In Matthew 23, Jesus famously pronounces his “seven woes” to the Scribes and Pharisees. In this section of the New Testament, we can really grasp the seriousness and righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. I can picture it perfectly, Jesus in front of the crowds and his disciples, proclaiming a scathing review of the vain, self-righteous leadership of what had become the first-century Jewish faith.
While these profound, heated words were directed toward the Scribes and Pharisees of first-century Jerusalem, the same principles can apply to us today. Do we ever preach and not practice (Matt 23:3)? Do we ever do religious deeds only to be seen by others, thus making us seem more righteous (Matt 23:5)? Do we keep people out of heaven by our actions (Matt 23:13)? Are we blind guides, leading others religiously astray (Matt 23:16)?
When We Are Like Pharisees
Unfortunately, it can be easy for Christians to fall into the same rut as these vain Pharisees. One way we become as a Pharisee is when we find we have “neglected the weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23) Our faith can digress into a type of “Checklist Christianity,” going through the motions, checking our righteous items off of our list, while forgetting weightier matters:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matt 23:23-24)
We can start thinking, “I attended services Sunday and Wednesday, I brought my Bible, I wore my Sunday’s best, I gave to the collection, I took the Lord’s supper, I sang the songs, I stayed awake during the sermons, I closed my eyes during the prayer. I’m done!”
Does our Christianity start each Sunday morning and end that Sunday night? Am I loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31)? Do I give to those who beg from me (Matt 5:42)? Do I do to others as I would wish them to do to me (Matt 7:12)? Do I admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak? Am I patient with everyone? Do I seek to do good to everyone (1 Thes 5:14-15)? Do I forgive others when they do wrong to me (Matt 6:14-15)?
Inward Or Outward?
Am I practicing righteousness? Or am I practicing to appear righteous? If our suit, tie, or dress is more important to us than clothing the naked, welcoming strangers, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and those in prison, we are in the same place as the Pharisees (see Matt 25:42-46). If we are more eager to be seen carrying a Bible than to be seen practicing the things in the Bible, we are in the same place as the Pharisees.
Let us examine ourselves, and strive to not turn our faith into “Checklist Christianity.” We should strive to not neglect the weightier matters, to not seek only to be viewed as righteous by men. If we go out of our way to be early to church, let’s go out of our way to be early to forgive as well.