6 Warning Signs You Might Be an Accidental Pharisee

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Will we keep our eyes glued on Jesus, or will we turn our focus onto those who lag behind?

The Pharisees’ sad transition from God’s most zealous defenders to Jesus’ archenemies is important for every Christian to understand.

As long as our only image of a Pharisee is that of a spiritual loser and perennial enemy of Jesus, we’ll never recognize the clear and present danger in our own life.

I’ve found that becoming a modern-day, accidental Pharisee is a lot like eating at Denny’s.

No one wants to go there. We just end up there.

The journey usually starts out innocently enough.

It begins with a desire to be at the front of the “following Jesus” line. We step out in faith, make some big changes, clean up areas of sin and compromise and begin to pursue new spiritual disciplines.

So far, so good.

But as we press forward, it’s hard not to notice those who lag behind. And it’s at this point we have an important decision to make: Will we keep our eyes glued on Jesus, or will we turn our focus onto those who lag behind?

Don’t look down!

I remember once meeting with a group of men who were passionate about their walk with God. Somehow our conversation turned toward those in the church who were not so passionate.

Next thing I knew, they were ripping on the way everyone else raised their children, spent their money, read their Bible and set their priorities.

Now these were quality men.

They were doing far better than most raising their kids, spending their money, reading their Bible and setting priorities.

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The problem wasn’t that they noticed the difference. The problem was what they did with the information. They used it to justify looking down on everyone else.

Larry Osborne Larry Osborne is a senior pastor at North Coast Church in Vista, California. With 20 weekly services on five campuses, North Coast is known for both its innovation and its small back door. You can learn more about the principles he shared here in his upcoming book, Sticky Church (Zondervan/October 2008) and the Sticky Church Conference. You may also visit the North Coast Training Network at www.NorthCoastChurch.com/Pastors.

More from Larry Osborne or visit Larry at http://www.northcoastchurch.com/pastors/

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  • ServantHeart2012

    Ouch! Guilty . . . but forgiven with the opportunity to “go and sin no more” in this way. However, I’ve been on the receiving end of #6 a few times, especially when it comes to short term missions. I get it that people become enamored of them and wish for their friends to experience the “mountain tops” they do when sharing the gospel in faraway, sometimes exotic locations. I appreciate and support them both prayerfully and financially, but I prefer to serve regularly (at least weekly) right in my own community by helping out at the food bank or helping elementary students who are having difficulty learning to read. But I still hear; “You need to go on a foreign mission trip to REALLY understand and fulfill God’s command and blah, blah, blah.” My mission field is right in my own neighborhood folks! Give it a rest!

  • Jim DeFrancisco

    Generally good advice in this article IMO. However, may I suggest two caveats:

    1. The Pharisees got a bad rap. Not all of them were bad guys. A better label might be “the prideful”, “the elitist”, “the self-righteous”, or “the judgmental.” These could be used to define some of the Judeans that opposed Jesus.

    2. Isn’t the Denny’s comment going a bit in the direction of the conduct that this article is opposed to?

    Blessings . . .

    • AMOS8

      Those are good observations, Jim, and I would like to add one, but I’m not as good as you in being succinct …

      I believe their biggest problem/crime/sin was a low view of Scripture … combined with elevating “tradition”–or the own man-made “wisdom”–over Scripture (Mk 7). This is a prevailing pattern today that parallels the Pharisees, yet very few see it, or will admit it.

      • Mar Komus

        Not true. They had a VERY high view of scripture. AND their traditions. But their traditions were based on scripture. To oppose the traditions was to oppose scripture. Much the same way certain stripes of Christianity are married to their interpretation of the scriptures.

        One traditional reading of scripture the church held for years, for example, is that the earth was the center of the solar system. Why? Because, as the scripture says, “[The sun] rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other” (Ps 19:6). SCIENCE, however, has DISPROVED that this scripture should be taken so literally. NOW we understand that it should really only be taken as poetic language and from a certain point of view.

        • AMOS8

          I could not disagree more, furthermore, our approaches and views and, therefore, interpretations are so far apart that I highly doubt that we will, from that starting point/premise, agree on much else.

          “They had a VERY high view of scripture. AND…”

          Not only does it go against what Scripture says, but it is not logical to say that someone who exalts their man-made tradition (kind of like the Catholic church) far above Scripture ALSO has a high view of God’s written Word. Furthermore, you cannot have a high view (read: accurate view) of Scripture and not have His Word “dwell in you.” (See John 5).

          Also, the example you give confirms my point. You refer to the Catholic church’s “interpretation” and not “the church.” The CC has themselves as more authoritative as the Scriptures. So too did many of the Pharisees. AND so too do many of the emergents and liberals and “postmoderns” and so on. For many, it is the culture over Scripture (what the current culture–through how they feel–thinks has more authority than God’s written word. Thus, the chaos and destruction that we are undergoing WHILE at the same time many are praising these “new” ideas and changes.

          • Mar Komus

            A high view of scripture does not equal an accurate one. Case in point: the view held by the church fathers (who PREDATE the Roman Catholic Church AND who can’t be said to hold a low view of scripture) was geocentrism. They were wrong. SCIENCE disproved it.

          • kwedini

            Science has not disproved geocentricity any more than it has disproved creationism. Suggest you read some Christian articles on geocentricity.

          • Jim DeFrancisco

            Every religious group has its traditions. Since the Hebrew text included consonants with no vowel pointing even the Holy Scriptures were out of necessity interpreted through oral traditions. These oral traditions continued with the Pharisees and continue today in Orthodox Judaism as well as other branches of Judaism and Christianity. Orthodox Judaism embraces the concept that the oral law was given on Sinai to Moses along with the written laws of Moses. Their oral tradition stems from this and has been recorded later in the Mishna and Talmudic writings. Christians have various creeds and confessions. When looking at Holy Scripture we need to keep in mind that it is impossible to interpret without presuppositions (oral traditions, culture, language differences, nuances, psychology, mystical/revelatory experiences, idioms, etc.). The canon of Holy Scripture was compiled and the books included/excluded were decided by ecclesiastical committees. This is not all bad. It is simply an example of God and humans working together. The problem is when human traditions contradict or override God’s commands.

        • kwedini

          Science has not disproved geocentricity any more than it has disproved creationism

    • Wandering fool

      Proved his point.

    • Kwedini

      Right…After 12 years dining on African food, Dennys was pure delight when we returned.

  • Charlina

    I repent. Lord, have mercy on me. Help me to change.

  • http://www.inpulsearts.com/Word Eddy Damas

    The work of the body of Christ is to provide for the needs of others, to consider that person that is walking beside you, or in front, or in back of you more important than yourself. So if you see dirty feet in front of you, you best get to washing them.

  • Scott Friend

    Could you please expand on a comment you made in point number 3 though when you said “We now judge people by what’s in their driveway and how big their house is.” Are you saying judging those by having less than what we have, or judging the people that buy more than what they need? Just wanted to clarify that as it could go either way. Thanks.

  • Mar Komus

    Another EXCELLENT book on the subject (and I don’t know why it never really took off) is Thom Hovestol’s _Extreme Righteousness_

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.bowman.395 Aaron Bowman

    But I like Denny’s

    • kwedini

      I love to go to Dennys

  • http://www.facebook.com/juanita.montemayor1 Juanita Alaniz Montemayor

    Being an accidental Pharisee is a good way to turn others away from Christ instead of towards Christ. May God have compassion on us so we can remember from where we came. I was the worst, now, I want to be the best. In doing so I have to remember it took Jesus to love me just as I was and to keep loving me just as I am.

  • Ellis

    It’s hard to be a Pharasee when I remember what got me here and what keeps me here..GRACE.

    I was bought with a price. I love Him because He first loved me and obey Him, because I love Him. He is the one that will perform that which He began in me, Phil 1:6.

    Matt 7:14 says, “strait is the gate and narrow the way..” and it is easy to veer from one side, liberty without responsibility to legalism on the other. That’s why I am reminded to take up my own personal, custom-crafted cross, daily in humility, and follow, my eyes on Jesus, remembering that He is “the author and finisher of my faith”.

    As we are called to be separate, (I believe that is what “Pharasee” means), 2 Cor 6: 17, 18, we have to remember what we were called out from as well as what we are called out too. GRACE and shalom.

  • Ryan

    I hate when I start writting and it gets so negative that I just delete everything I wrote.
    Good article!

  • http://twitter.com/ronoutdoors Ron Riemar

    The bad thing is most who read this will say, ” so ans so really should read this!”

  • Ben

    Hi you all saints of God, Merry Christmas and a happy new year, just in case the Mayan calender comes true. now getting back to the word of God, Romans chapter 8-verse 6 For to be carnal minded is death, but to be spiritually mind is life and peace. Any one who isn’t settled in Christ Jesus and His promises are carnal minded and all they talk about is fear loss of life thinking of them selves more than God, good works how to please God and not finding how. always looking and never finding, these people are to be pitied. Just look at the fear this people have. i said this before The prince of darkness has crept in and stole your joy. Ben

  • It is time

    Jesus has solved the Climate change problem, the food security problem, the water security problem, the energy oppression problem, and is about to deal a massive blow to poverty and inequality, in THIS generation. Be joyous.


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