Monday, August 17, 2009

Beware of the Yeast of the Pharisees

Reading: Matthew 23, Matthew 5, 6   
As usual, there is much that was helpful to me in my study for the message this Sunday—Beware of the Yeast of the Pharisees (August 16, 2009)—that could not make it into the sermon itself. Amongst those things, the following may be helpful in expanding our understanding of the third point: Don't live before men rather than before God. This is the section which dealt with the 5th and 6th woes in Matthew 23:25-28.
25"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
As we saw yesterday, it was not outward cleanness that was the problem; it was inward wickedness. It was not obedience to the commands that was the problem, it was the motivation. It was not what they obeyed that was the problem, but what they didn't obey. Their obedience was not motivated by love for God, or a desire to please God. Their obedience was motivated by love of self, and a desire to be liked/feared/respected by men. They were valuing the praise of men more than the praise that comes from God (cf. John 5:44). Because of this, they only dealt with sin at the level of outward observation failing to deal with sin at the heart level.
However, this isn't a fundamental problem with the law, it is a problem with the heart. The law wasn't about cleaning ourselves up before others, and looking our best. The law was about holiness in us growing out of God's holiness revealed to us. The law was a shadow pointing to Christ who reveals God more fully to us.
Think of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The 1st commandment is all about our heart. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” If I obey this one, I will obey the next three. Commandments 2-4 are practical applications of the first:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them... You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God... Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy....” (Exodus 20:4-8)
If I have no other gods before the One True God, then obviously I would not bow down to another god. Likewise I would not misuse His name and I would keep the Lord's day holy. To do otherwise would be a contradiction of the 1st commandment.
However, it is possible to keep commandments 2-4, but still have other gods before you in your heart—outward conformity with inward wickedness. This is what the Pharisees were effectively doing in how they were living. They were not loving God at the heart level. (For more on this refer to the sermon from Sunday, August 16, 2009.)
The next set of commandments deal with loving our neighbor:
Honor your father and your mother... You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:12-17)
Again, these commands not only address outward behavior, they address inward cravings which are at the root of the outward behavior. Note the tenth: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” You can outwardly obey commandments 5-9, but fail completely by not dealing with with the heart of covetousness.
This is what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount when he reminded us that each of these commands is intended to be lived out before God, not just before one another. In other words, they are to be lived out inwardly, at the heart level, that only God can see. We read in Matthew 5:
21You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'  22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. ... anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
The commandment, do not murder, is intended to be obeyed inwardly at the level of love and hatred. Likewise the prohibition on adultery, was intended to be lived before God, at the level of lust. In other words, it is not okay to window shop as long as you don't touch the goods.
27You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Again, the command not to give false testimony, was not merely a reference to formal testimony, or oaths. At the heart level it is about truthfulness in everything we say. Loving our neighbor requires telling them the truth.
33Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'... 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
And your neighbor is that person you find it most difficult to love:
43You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you mabe sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
The Pharisees were not framed because they were trying their best to obey the law, but that wasn't good enough. Rather they were guilty because they did not love the God of the law and so want to be like Him. They did not show mercy to others, give justice to the oppressed, or live faithfully before God and men. They strained at a gnat, but swallowed a camel because their obedience was all about what they loved most: themselves.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel

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