The Pharisee in Me

Did you know that Jesus spent more time dealing with the hypocritical religious leaders and defending His authority than actually teaching about repentance and Godly behavior? At least it seems that way based on His words in the red letter editions of the Bible. And why would He do miracles on the Sabbath knowing it would provoke them? And why would He use such lurid metaphors as eating His flesh and drinking His blood that offended even those who wanted to be His disciples?

Of course, these incidents were a necessary prelude to His death and the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. But is there also a lesson today for the end times church?

My pastor just mentioned the "holy wars" experienced by the church over the centuries. Not the fight of good against evil, unfortunately, but the uncivil war between factions within the church. He said the devil loves to see us argue about theology rather than applying it to our lives.

Perhaps this is what the Gospel writers were warning us about. Watch out for those who talk about religious principles and godly behavior, but who do not apply their words to their own lives. But I think there is something even deeper. We look at the Pharisees, for example, and almost sneer at their self-righteous, even murderous, behavior that apparently blinded them from seeing the very thing they thought they wanted, the Messiah.

But wait, what did Jesus say? Don't judge others lest we be judged. Don't try to remove the speck from our brother's eye until we deal with the huge beam in our own. To the degree that we would condemn the Pharisees, that is how seriously we should look within and judge our own motives. They are not examples to avoid or to use to measure our pastors and teachers. They are reflections of the worst nature of man, who naturally wants to appear to be spiritual, but who does the opposite through pride and selfishness.

So what does this look like in everyday life? Well, there are several ways the "Pharisee in me" comes out. One way, as I found out a number of years ago through a program called Restoring Relationships, is that I often behave as an adult in reaction to hurts I received as a child, typically from parents or other caregivers. In my case, a major hurt occurred when I was shipped off to be cared by others for several months as a toddler while my mother was recovering from my brother's birth and subsequent surgery. At the same time, my father went to another state to begin a new business. I suspect there was some abuse in one of those situations. My personality changed dramatically as a result, and I began to be mean toward others, undoubtedly as an unconscious way of protecting myself from future hurt.

This was honed into a finely developed critical spirit, detachment, and occasional anger outbursts as I grew into adulthood, married, raised a family, and was a teacher and leader in the church. My wife and children easily recognized the "Pharisee in me," but of course I thought I was being deeply religious and needed to help God correct them regularly. When the veil was pulled back through the Restoring Relationships class, and I was led to forgive my parents, but especially to ask God and my family to forgive me for my subsequent sins toward them, I felt like I had a second salvation experience, a soul salvation I called it. I found that I had new depths of love and forgiveness to extend to them and others. (I refer to this concept heavily in my first two books, The Tower, and The Organic Church.)

Fast forward to the past year. See my post "The Best Smoothie in the World" for how I was able to show this deep love towards my wife as a caregiver during her trauma of spine cancer and subsequent surgery and recovery. Even I was surprised at how consistent I was in attending to her needs without the slightest hint of irritation or criticism.

So now you can see another way the "Pharisee in me" can creep back in. How do you think I felt when my wife, children, and others praised me for how much I sacrificed during this difficult time? Yep, you got it. Pride. Oh, of course, the good kind, right? I actually passed the test. I had made it to a new level of spiritual maturity, right?

Wrong. A few days ago my wife and I were going over some financial details, and I said something just a tiny bit critical. Well, to use a Restoring Relationships term, it "pushed a button" and quickly escalated into words and thoughts that were not particularly edifying or forgiving. She said something that I was tempted to throw back at her in an attempt to justify myself. Here we go again.

But I had learned since my "soul salvation" experience years ago to resist this urge to go backwards, and instead trust God with my anger and fears. Of course, we were able to talk through it the next morning, after a sleepless night, and we learned a new lesson in grace and forgiveness.

It turned out that the hurtful thing she said was actually a word for me from the Holy Spirit, which I took as the ultimate put-down when I heard it. But after our talk the next morning, I realized that it was meant to "slap me up side the head" so I would get before God about it. Then when I knew later that it was actually a word for me, I saw a double meaning that illustrated how God takes our worst sins, and through repentance and forgiveness turns them into even deeper levels of love. Incredible. I love Him--and my wife--so much.

Clay WattsComment