How to Listen to a Pharisee

Authenticity and sincerity are essential in the life of a Christian for two important reasons. First, the integrity of our lives will determine the strength of our witness. If we proclaim Christ and do not walk in a manner worthy of Him, unbelievers will be persuaded to continue in their unbelief since there is (apparently) no reality in Christianity to convince them otherwise.

Secondly, hypocrisy will hurt the spiritual lives of others in the church. They will see that we are able to speak well of Biblical realities, yet the disconnect between what we say and do may cause great confusion in the minds of other Christians as they seek to live out the same Biblical realities. Our hypocrisy will have profoundly negative affects on our ministry in the church as Gene Getz wisely points out, “No amount of words can overcome the power of hypocrisy” (Sharpening the Focus of the Church, 202).

However, when it comes to the hypocrisy of others, we are protected from its destructive influence when we heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:2-3. In these verses, Jesus instructs His disciples on how to interact with the teachings of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. He says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not according to what they do, for they preach but do not practice” (ESV).

To sit in Moses’ seat was to assume the authority of teacher. The scribes and Pharisees had taken their seat as teachers and authorities of the law and were recognized as such. There was a major flaw in their teaching, however, as Jesus points out in verse 3: they did not practice what they preached. But notice the wisdom of Jesus in these verses. He neither ignores the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, nor does he allow his disciples to shirk their responsibility to obey God’s Word on the basis of hearing God’s Word from a hypocritical teacher. Inasmuch as the scribes and Pharisees’ teaching was an accurate interpretation of God’s Word, Jesus’ disciples were instructed to “practice and observe” what they taught.

So what do we do when we are confronted with a person who is well-versed in the Scriptures and loves to instruct us on what we should do but doesn’t do the very things they instruct? What do we do when find a person who seems bent on teaching us God’s Word but are obviously not teaching themselves? Listen. Obey. Rejoice in the truth they speak. Don’t object to the truth simply because the person who speaks is flagrantly hypocritical. Listening to and obeying the truth they teach will protect us from bitterness, keep our heart soft to the Word of God, and may actually help to lift the scales from the Pharisee’s eyes so that they might see and repent of their hypocrisy.

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