. They fell into legalism. And it can happen to us too. Paul later wrote that the purpose of Law was not to make us righteous but to show our need for a savior. (Galatians 3)\r
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Sometimes we start out wanting to serve God with a pure heart. We fail. And in our human mind we think "well, where did I fail? I better work on that area until I don't fail there any more and then God will be happy with me." \r
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So there are four areas that Jesus combats the Pharisees and the Lawyers - the experts - so called - in the Jewish law:\r
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Exterior righteousness with interior fleshliness (verses 39-41)\r
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The Pharisees were extremely careful to follow all the rituals, which included elaborate ways of cleaning dishes and washing before eating. They thought it showed their devotion to God but it made them dependent on external shows rather than internal realities. \r
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In fact, they were just as wicked and dirty spiritually as anyone else. Jesus calls them "fools" which can mean "mindless, stupid, ignorant, egotistic, or unbelieving." \r
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They were also very stingy when it came to giving, either to God or to the poor. Jesus may be saying to them: "if you had God's character you would show how clean you are by having a giving heart like He has."\r
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So how do we become like this? It's actually pretty easy. When the outside trappings of our Christian walk become our Christian walk then we are in danger of becoming a dirty cup.\r
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We don't do any of the outward things anymore that we did in our BC days (before Christ in our life). We dress well, we smell good, we act all pious and don't cuss (at least not very much) and we carry around a big Bible and use Christian jargon.\r
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Yet if we do not attend to the inward transformation that God desires once we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we shine on the outside and rot on the inside. \r
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Worse, when an unbeliever comes in contact with those things that we say or do that are clearly not reflective of the Lord's character (when we are "off duty"), then we endanger their salvation. \r
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How do we combat this? By doing a regular interior checkup. Have an honest self assessment of yourself through and through. Even as God to perform the inspection for you.\r
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Psalms 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart!\r
Try me and know my thoughts! \r
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,\r
and lead me in the way everlasting! ESV\r
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Then pray for the Holy Spirit to change you, and void the tendency to create a list of things to do and not to do based on what you think. Pray those characteristics you find in the Bible into your life. (Galatians 5:22 is a good place to start)\r
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Religious observance without character changing obedience (verse 42)\r
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The idea here is that the little things we do can insulate us from the bigger changes God wants to make in us.\r
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Sometimes we as Christians focus on the trivial and ignore the important. There was no law that required the tithing of cooking spices. Tithing isn't bad and Jesus doesn't condemn it at all, even in small amounts, but the Pharisees paid so close attention to their made up tithe rule that they just didn't have time for that other stuff, like justice and loving God.\r
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How do we do that? It can be any number of ways. Some churches have a pretty strict dress code. Now I'm not in any way suggesting we dress immodestly, but some require a certain kind of dress in order to be thought of as more holy. For some it is the version of the Bible they read, for others it is the songs they sing, or that they don't sing songs at all, or about drinking alcohol or whether you should see movies or dance. I could go on and on. But they allow gossip and lying and cheating and never preach the gospel or have concern for those in need. They are so focused on having the perfect church that they leave God out of it. \r
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How do you discover this trait in yourself and how do you combat it? One: know your Bible well. It's amazing how many things people think come from Scripture that really don't. Second, concentrate on thinking and acting like Jesus, not trying to pin Him down to a code you can follow.\r
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Notice that Jesus violated the Law regarding the showbread because sustenance was more important at that time than religious observance. He violated what many considered laws against healing on the Sabbath. Paul the Apostle put it this way:\r
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1 Corinthians 10:23-24 "All things are lawful ," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful ," but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. ESV\r
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God wants us to think like Him so we'll naturally act like Him. If we are so focused on the tiny minute details we often miss the big picture. You could call it "micro-ethicism" - where minute, debatable elements detract from the major qualities of God's character.\r
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Glory seeking instead of servant hood (verse 43)\r
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The best seats in the synagogue would be near the Torah scrolls, facing the congregation. Only the most honored could sit there. Jewish custom also required those less learned to greet the more learned, so the Pharisees and Scribes would receive many greetings as they went about.\r
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It is basic human nature to want to receive glory and honor. We are tickled when people laud and praise us. Our whole popular culture is built around the cult of fame.\r
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But Jesus came teaching something totally the opposite. \r
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Mark 10:42-45 You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." ESV\r
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The idea of a servant leader is familiar to us Christians, but it is actually pretty easy to fall into the same trap as the Pharisees or even the disciples. We find it in trying to have the biggest church, or the biggest Bible; we even feign humbleness as we say "God was speaking through me" or whatever. I'm not downing receiving honest compliments and saying "thanks." But there is a whole attitude that is missing - and that is serving.\r
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Instead of concentrating on "giving glory to God" while we prance around feeling self important - even important that God would use us - we should instead be looking around for those to serve, even the most lowly person in our midst. The Apostle Paul was actually a great example of this, and he caught flack from people because he wasn't buying into the "I've got to be impressive to be effective" wrap.\r
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So now we turn to the lawyers. The lawyers were experts in the Law, and were most of them Pharisees, but professionals.\r
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Legalism that blocks knowledge of the truth of the Scriptures (verse 46)\r
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The lawyers had created hundreds and hundreds of extra regulations to "clarify" the law. To the Sabbath law they added rules on how far you could walk, what kind of knot you could tie, and then created hypocritical rules saying you can't heal but you can rescue a trapped animal. Through all this they created a maze of conflicting regulations that were destined to make the average person fail in their quest to obey God. They themselves likely found ways around the very laws they created. \r
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He who creates the rules rules the system. This is known as legalism, pleasing God through your own efforts to obey an external set of rules and laws - whether good or silly.\r
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Legalism is like a thermometer gauge you see for fund raising events. You do things on the list and the red paint moves up towards the top and you feel better. Then if you do something bad you erase some of the paint and you move away from your goal. \r
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Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ESV\r
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Lawyers - pride in their intellect set in that disconnected them from life.\r
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If we can do it ourselves then we are God.\r
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The law becomes more important than the Lord, the rule more important than our relationship with God.\r
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The goal is to become like God. We start by having a new nature given to us by Jesus Christ. We complete the transformation by allowing the Holy Spirit to indwell us and change us from the inside out. \r
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Don't worry so much about obeying God as you do about relating to God. That is, have an active, vibrant, ongoing relationship where God has access to you and you come into His presence often in worship, prayer, and meditation.\r
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Galatians 5:16-26 But I say, walk by the Spirit , and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. \r
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25 If we live by the Spirit , let us also walk by the Spirit . 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. ESV\r
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Conclusions\r
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So: to fight the tendency for exterior appearances while the interior is rotting: do a regular self examination with the Lord in His Word\r
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To fight focusing on the small things while ignoring the big values know Jesus well and look for values to follow rather than pin Him down to a code.\r
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To fight the tendency for glory hogging, seek to serve rather than be served\r
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And finally to fight legalism concentrate more on knowing God than on obeying - you will find obedience will follow naturally.\r

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