You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something. [Matthew 23:25-26 (MSG)]
When I put my mug under the coffee maker, I saw the stain. Fresh from the dishwasher, it was clean on the outside but had a dark tea stain inside. As I applied some elbow grease and scouring powder, I thought of Jesus’s criticism of the Pharisees. Like my mug, their exterior looked good but the interior was soiled. Unlike my tea-stained mug, they were tainted by a host of sins starting with hypocrisy and moving right through to pride, jealousy, self-righteousness, and more.
The Pharisees were conspicuous in their devotion to religious observance and made an extravagant display of their religious observances. They gloried in external righteousness rather than God’s holiness. By making a show of their piety, they made a good impression and, like my coffee mug, looked good on the outside. But, since their religion was external, like the inside of my mug, their hearts were soiled.
While scouring the mug, I wondered if I, too, had some stains that needed removing. Like the Pharisees, am I ever easily offended or overly critical of others in small matters? Do I nitpick about things of no consequence? Do I ever assume the worst about other people or pass judgment on them? The Pharisees did. Have I been known to profess knowledge of God’s law without practicing obedience to it? Do I ever justify my behavior while condemning the same thing in others? Do I ever think of myself as better than someone else? Are other people’s opinions of me ever more important than God’s? Are the hands I raise in worship or the prayers I offer in public ever done as much for show as for God? Do I ever boast of my accomplishments or diminish those of others? Am I spiritually blind when it comes to my faults but the possessor of 20/20 vision when it comes to the faults of others? Am I ever more interested in looking good than doing good? Rather than seeking honor, glory and praise for God, do I ever seek it for me? Guilty on all counts! Clearly, I’ve got some work to do that has nothing to do with scouring powder!
Just because we’re not ancient Pharisees who enlarged the phylacteries on their arms, lengthened the tassels on their robes, and stopped in the middle of the road to make a show of bowing low during their prayers doesn’t mean we’re not like them. It’s time to take a good hard look at the inside of our cups and bowls (and not the ones we use for coffee and cereal)! For the Pharisees of yesterday and today, godliness, like beauty, is only skin deep. True godliness, however, should go through and through into our innermost being.
Sometimes we emulate the Pharisees more than we imitate Christ. [R.C. Sproul]
A Pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself, but a spiritual man is easy on others and hard on himself. [A.W. Tozer]