Strict Obedience is Pharisaical
Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites,
as it is written, This people honor me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
One of the most common assertions advanced by proponents of going to restaurants on the Sabbath is that those who refuse to do so are simply being self-righteous. This argument is unique in that it is not an affirmative defense of this practice, but rather an indictment of those who believe such a practice is wrong. In other words, this accusation is not proof that going to restaurants on the Sabbath is acceptable to God, but rather a condemnation of those who would question such an activity.
It is interesting that this same assertion has been used prolifically by the Protestant world when condemning God’s people for keeping the Sabbath and holy days at all. It is also ironic that many of the leaders who systematically corrupted the doctrines of God’s Church over the past fifteen plus years now regard those who held fast to the truth as “self-righteous Pharisee-types.”
What Is a Pharisee?
Today the term “pharisee” is one of the most pejorative in a “believer’s” lexicon. It implies that the recipient of this label is filled with arrogance and conceit and void of any compassion. It suggests that such people are legalistic – committed to works but not love. Pharisees are cold and insensitive. They are judgmental and cruel. They are quick to accuse and slow to forgive. And anyone who would question a practice as “innocent” as sharing a meal with brethren at a restaurant on the Sabbath must be a Pharisee. But does this term rightly describe those who refrain from going to restaurants on the Sabbath?
Those in God’s Church who employ this label would be well advised to carefully consider what this accusation means and how God Himself understands this term. Just what is a Pharisee in God’s eyes? Furthermore, is it possible that those advancing this accusation are actually guilty of the very thing of which they accuse others?
To those who believe that opponents of going to restaurants on the Sabbath are being pharisaical, consider the following questions:
When it comes to the Sabbath:
- What about abstaining from work? Is that pharisaical?
- What about refusing to do your own pleasure on the Sabbath, or speaking your own words? Is that pharisaical?
If you were to ask these questions to the vast majority of “professing Christians,” they would probably answer “YES!” But what about God’s people? How would they regard the life they have been called to live—is it pharisaical? More importantly, how does the God of your Bible view self-righteousness when it comes to worshiping Him?
To be sure, the attitude of self-righteousness is abhorrent to God and is a mortal enemy of His Kingdom. In a very real sense it is a form of idolatry, a violation of God’s law. In the first century, Pharisees were quick to quote the scriptures, but their lives were filled with a great sense of self-importance.
However, there was something very unique about these religious leaders that set them apart from the great heroes of the faith. These pious men relied on the traditions of the elders to define their faith. They saw these traditions as being even more influential in their lives than God’s law. Jesus considered this hypocrisy so vile that during the last days of His life, He excoriated the Pharisees because they reeked with such arrogance (Mt. 23). With this in mind, some very important questions need to be addressed with respect to going to restaurants. Consider the following:
Jesus Versus the Pharisees
One of the greatest indictments ever leveled by Jesus Christ against the religious leaders of His day was that these learned men embraced traditions they thought possessed greater moral weight than God’s law. Imagine having such arrogance! These men actually thought they knew better than God Himself when it came to how the GREAT CREATOR should be worshiped. Jesus saw this attitude as repugnant and He did not mince words when condemning it. He began by blasting their hypocrisy.
Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, this people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (Mk. 7:6)
Jesus then exposed their faith as worthless. In essence it was void of any substance because it was driver by the contrivances of man. It was not God’s law they loved. It was their traditions.
Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men... (Mk: 7:7-8)
At this point Jesus thundered a crushing indictment against these spiritual leaders for their attempt at refashioning God’s law. He put their behavior in God’s perspective and the picture was not pleasant.
Full well you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition. (Mk.7:9)
At this point it is important to understand that Jesus was NOT excoriating the Pharisees for being too careful in keeping God’s law. His condemnation was that they rejected that law.
God’s people today should be in fear of those words. They are dreadful indeed and reflect the judgment of God Himself. If man embraces traditions instead of honoring God’s law, they make the law of none effect. When it comes to dining out on the Sabbath versus refraining from such a practice, which is driven by tradition?
The Bible makes it absolutely clear that the traditions of men have no place in the worship of God. Furthermore, those who believe they can decide for themselves what is acceptable to the Creator of Heaven and Earth should consider what the great prophet Jeremiah said about man’s capacity to make such decisions.
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his own steps. (Jer. 10:23)
Despite what mankind believes, humanity has never had the capacity to decide for himself how to worship the God of the Bible. Every attempt at this endeavor has only met with failure.
The scriptures reveal that God is the Great Moral Authority of the Universe. It is His wisdom that must be sought and honored. During His earthly life, Jesus Christ understood this timeless principle – and this understanding guided every decision He ever made. The Bible states without ambiguity that even Jesus did not rely on His own wisdom. Notice His own words:
I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me. (Jn. 5:30)
If Jesus wouldn’t rely on His own wisdom, why would anyone who calls himself a true believer try to do differently? The scriptures make it abundantly clear that God is not impressed with how man navigates his moral path (see: Pro. 14:12; Jer. 17:9).
God’s word also reveals that man’s wisdom is driven by a love of self, not a love of righteousness. However, God loves righteousness – and His law, the Ten Commandments, reflect that love. The Bible declares that God’s heart is inclined toward those who have a deep respect for His word. Notice what God reveals through the prophet Isaiah.
...To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite of spirit and trembles at my word. (Isa. 66:2)
There is a profound truth in this verse. Here, God is revealing that His law is to be treated with great deference and respect. In a very real sense, it is to be feared. Tragically, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day failed to reflect a proper reverence for God’s word. They thought they “could do Him one better” when it came to the scriptures. They were wrong. Tragically, their mistake has been repeated for two thousand years.
To those who claim that a person who refrains from going to a restaurant on the Sabbath is just being pharisaical, ask yourself the following.
- Who trembles at God’s word?
- Who loves its hope and fears its consequences?
Nehemiah certainly did. His bold words regarding buying and selling on the Sabbath are a testimony to how committed he was to God’s law (Ne.13:15-21). Now consider this: when it comes to God’s Church today, who is most like that great servant? Those who eat out on the Sabbath, or those who don’t?
It is not the self-righteous that refrain from going to restaurants on the Sabbath. It is the self-righteous who believe you can do otherwise. They are the ones who “spin” God’s word to fit their traditions. They see God as tolerant of anything they do. To these “New Covenant Pharisees,” God has this warning:
Every work will come into judgment (Eccl. 12:14)
The argument that God will somehow give His people a “free pass” to dine out on the day He made holy reflects the height of arrogance. In a very real sense, it is pharisaical. It makes the law of God of none effect. It reflects a total disregard for God’s word.
However, God’s instructions are firm. His law is absolute. God’s word does not require man’s “spin,” it requires man’s obedience. Buying and selling on the Sabbath is a test of that obedience. The self-righteous will ignore that test. Those who tremble at His word will heed it.
Which best describes you?
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