Me, the Pharisee

Rules, Rules, Rules.  Why in the world do I keep making so many stupid rules for myself.  I’m turning into a regular Pharisee.  And I don’t exactly like that association.

I’ve been blogging on a regular schedule for the past couple months.  On Monday, I post a personal reflection, on Wednesday, I post a book review, and on Friday, I post a book list.  It sort of turned into a pattern that I kept up.  But eventually, it became a rule.  And last week, when I was on a mini vacation to California, I was feeling horribly guilty about missing my final Friday post.  I was really stressing about it.  I eventually realized that I’d created a rule where none needed to exist.  My priorities were out of line. I was being a Pharisee.

Jesus loved to make fun of the Pharisees.  They were his favorite target for rebuke:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23). “You brood of vipers!” (Matthew 3:7). “Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Mathew 16:16).  

The Pharisees were a very strict group of Orthodox Jews who loved to add extra rules to the Bible.  For example, they had extra-Biblical rules about hand washing, a precise method about how it was to be done for eating.  The disciples and Jesus weren’t following their rules, so the Pharisees got upset.

But these weren’t Biblical hand washing rules.  They were just some rules a Pharisee made up once upon a time, and they took the place of the Bible.

When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about it, he showed them their folly: “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as almost those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you” (Luke 11:39-41).   

Like me, the Pharisees loved their rules more than they cared about what was most important: the heart.  Instead of focusing on hand washing ritual, their time would have been better spent cleansing their heart before God.  And for me, I was on vacation in California for heaven’s sake. It was far more important for me to spend time with my husband, enjoying our time down there, than it was to try to cram in some writing time, all for the sake of a silly, made up rule.

I wish I could say this was the only example of a rule I create that interferes with my ability to do God’s will.  I like to apply plenty of restrictions to my diet, exercise, and my work schedule. Some rules are, of course, worth protecting and enforcing.  But others need to be re-evaluated and should budge often. 

Jesus thought it was a big deal, worth a little yelling and name calling.  So I should too.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hear, hear! (In more ways than one….) Great post, Amy; I too sometimes wonder at our human agility in creating rules and then allowing them to become the Most Important Thing, rather than looking to the condition of our hearts; this is why I love to remind myself of His sovereignty in the morning by recalling this prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

    Create in me a clean heart, Oh God
    Renew a right spirit within me,
    Cast me not away from your presence,
    Take not your Holy Spirit from me
    Give me the joy of your saving help again,
    Sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

    That prayer from Psalm 51 has become not a rule for me, but a daily pleasure and greeting to Jesus and a reminder to me that He is the Most Important Thing. It focuses my heart on Him.

    AL: Thanks Sara! I love the song based on that Psalm and prayer. I need to remember to sing/pray it more often because it’s so true, my own heart if fickle and gets tied to its own desires, forgetting where my real priorities are.

  2. Amy, how would you define the difference between strictly keeping rules (as the Pharisees did) versus keeping up with a spiritual discipline (like blogging or journaling regularly) ? Is it just when it turns into guilt, as you mentioned, or is it something more than that ?

    AL: Wow, great question Joe! I think it’s great to think of this in terms of Spiritual disciplines because of course, there’s value in cultivating those habits. But when legalism creeps in, that’s when I’d think the problems start. Or, better yet, when those habits become an idol, something bigger than God or filling a role that God fills. So, journaling would be such an important thing for yourself that you neglect serving your neighbor who asks for help. “sorry, I have to journal right now.”

    You know, a great example is Jesus healing on the Sabbath, something that gave the Pharisees a hissy fit. There’s nothing wrong with resting on the Sabbath, in fact, it’s one of the 10 commandments. But, the Pharisees got a bit to legalistic about it, with their sabbath rules about how far you could walk and the like. Apparently, healing had its own rules as well. And Jesus healed anyway. He knew that there was a bigger heart issue at stake. And seriously, if you can heal someone, and it happens to be on the sabbath, is there really a choice? Which is more important, making someone’s life a heck of a lot better and pointing them to Jesus or following a rule that’s a bit too strict for your own good.

    Maybe someone else has a more succinct way of explaining this principle because I’m rambling something fierce here. =)

  3. I like to think that the Bible reveals “absolutes” and “guidelines” to us believers. Absolutes being, “There is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, etc.”

    And guidelines being such things as “Jesus heals (not always),” “Jesus delivers (not always), “Jesus prospers (not always),” etc.

    So, my thinking is that whenever you make a guideline principle into an absolute, you have crossed over into legalism, and thus are acting like a Pharisee.

    AL: Love that distinction Larry: absolutes and guidelines. Sort of reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean, about the Pirate Code “It’s more of a guideline really.” Our church (Mars Hill), likes to talk about things in “open hand” and “closed hand” terms, where some things aren’t open for debate. Basically, the resurrection, and some of the fundamental tenants of the Christian faith. But, there are those open handed issues that some people like to make closed handed, things that we need to make #1 and force upon others to observe. Things like worship styles, and probably some of these disciplines that can be good things but can always be used in the wrong way.

  4. I think that your are really onto something here. When we make the works that we do more important than the One whom we do them for, we then become Pharisees. Rules are neccessary for order, but they shouldn’t become the reason for the order. There was a time when I was deeply involved in music ministry. I had a very specific way I wanted things done and was fairly hard to deal with when it wasn’t “right” in my eyes. The process eventually became an idol and the whole thing had to be put away. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I had to learn it for the sake of my relationship with God. Rules can become idols and God hates idols before Him.
    Is keeping to a strict schedule a bad thing, no I don’t think so. Is putting the strict schedule above all else a bad thing, probably. Remember to always keep God first and everything else should fall into place.
    Just a thought, Glenn

    AL: Thanks so much for sharing! I like the emphasis on the “works” idea, which also connects with many cults who emphasize the works as a means to salvation, above and beyond Christ’s saving work on the cross. We are so prone to making idols of just about anything, even our own stupid systems and rules that we devise for ourselves! Heaven help us!

    Oh yes, and a good point about keeping a strict schedule. I think there’s a good discipline in order in one’s schedule, for sure, like my blogging schedule. But one must be willing to put Jesus and His priorities first, before one’s strict schedule, like you say. Maybe discipline with flexibility for Christ is a good way of saying it. But I’m sure one of you can come up with something more pithy. =)

  5. i just found out tonight that I was acting like a pharisee as well. I am glad that you decided to share this thinking that you have to help me realized that this does happen to other people, and that my focus needs to be on cleansing my heart rather than trying to do made up things to please God. Thank you Amy


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