New Testament passage for Monday, February 3, 2014: Matthew 22:34-23:12
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ Matthew 23:1-7 (NKJV)
It is amazing and down right amusing what people will do to impress others. Whether it be cars or clothing, career advancement or social position, some folks spent a lot of time, money, and energy letting the world know how great they are. It's all about image and respect. Pride and ambition propel people into self-promotion. It's the way the world works.
Funny how this desire to impress can carry over into spirituality. How do you know a person is truly godly? How can you tell they're really close to God? Is it the size of the Bible they tote around? Is it the way they softly breathe out, "Praise the Lord" every time they speak? Is it the way they quote great church leaders as if they know them like best friends? "You heard what Billy Graham said just the other day...."
Jesus called out the Pharisees of His day by pointing out this crazy conduct. They were masters at making people think they were spiritual. William Barclay, the great Bible commentator of years ago, reports that the Jewish Talmud describes 7 different kinds of Pharisees that existed in Jesus' day.
1. Shoulder Pharisees. They carried lists of their good deeds on their shoulders so anyone could quickly read and be impressed.
2. Wait-a-Little Pharisees. This is the group Jesus was talking about when He said "they say, and do not do." They always produced a pious, spiritual reason for putting off doing something.
3. Bruised or Bleeding Pharisees. Talking to or looking upon a woman was considered by this group to be an occasion for possible sin. Therefore, they walked around with their eyes closed. As a result they were constantly bumping into things and getting bruised or cut. Those bruises and abrasions were signs of how spiritual they were -- how serious they were about being pure.
4. Hump-backed Pharisees (also called Tumbling Pharisees). Believing that humility was a great virtue, these Pharisees walked around bent over. They bent over so much that at times they tumbled over. They also shuffled their feet a lot because lifting your foot off the ground was not really being humble.
5. Ever-reckoning Pharisees. This variety of Pharisees where like bookkeepers. They were constantly totally up their good deeds. EVERYTHING was weighed out as to how it made the balance sheet look.
6. Timid or Fearing Pharisees. From fear of divine punishment, these Pharisees where compulsive in terms of cleansing, washing, and being antiseptic.
7. God-fearing Pharisees. Finally a good group! This division truly loved God and found delight in simple obedience to what the Bible taught. Nicodemus (John 3:1) was doubtless part of this group.
The Bible tells us that all these activities (except for Number 7) are "filthy rags" (Is. 64:6). None of us ever need to worry about self-image; we need to focus on our God-image. When we let Him be our worth, we automatically become the wealthiest people around. Any good deeds that come OUT OF us are really only THROUGH us. They are His and we just get the after-glow.
The greatest deed any of us can ever do is simply trust in the righteousness of Jesus. He is all we need.