The Pharisees 5 - Imposing Our Own Standards Of Righteousness
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Chan Gin Kai
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” (Luke 5:33-34)
The Pharisees were swinging into momentum. They had criticised Jesus for forgiving sins (Luke 5:21) and dining with ‘sinners’ (Luke 5:30). And they continued by questioning why Jesus disciples didn’t pray and fast like John the Baptists’ or their own. By their definition, praying and fasting are righteous acts, while eating, drinking and having a good time are not. So by their implication, since Jesus and his disciples do not fit their definition of what’s righteous, then they must be sinful.
Jesus prayed and fasted as much, if not more than the Pharisees. He fasted for 40 days (Luke 4:1-2) before starting his ministry and often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). But to Jesus, it was neither a measure of righteousness nor a mark of spirituality. It wasn’t a checklist to tick so he could prove to others that he is godly. It was simply something that he did because he is close to God.
Jesus often dined and hung out with ‘sinners’, and he enjoyed attending weddings too. Were these ungodly things to do? Is fasting really a more righteous act than enjoying a sumptuous feast? Jesus taught that fasting, if done for the wrong reason, is hypocritical (Matthew 6:16-18). On the other hand, he dined with ‘sinners’ so he could reach out to them and save them. Our motives, more than our actions, reflect if we’re godly. The Pharisees watched their actions, but not their hearts. Is that how we measure our spirituality too?
I’ve got to confess that I’ve mistakenly held on to these wrong definitions before. Of course we’ve got to pray, read our Bible, go to church, evangelise to the lost, give to the poor, and do the many things that God has called us to do. But these acts are not barometers of godliness. Just because we do them doesn’t mean we’ve become more worthy of salvation.
A prayer is not necessarily more righteous than a party, nor is attending church more godly than attending a funeral. What we do matters a lot, but why we do them matters even more. Why do we do what we do as Christians?
I’m ashamed to confess that I’ve hypocritically imposed my wrong definitions onto others too. There were times when I’ve adopted a ‘holier than thou’ attitude to those who do not meet these benchmarks. While it is important for us to see the sin in others so that we can help them change, we cannot be so shallow as to look only at the surface; many who call themselves Christians and ‘tick all the right boxes’ lead double lives.
As leaders, we cannot function like 'spiritual policeman', measuring people's righteousness by our standards, 'catching' them when they don't meet it, and forming self-righteous opinions on their sinfulness. More importantly, we must not measure others against ourselves, or what we have done. The best way to check if you've become like the Pharisees is to ask yourself the following questions: Do you feel love in your heart for the people you help? Or do you shake your head and feel frustrated by their actions?
We cannot impose our own standards of righteousness on others. Our guidelines are not God's law and our advice is not God's word. We do not have authority and neither do others need our permission. Let's not imagine ourselves to be bigger, better or wiser than what we really are.
There is only one perfect example whom we must all base our life on... "Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
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Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".