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    The Seven Pharisees

    Recognising Fake Ministers

    A Strange Dream

    I am always grateful to historians when they dig up some information which in some way helps illuminate and deepen the meaning of the Scriptures for me. Set as they are hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before our time, it is not always possible to have a clear picture of events. This is because we tend to obscure the shades and reflections of ancient scenes with our own modern colours. So I'm grateful to the late Dr. Frederic W. Farrar for pointing out an interesting reference in the Talmud which, because of its shere size, precludes an intensive study by anyone but scholars and devout Jews.

    I am sure you are all aware of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the Pharisees in which, using strong language, He condemns this class of Priests for its hypocricy. His analysis was not, however, new, neither did it burst as some new revelation upon the offending class. Indeed, Jesus merely rehearsed to them, as a Jewish Rabbi, what they already knew from the Talmud. It is therefore incorrect, not least to say unjust, to accuse Jesus of being unjust, even bitter, towards the Pharisees. For his rebuke was not a "burst of undignified disappointment and unreasonable wrath" [1], no more than His cleansing of the Temple, or the cursing of the fig tree, was a case of "supernatural bad temper". Rather, His was a rebuke against sin, an unmasking of hypocricy. And let us understand that moral indignation is certainly a necessary part of the noble soul, else how would it have a conscience, and how would that conscience be able to respond in the face of good and evil? Jesus therefore gives us a picture of the perfect moral man -- a man suffused with compassion and mercy but equally balanced by a sense of justice and moral indignation against sin. We may therefore rightly suppose that since He is the revelation of God that this also is the picture we are to have of our Heavenly Father. And how different that is from the gods of the other world religions!

    On his deathbed, the Jewish hero Alexander Jannaeus said to his wife: "Do not fear true Pharisees, but greatly fear painted Pharisees." "The supreme tribunal," says R. Nachaman, "will duly punish hypocrites who wrap their talliths around them to appear, which they are not, true Pharisees." Indeed, the Talmud very keenly, and not without a touch of sarcasm, gives us a picture of the seven classes of Pharisee, of which six are characterised by a mixture of haughtiness and imposture. There is the so-called "Shechemite" Pharisee, (sometimes called the "humpbacked" Pharisee), who obeys the Law from self-interest (see Gen.34:19); the Tumbling Pharisee (Heb. nikfi), who is so humble that he is always stumbling because he will not lift his feet from the ground; the Bleeding Pharisee (Heb. kinai), who is always hurting himself against walls, because he is so modest as to be unable to walk about with his eyes open lest he should see a woman; the Mortar Pharisee (Heb. medorkia), who covers his eyes as with a mortar, for the same reason; the Tell-me-another-duty-and-I-will-do-it Pharisee -- several of whom occur in Christ's ministry; and the Timid Pharisee, who is actuated by motives of fear alone. The seventh class only is the class of "Pharisees from love", who obey God because they love Him from the heart [2].

    These seven classes which Jesus undoubtedly knew about from the Talmud, are clearly pictured in his rebukes against the Pharisees of His day. Since sin is universal and timeless we should also expect to find these classes of Pharisee amongst Christian ministers and disciples today.

    1. The Minister of Self-Interest

    It is not uncommon to find clergymen who enter the ministry simply as a profession, as a means of earning an income. They feel no particular call but may be responding to family pressure (because his ancestors were all clergymen). They may enter because they lust for power, or because they adore being highly esteemed by a congregation. Thus they may enter into God's service because of tradition, a love of position and rank, ambition, or any other ego-centric motive. Needless to say such modern day Pharisees serve noone's interest but their own.

    2. The Tumbling Minister

    The Tumbling Ministers are an interesting species. The picture one gets of this man is of one who drags his feet, literally as well as metaphorically. Perhaps he is the sort of man who agrees with everyone, who accommodates every position and option in order to be seen as "every man's man". This pseudo-piety of accepting everything, yet in fact accepting nothing, I have seen in many people. If you try to agree with everyone you will eventually trip up because you will end up contradicting yourself. Perhaps the modern liberal minister is a good equivalent of the Tumbling Pharisee, one who waters down the fundamental doctrines of the faith in order to be acceptable by everyone. Their shallowness and hypocricy is eventually exposed, however, and they end up being "no man's man."

    3. The Bleeding Minister

    I find the "bleeding minister" even more interesting than the tumbling one. The bleeding minister is extreme pietism. They are so obsessed about doing wrong that they forget how to live. I knew a girl who fits this category perfectly. She tried to live every commandment to the letter. She was in bed at exactly 21:00 no matter what, and she would abruptly break off a conversation or some activity in order to get home, get washed and get in bed on time. She would likewise arise at a fixed hour every morning, every day of the week. She was a fanatic when it came to things. She would wear a coat until it literally fell off her, however shabby and dirty it looked, so as not to be waistful of resources. On one occasion she said to me that she couldn't walk home with me as it would wear her shoes out and thus deprive them of use in the mission field. So she rode her bike instead (apparently it hadn't occured to her that tyres wear out too!). Because she didn't want to be addicted to drugs she once rejected a glass of orange squash because I told her that it contained 1 part in about 10 trillion of caffeine! She was so "holy" as to be virtually unhuman -- a totally unapproachable person, the prisoner of her own false piety. She walked on the other side of the road when blacks went by because her church taught her that blacks were not equal to whites in their rights to salvation. What an unhappy soul. A very religious person, but not fully human, spiritually cut and bleeding because of her false piety.

    There are many like this girl, people who think they are too holy to interact with ordinary folk. Jesus counted them as hypocrites.

    4. The Mortar Pharisee

    The Mortar Pharisee takes his name from the square mortar board on which cement is mixed. From this we also get the English "mortar-board", the square-shaped hats worn by university academics. Somewhere in a cupboard I have one from Oxford University where I studied. They are extremely clumsy hats and totally impractical. But the image of the Mortar Pharisee is, as far as I can determine, one of a man holding this square board up in front of him so he can't see any evil, real or imagined.

    There are some people who hold the Bible so closely in front of their eyes that they never see anything else. The moment a temptation comes along they fling themselves into their Bibles like a child, frightened by a snake, throws himself into his mother's arms.

    Jesus excited the wrath of the Pharisees in His day when He fellowshipped with gentiles, prostitutes, tax-collectors, and all the other refuse of society that the Jews would have nothing to do with. So many people carry a mortar board in front of them because they do not want to have to face the reality of sin in the world, often because that sin reflects back on them and reveals the sin in themselves. Mortar Phariseeism is therefore willful ignorance so that the conscience is not troubled and repentance can be avoided.

    The Mortar Pharisee is condemned by Jesus like the others because of their hypocrisy. The Law of Moses, like its successor, the Law of Christ, is a "people's law". Life's purpose is multifaceted. We are to come to a knowledge of God through faith and obedience, a knowledge of self by seeing and understanding the awfulness of sin, and a knowledge of love by reaching out by helping the poor and oppressed. The Mortar Pharisee can do none of these things because he not only chooses to shut out the light with his mortar board, but also the darkness which will give him the contrast to see and appreciate the light.

    5. The Tell-Me-Another-Duty-And-I'll-Do-It Pharisee

    Then there's the "Tell-Me-Another-Duty-And-I'll-Do-It" Pharisee. That's quite a mouth-full, isn't it?! But what kind of person can this possibly be? Jesus often refers to those who love to obey the minutae of the Law but who neglect the weighter aspects, namely justice and mercy. These are the Pharisees who cannot see the wood from the trees. They love to be seen of men and to receive their praises -- they are constantly seeking compliments and therefore rarely talk about anyone else than themselves. And when they do talk about others it is usually to criticise them.

    They are eager to serve. Indeed, they are usually very diligent, hard workers but they see life from the wrong angle -- their motives are not correct. They are seeking, at core, to be worshipped. In short, they are idolaters. Yet it would be a mistake to see them as purely evil men. In most people you will find that good and bad motives are mixed together. These Pharisees are sincere believers but they started their spiritual life with wrong motives. They see religion, and particularly salvation, in a military fashion. Everything must be organised. There is nothing inheritantly wrong with this so long, as Jesus reminded His listeners, that the weightier matters of the Law are not neglected. He reminded His disciples that it was their duty, in fact, to be oven more righteous than the Pharisees! But they were to understand first and foremost that the core of all their behaviour must stem from a love of God and man, and not simply out of a sense of duty, and certainly not to get the approval and praises of men.

    6. The Timid Pharisee

    The Timid Pharisee acts only out of fear -- fear of the retribution of God for failure, fear of a negative reation if he does not please them, fear of his own inadequacy. Indeed everything he does revolves around the demon of fear.

    This kind of fear stems out of insecurity, weakness of character, or simply idleness. Fundamentally lacking in the Timid Pharisee is any real concept of what love is, for love, as the New Testament teaches us, drives fear away, because fear is associated with punishment. Those who abide in the love of Christ, and who show forth that love to others, have no fear, because they know that God is in them, and they are in God. And God can only be in them if they are right before Him.

    The Timid Pharisee is not usually overtly evil -- his sins are usually those of ommission, rather than commission. But by his weakness he can be the instrument of as much evil and sorrow as a deliberatly evil man.

    The Timid Pharisee, then, either fails to deliver the message God has entrusted to him because of his fear of peoples' reaction, or fails to show love because he has never received it. He may find receiving love equally as difficult as giving it.

    Needless to say such people lack any real authority or respect. They are ineffectual when it comes to defending righteousness and truth for they are only too ready to compromise with evil in order to try and please everyone. They are as unable to help others who are struggling with sin as they are in helping themselves.

    7. Pharisees from Love

    And this brings us to the last category, namely the Pharisees from Love. This is the true Pharisee, the kind Jesus upheld as a model for Israel. They are not interested in the praises of men because they do not work out of self-interest but out of a genuine love of God and men. They are unafraid of the truth and are willing to defend it and apply it rigorously in their own lives. They do not isolate themselves from the troubles of the ordinary man, but are involved in active pastoral service. They have a good perspective of life and are able to confront problems both at root as well as in general. Their interaction with people precludes narrow-mindedness. They are men of action, not arm-chair ministers.

    The first three chapters of the Book of Revelation describe this Pharisee well. At the end of each prophetic message that John is to give to the seven churches of Asia Minor, is a promise which begins: "To him who is victorious..." Or as it is written in another version, "To him who overcomes..." True Pharisees are those who struggle hard. The language in the Book of Revelation is active, as of a soldier who is victorious in battle or, to use one of Paul's comparisons, an athlete who wins a race. Love is intensely active -- it is born out of a struggle with self, hard work, a fixed determination to do good, a sacrifice of personal interest for the sake of others, and dedication to the Law of God. There is no sense of idleness or timidity in it. Indeed, love can perhaps be defined as active service, for Jesus gives His disciples a measuring rod of their love in terms of the way they administer to their fellow man, and particularly to the hungry, naked, imprisoned -- indeed, all of those in need.

    True religion, the apostle James says, is that which administers to orphans and widows. And true religion, Jesus points out, comes from the heart.

    There are no Pharisees today. They have all long since died. Modern Judaism has its Rabbis who are, in a way, the successors of the Pharisses and their particular movement in Jewish history. But there are still God's ministers, those in positions of authority in churches, who should weigh themselves, and be weighed by other Christians, in the light of the seven classes of Pharisee that Jesus commented on in His ministry. Many ministers of religion are certainly called of God, many are not. And all are called within their particular religious and social context. All are weighed on the balance of truth by Him who scrutinises all. For now they may wear a cloak of outer authority and be sustained by men and women in their several churches, but the time is coming when a fire from heaven will sweep through all of Christendom and burn down all but those who are Pharisees from Love. And this will happen to the churches too. Those congregations that are built on true love will stand, but those which are built on the teachings and precepts of men will assuredly fall.

    We live in a time when God is gathering out the elect, the true Christians from all traditions, Christian of Love. Again, I want to qualify what this love is, for it is not just a warm and kindly feeling in the bosom. The love of God is certainly this, but it is also active service to one's fellow man, obedience to the commandments, and above all, a passionate love for God and His Christ.

    The loving Pharisee is patient and kind, humble and contrite, full of praise for the gifts of others. He has beautiful manners, is considerate of other's needs before his own, and is long-suffering. He quickly forgets the wrong-doings of others to him and never uses them as a weapon in defence of his own weaknesses. He is depressed and sorrowful when he sees evil, but rejoices when truth prevails. He never gives up the fight of life, but presses steadily onwards in full confidence of God's promises. He possesses an eternal, timeless quality that sets him apart from people bound up in the cares and woes of mortal living. He takes difficulties in his stride and always finds a solution to every problem through the help of God, even if it takes a long time. He is not easily agitated by others who do not understand and resent his peace, but patiently teaches them and waits until the day of their illumination. He knows that all things work out for those who trust in their Creator, and from that he derives his inner peace.

    There is no class of Pharisees today even though there are those especially called to be pastors, teachers, deacons, and so on. For today everyone who is in Christ is a Pharisee, a Royal Priesthood, a witness of Christ and an exemplar of the Law. We may profitably look at these historical figures and measure ourselves by them. We may find that there is alot which needs doing in our lives. For us, salvation must be worked out "in fear and trembling", which means we must never be so complacent as to believe that all has been done and we have nothing more to worry about. There are far too many Christians who believe that having entered the Marriage Feast of the Lamb that they have made it. That feast of God's Word must be partaken of, though. It is no good sitting at the dinner table by receiving Jesus as your Saviour and saying to yourself: "Ah, I've made it! I'm saved!" You have got to live the Gospel and eat the food of life!

    Friend, if you have received Jesus as your Saviour, blessed are you indeed! But now I want to challenge you to take the next step and walk in His righteousness, growing daily into His stature. You've made it to the Marriage Feast but if you don't eat, you'll starve, and go searching elsewhere where you will die.

    Many years ago I had a vision about some people in a congregation in one of the denominations. In the vision I went into their Church and found them sitting around tables covered in food. It was a lavish feast! The people were talking and laughing, rejoicing at all the food which lay before them. They could talk of nothing else. "Look at this wonderful fruit," they would say. "I'm so grateful the Lord has given this to me." "How blessed we are," another said, "to have all this." And so they boasted. I watched this scene with interest and wondered why noone was eating. Presently I spoke up and said: "Look! The Lord has prepared you a feast. Why aren't you partaking of it?" There was silence for a moment, and looks of surprise, and they looked at me as though I were mad or come to spoil their fun. The laughter and chatter started up again and they continued as before. I left the room with a deep sorrow in my heart.

    It is so typical of human nature that once we've got something good, we hoard it and do nothing with it. People win alot of money on the pools. What do they do with it? Do they bless themselves with it? No. They usually go and spend it in one great orgy and think they're having a good time. It's not long before they are as they were before, or even worse.

    Every Christian Church has the Bible. Every Christian has a Bible (or ought to). Many of them read it (but by no means all). Even fewer live by its moral precepts. The Holy Spirit is available to all those who believe and are willing to loose themselves in the Lord's service, but how many Christians are empowered by it? Not much, judging by all the bitterness, strife, and partisanship. Yet that is how it is. Some are empowered by the Spirit from time-to-time, in moments of repentance and awakening, but how many can truthfully say they have its companionship most of the time?

    I do not wish any of you to rejoice in the truth and go away having done nothing about it. Those people sitting at the table in that vision I saw wouldn't. I'm sure if some servants came around and spoon-fed them like babies that they might have eaten something. The chances are, though, that they would have been too lazy to chew, or possibly preferred talking to eating.

    Whenever you hear the Word of God preached to you, get into action! When food is laid before you at dinner, you don't stare at it, but usually eat it. So why hestitate when the living Gospel is served before you? Eat! Heaven is a feast, not a house of gossip.

    So go back to your churches and get into action. If you would like an active church but don't know where to find one, then you are welcome to join a New Covenant Christian Fellowship where you will find much to do. We are seeking for all true Pharisees -- true Christians who love the Lord and love their neighbour, or who are at least willing to try to do so.

    If there is anyone here who has never received Christ but would like to do so, then this is what you must do:

      (1) You must turn away from sin. There must be a change of mind about the way you have been living. You must see sin as God sees it, as a spoiling disease from which you need to be totally healed. Be prepared to say "sorry" for your wrong-doings and really mean it.

      (2) You must believe in Jesus. But your belief must be with deep trust and real committment. This means that you must be prepared to give Jesus full rule and authority in your life -- over your time, talents, money, friendships and the future. But above all recognise that His death was for your salvation.

    If you would like to do this then I invite you to join with me in this prayer:

      Dear Father, thank you for loving me. I am really sorry for all the ways I have sinned against you and other people. Thank you for dying for my sins. Please forgive me and by your great power make me a new person. I hand my life over to you. Please take control and give me your Holy Spirit so that I can please you in all that I do. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

    Like the changing of the caterpillar into a butterfly, this change from the old you to the new you may not be instant but may take a period of time while the old self dies and the new is reborn. Or it may happen in an instant. But once the process has started, it will have an inevitable and glorious conclusion. So don't despair if you are not instantly transformed. So long as you have prayed sincerely and will continue holding onto the Lord's hand and throw yourself into active service, an invisible change will start within you that will eventually transform your whole soul, inwardly and outwardly. You will become a "Pharisee from Love", a true Child of God.

    The apostle Paul says: "Listen! This is the hour to receive God's favour: today is the day to be saved!"3 The time is now, not tomorrow, not next week, or next month, or when your husband gives you permission, or when you've finished your university education, or when you've stopped doing this or that. The time is now! The Christian life belongs to today, not to tomorrow. So don't postpone. If you haven't received Jesus as Saviour, receive Him now! If you haven't started eating the Gospel feast, get into action and eat now!" Don't let your fallen nature dictate to the Holy Spirit, but yield yourself in obedience as a true son or daughter to the Almighty One. God's timetable is always today. Oh, you may not become a pastor today, or a Bible instructor, or whatever it is that God is calling you to, but He is certainly calling you to prepare now. And that preparation means getting into spiritual action by deciding for Jesus.

    May Yahweh bless you all as you realise His will in your lives today, is my prayer, in Jesus' Name. Amen.

    Further Reading

    [1] Pharisee Disguises: How to Spot Them in Time

    This page was created on 13 April 1998
    Last updated on 26 September 2011

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