As I read through Luke’s Gospel last term in our studies in Luke, I was struck yet again by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Everyone who has read the Bible knows that the Pharisees are the bad guys of the Gospel story. They were the ones who hated Jesus and certainly Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for them. As a result, it is easy to condemn the Pharisees for their cold religion and hypocrisy. However, even as I read about their failings, I fear that if I am honest the spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well in my heart.
Jesus’ major problem with the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. They put on a show of religion, ostentatiously obeying all the laws and fulfilling all the important religious obligations, however, their godliness was only on the outside. They were not willing to admit their sinfulness. The outward appearance was white but their hearts were black. As a result, they refused to listen to Jesus. Jesus famously said that he had come to heal the sick not the healthy. Jesus’ message of salvation was for the sinner, not for the righteous. Of course Jesus did not think that the Pharisees were healthy and righteous – far from it! His point was that a person must recognise their spiritual sickness and sin if they are to find the salvation he offers. A person must put off the righteous façade and actually admit that their thoughts, words and deeds are far from righteous – however religious they might be.
Of course we all know this (at least I pray you do!) Every Christian has admitted their sin and brokenness and turned to Jesus in repentance and faith. Yet, how easy it is to revert to being a Pharisee. In fact the longer we are a Christian, the more of a temptation we feel. How easy it is to be an upright member of the church – yet for the rest of the week ignore God. How easy it is to put on a public showing of godliness, while behind closed doors (perhaps even just in our mind and heart) the sin is awful and dark. We all struggle with this temptation to hypocrisy. We all struggle with this temptation to hide our sin from others.
We must repent of this – in fact it is a worse sin than the sins we try to hide! Followers of Jesus do not put on a display of godliness so that others will think well of them. Instead, we admit our sin, repent of it and seek to change. The church should be a place of openness and honesty, where sinners confess their failings to each other, rejoice in the forgiveness we have in Jesus and encourage each other to put off sin and grow in godliness.
Of course, Jesus put it best in his short parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14):
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers— or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
I am not telling you anything new, but will you join me in seeking to throw off hypocrisy and replace it with honest and repentant Christian living?