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15. The Leven of The Pharisees

Read Matthew 23: 1-11.

“But all their works they do to be seen of men—. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23:5 & 11).

In every human life there are two basic urges that strive for mastery.
The one is pride and vain-glory, the desire to become great so that one can be respected and honored by others.

Even if all people may not have an equally great desire to show forth this dark side of their nature, yet pride is so inherent in everyone that it must be counted as the basic sin from which all other sins grow.

Our first parents once heard in the garden the words, “Ye shall be as gods” — that is, independent of God. When they yielded to this false idea of greatness they turned the whole human race into a down-grade road.

The other urge in a Christian is the desire to be humble and small, to serve others in love, to forget himself and his own good works, and in all of his conduct and activity to resemble Jesus. The nature that was given to us by God when we became His children rejoices to do good, to sacrifice and to suffer when there is no one there to see it.

Jesus reminds us of this side of the Christian life in the passage we have before us. It is this side, however, which we find difficult to see and attain to. This is possibly more true of us Christians now than of those who have lived before us.

It may be that we are more of Christian workers today and are more practical than our forebears. Perhaps no time in the past has contained so many temptations to pharisaism as our day. The development of the times has brought the Christian life and the Christian work more out into the open. Periodicals, books, and annual reports from every church, mission society, and evangelist are full of temptations that tend to the pharisaic Christianity of the marketplace.
The various societies that work for the kingdom of God try, as indeed they should, to increase their income and activity. But here it is that the temptation lies, to exalt me and mine when God’s Spirit and true Christian judgment asks us to be silent and not let the left hand know what the right one does. We say as much as we can — sometimes more than the truth will permit — of how much I have done and how much grace and blessing was over my meeting; my report is full of boasting over attendance and a good spirit; I counted the people who gave themselves to God, and report it loud enough so that all can hear. After all this it is an easy matter to daub the “grave” with a sanctimonious “The honor belongs to God alone.”

I know full well that many do not like this; they believe that it is an unjustifiable criticism which prevents Christians from revealing the mighty things the Lord has done among us. Against this criticism I do not care to defend myself. I would ask every co-worker of Christ to look at what the Savior has done, place his hand upon the heart to listen to Christ’s Word about the leaven of the Pharisees.

Every honest Christian knows that it pleases our old nature to tell others what one is permitted to do for God. When the seventy returned to Jesus they shouted that even the devils were subject unto them in His name. Then the Savior replied, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).

If Jesus were permitted to speak to us who live and work in His Kingdom today He would shout these words to us more loudly than at any time before. Many would either have to lay down the pen or write differently if they would follow their Savior.

Or is it really so that no Pharisee is lying in wait for us Christians who are living today? Do we really seriously believe that Pharisees are found in only two places, namely in Palestine of old and in established Churches today in which a group of custom-bound old people are thoroughly satisfied with routine preaching and liturgy?

No, he seeks you and me who have found our way to Jesus. If he isn’t expelled he will permeate us as a leaven permeates the dough. Such a Pharisee may go out into the work of God’s Kingdom with the finest Christian color, and we do not see it because the warning to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees has not been heeded by us. Suspicion, jealousy, domination, gossip, strife and misery grow among Christians whom the humble spirit of service should rule and unite.

We ought not to let anyone call us master, teacher or father; the greatest among us ought to be the servant of all. These are Christ’s own words to us.
But that is God’s will for us; that is Christianity.

We wonder if there are not many Christians who little by little are becoming aware of this nightmare that is lying over so much of the Christian life today. We wonder if some one here and there does not begin to suspect that our development is going in the wrong direction. To reveal all the Christian work that has been done — especially when this manifestation is done by one’s self — is deadly. Such things ought rather to be hidden and forgotten by us and remembered by God.

Would to God that there soon would come a new time with new men who in a true Christian manner would rise up against all this market-place Christianity! Would to God that soon many might arise and in the power of God open our eyes with their lives and words to see the danger we have become involved in.

But even if such men should not come, we are nevertheless without excuse. Each one of us is responsible for his own life, and must appear before his judge. You who wish to be victorious in your struggle against the leaven of the Pharisee: Pause a while in your chase; hide yourself from this hurried life and noisy activity. Go aside and rest a little. Let your plow and pen be idle for a while; let all the demands upon you and your time pass you by for a season while you stand face to face with your Savior. Stop your hurrying. Examine yourself and behold Jesus in quietness. Also that is God’s will for us.

In such a time of rest we can come to our senses again, and may see many sides of life from a truer point of view than when we are in the midst of life’s bustling chase. It was not for nothing that Jesus said to His own in the midst of their busiest work, “Come ye apart and rest awhile.” During such seasons of rest God’s Spirit gets an opportunity to point out in our own lives those things which we otherwise see most clearly in others. Then we may have opportunity to try if we can with gladness and gratitude live our life with God and serve Him in the little things without standing in the marketplace to be seen by the crowd.

In such times many of us will have to agree to that which we did not know and would rather not know, namely that the leaven of the Pharisees is not completely purged out in our lives. Then we shall have to choose again between two alternatives: Bend or break.

We can bend; we can turn to God with our sin and ask Him to purge out the old leaven. But we can also make ourselves stiff and hard. Remember Christians: Also that we can do. Many of us have done so and have found out that God resists the proud. But he who bows before God will experience that He gives grace to the humble.

Christians, do not misunderstand this word of warning. Do not think that this is said because I wish to judge or strike a fellow servant. It is said because it is burning in my heart, and because I believe your God and my God would have it spoken.

If you are clear in your conscience and free from guilt here, thank your God for so great a grace; but if in the depths of your heart you feel guilty, then meet your Savior at the throne of grace. Do not hide your sin whether you are a speaker, writer, or leader in the Kingdom of God.

This is the way that we have pointed out to others; let us also walk
it ourselves.

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It may be that among those who read these words there are some who will say to themselves: “Yes, this is a word in season. Now all these proud and conceited Christian Pharisees get to hear the truth.”

You who think so, pause to consider before you speak.

Every true Christian — of those which you, of course, give the name of Pharisees — feels himself chastened and wounded in his mind when in the light of God’s Word he sees his sin and knows his folly. He knows also what it is to beg for mercy for all his sins and misdeeds. But he also knows what it is to find forgiveness, comfort and gladness with that God and Father who forgives His repentant children.

How about you? You pride yourself in not pretending to be more than you are, while at the same time you exalt yourself in your criticism of others. For you it is a great thing to see others chastened, but you are not small enough to bend your knees and pray. You do not want to be so small as that. It is too shameful for you.

You are self-sufficient.

Listen: Soon there shall be an end to the freedom and greatness that you imagine yourself to possess. That is the time when you are going to meet the living God.

Then you will be small.

Then you shall gnash your teeth without being able to bow before Him. Our God is also a consuming fire.

Bow before Him now.
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