Last year I preached a series at my church called “Kingdom Come.” Throughout the series, we took an in-depth look at what the Kingdom of God looks. Prior to Jesus announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, there came a strange man with wild hair and a very peculiar diet from a desert community who also announced that the time of the Kingdom was about to be fulfilled. His name was John the Baptist.
In one of the passages about John, he comes into contact with a group of Pharisees and Sadducees who had gone out to the wilderness to see if the claims about John were true. His interaction with them is quite alarming as well as entertaining. In Matthew 3:7-10, it says: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’”
For John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God was an announcement that the Messianic Age had come with both salvation and judgement. There was salvation offered to those who would turn from their ways and allow the Kingdom rule and reign of God to govern their lives. For those who would rely on their man-made, religious systems and ideologies (Pharisees & Sadducees), there would be judgement.
Growing up, I always associated the Pharisaical spirit as being connected to legalism. Whenever someone was being judgmental and legalistic, I have to confess that I was quick to pull the “Brood of Vipers” card and call that person out for being what I believed to be Pharisaical. However, as I began to thoroughly study the Gospels, I realized that the Pharisaical spirit isn’t so much connected with legalism, but has much more to do with self-righteousness and antagonism toward anything that looks or sounds different than its own view or perspective. Legalism just happens to be one of its manifestations.
With this understanding in mind, I’ve come to realize how often I too have been Pharisaical. I think all of us can identify with a self-righteous attitude, and we often allow ourselves to become antagonistic toward differing views and perspectives. This tendency is most evident in our current society that does most of its interactions via social media where everyone feels they have a platform to express just how right they are and how wrong everyone else is. Unfortunately, it’s often Christians who scream the loudest through their rapid finger-typing rebukes, setting the world and the Church straight… for the glory of God, of course.
I’ve surprisingly found Pharisees in just about every theological corner, ready to defend their so-called ‘right interpretation’ of things, and antagonize and harass all those who may see or interpret through a different lens. I’ve met people who are emphatic about the grace message and liberation, and yet have a Pharisaical spirit. I’ve met Pharisees who adhere to pacifism and the Kingdom message. During last year’s election season the Pharisaical spirit was rampant in both those that adhere to conservative policies and those who adhere to liberal policies.
My hope is that we as Christians can soon realize that unity does not mean uniformity nor conformity… and we will learn that we can love, appreciate, and journey in life with people who think, interpret, vote, and perceive things differently than us. We don’t have to cower on our positions, but we also don’t have to be self-righteous and antagonistic toward those who differ from us.
The Apostle Paul had to deal with this issue in Romans. Many so-called Christ followers were getting bent out of shape about what people were eating and drinking. His words in Romans 14:17-19 would do us well in the 21st Century – “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building.”
I believe the greatest thing we can do for the sake of our witness in the world is not to venomously contend for what we stand for and what we stand against, but rather to be defined as a people who walk humbly and seek peace in all situations. Stand strong in your convictions, but realize that standing strong in your convictions doesn’t mean attacking those with different convictions.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Written by: Tim Woodcock