“A pharisee is hard on others and easy on himself,
but a spiritual man is easy on others
and hard on himself.”
I had just finished my graduate studies and taken my first real job. I had moved from Kentucky to Washington, but the delivery of my furniture had been held up along the way, so I was in temporary housing for a couple of weeks waiting for my things to catch up with me. In the meantime, I set about the task of making a life for myself. The first step was find a church. My first weekend I drove to the "big city" 25 miles away and attended a largish Baptist church. I dutifully filled in the visitor card, writing in my new address--the one where I was not currently living.
Tuesday night, I was surprised to hear that I had visitors. It was three people from the church that I had visited on Sunday. I was quite impressed that they had not only driven the 25 miles out to the little town where I was living, but when the house on the address appeared abandoned they had taken the initiative to check with a neighbor. The neighbor happened to be my new landlord and he told them where to find me! Viola, visitors! We had a very lovely visit. They told me about the church and the area. I told them about my seminary studies and how I felt God had orchestrated the move to Washington as everything had happened so easily.
I was beginning to think, "this could be a place I could be a part," when it happened. The visit was coming to an end. There was an awkward silence. Then the leader of the trio asked the question. Or maybe I should say THE question. She said, "So, at any point in your life have you come to a realization that Jesus is salvation?" What?!! What had the last hour been about? I smiled, said "yes" and showed them the way out. I felt like I had just wasted an hour of my time talking to air.
The problem was they missed the relationship. They were so caught up in the "rules" of church visitation to see the essence of the conversation. The "rule" says "ask the question and present the gospel." It doesn't matter if the question had already been answered in the course of the visit. The rule said "ask it explicitly." Problem for them, my rule said if they weren't interested in hearing me as a person but only saw me as a prospect, I wasn't interested.
It is easy to judge the experience as poorly managed. For a long time I carried not just a feeling of "that is not the church for me" but a feeling of disdain. I quickly labeled an entire congregation with one Pharisaical moment. I decided that the church must be more about rules than people. Whether or not that was true I'll never know. I never went back to find out differently. God did lead me to a wonderful church where I was able to serve and grow (and meet German but that is a different post altogether).
I wonder now as I reflect on that moment, how many times I have been that leader to someone intrigued by my church, or more importantly my Savior? How often have I been more interested in the rule than the person? What are my rules? Does someone have to make the 'right' clothing, music, entertainment choices for me to listen? Do their children have to stand and participate in the service or is coloring in the notepads okay? How many church services a month give someone the value to have their opinions heard? Do I have any idea the heart of someone who is doing a job, and do I have the right to say it is for recognition not service? Wow! I think there is probably a Pharisee living in me all the time. It is a constant battle to silence her. I must daily (some days hourly) take her to the throne of God and beg Him to help me keep her quiet. Why? Because it is much easier to judge others than to judge ourselves. It hurts much less. But the only way we become like Jesus is when we are most concerned about dealing with our own sin. We show we are disciples as we silence our box-ticking, judgement wielding, rule following Pharisee and extend grace to others while asking God to mold us more into His image. Who is the Pharisee? That would be me...but with God's help you will never have to meet her because His grace tempers her expectations. Praise Him for that!
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
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. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
"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. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Father forgive me when I act the part of the Pharisee. Forgive me when I worry more about what others might think than about how much you love them. Forgive me when I set up rules that may fit with the path that you have called me to walk in but then expect everyone else to conform to my path. Please give me eyes to see with grace that you have set other paths for other people. Father help me to always see the relationships with others are more important than the jot and tittle of the law. But please do not allow me to become complacent with my own sin. Let me see the planks in my eye and give me the courage to have you remove them. Because it is only by the blood of your Son that any of us are able to stand. In His Name...Amen.
I wrote about this same struggle two years ago. You can find the post here. I still need to remember this!
Amy is our hostess this week. You may find links to other reflections on this quote at In Pursuit of Proverbs 31.