• Pastor Jesse Smout

The Modern Day Pharisee


One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone is aware of a character flaw and accept it for a part of their being. My general belief is Christians should improve and grow in wisdom, knowledge, love, grace, joy, peace, hospitality, friendliness (etc.) and ultimately, character. When we accept our weakness as a part of who we are, we are missing the point - we are called to constantly work toward a better version of ourselves. As I write this, my prayer is that we all take time to reflect and ask God if we are struggling in any of these areas of pride or religion. That God will reveal any character flaws within our hearts and help us move past them. Only by God's grace am I even able to write this to you today - so with God's grace I write this to you.

James 1:19-25 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Forgetting what you look like seems ridiculous to me - I know what I look like. I spend at least a couple minutes each day brushing my teeth, washing my hands and touching up my hair. Evaluating what you look like is a daily thing. You will (likely) never hear someone genuinely say, "My hair was perfect yesterday, I don't need to look at it or do it today," or "I brushed my teeth so well yesterday, I don't need to brush them today." If you move this idea to our spirit man, you find that we spend far less time evaluating our lives in God's mirror (which is the truth or God's Word.) If we do actually notice a character flaw, sin, offense, problem, addiction or anything of the like that doesn't align with God's Word and do nothing about it? We become the man who looks in the mirror and sees everything is a mess, but does nothing about it and still walks out the front door.

Moving on to the idea of the article title, it is something God has been speaking to me a lot about lately is the idea of a "Modern Day Pharisee." We know that this essentially means prideful and religious - but, what I aim to primarily show is context. As a Christian living in the 21st century with technology, what would the Bible look like if it were occurring today? What would Jesus look like if He were walking around today? What would the First Church (Acts) look like if active today? What would a Pharisee be like?

This is a constant idea in my mind as I travel through God's Word. I must take context into everything - and not only focus on the context of the writing, but the idea of, what would it look like now? As an example - if I took tithing to be literal (in the context of which it was written,) we'd need to be giving our first ten percent of livestock and produce to the Levitical Priests. However, we know things change and so do contexts. We are living in a complete different time - so what do we do now? This is not the question for the day though, we move toward the "Modern Day Pharisee."

Go ahead, cast the first stone

The example I cannot move from my mind is the Adulterous Woman. Someone who is 100% in the wrong, yet, Jesus handles in a way most wouldn't expect. When we become too focused on others and their downfalls, we become the modern day Pharisee. Let's reflect on the story together, I've attached the ESV version below.

John 8:1-11

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Pause. First and foremost, the Pharisees were out of line. In Mosaic Law, the man and woman caught in adultery were supposed to be brought together to the judge (then to be stoned.) Secondly, the Romans did not want the Jews to carry out their own executions. Jesus was literally in a no-win situation. This was intentional, but Jesus never falters and once again shows His infinite wisdom in knowing the heart of men.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.

You know what Jesus did there? He handed the Pharisees and accusers a mirror. Jesus was literally the only person on earth who could look, honestly, upon Himself in a mirror and be blameless. As we discussed earlier, once you have a mirror in front of you - it is hard to not make the fixes necessary to make yourself better. The Pharisees saw their sin and left the woman alone. Accusation with no correction or coaching is pointless. Nobody was willing to take this woman under their wing and help her become a better version of herself. Unless you are willing to help someone up and coach them how to get better - I advise against calling out their sin. God likely showed you their sin in the hope that you will help them grow (Matthew 7 maybe?) - and not with the intent that accuse them and throw them at Jesus' feet saying, "Look Jesus, this lady is clearly sinning. What should we do about it?" Jesus will look at you and remind you of the sin He forgave you of and ask you to move along. Help them or move along.

Please understand as I traveled through these ideas, I constantly was asking God when I've behaved as a Pharisee. These are things we all have struggled with, including myself. I do not write this as a 'shot' at anyone, but in hope that we can each receive with grace and allow God to work in our hearts. My hope is that we each have God's mirror in hand.

Traits of a Modern Day Pharisee

1. They will preface failure with excuse

This one is hard. I've worked incredibly hard to not be someone who is late. It is a character flaw. This past week, I was 8 minutes late to a meeting. "Late is late, you have no excuse," I kept reminding myself. Once I arrived, I apologized and moved on. I had no excuse. Then, I felt it, the urge. "Something I've been doing at work now is doing a loop for my team and asking them if they need anything before I leave. Usually the answer is no, but today it wasn't." - Oof - I just apologized, then tried to excuse my behavior. But, thankfully, as I was talking and regretting every word, I felt God's grace and subtle wisdom, "I am truly sorry, I recognize this is not a viable excuse and it is a personality flaw. What I need to do is make my round earlier, that way if help is needed, I am not behind schedule." Please ask yourself "why" when you preface failure with excuse. Sometimes we seem like the boy who cried wolf; please excuse my behavior because of this - excuse my behavior because of this - excuse my behavior because of this. Eventually nobody cares and you seem to be a liar. I don't want that for me or for you.

2. They are critical of others and their mistakes

As the woman caught in adultery, it is easy to become critical of a large downfall. But, as I said earlier, if you are not willing to pick them up with love, mercy and God's grace before coaching them, why are you critical? I cannot truly be critical of other ministries unless I am aiming to help. As it is with others in their sin, are you willing to help them move past it? Once again I reflect on Matthew 7.

Matthew 7:1-5

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

3. They will take credit for something, even when not involved

I'm unsure if I need to elaborate much here. We've all been there, right? My example while speaking was the idea that I helped someone with their professional ethic for work and then, several months later, they get promoted and I try to take some credit for the promotion. Sure, maybe you did actually play a minor part, but what is the point in stealing the spotlight? Is not God ultimately the author of all? When we take credit are we stealing from God's actual part? Which leads me to the next idea.

4. They love the spotlight

Matthew 6 should be sufficient.

Matthew 6:1-8

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Just remember to ask yourself these things when in the spotlight, "Do I want to be here?" and also, "Why do I? Who do I not?"

5. They make you feel guilty for something that isn't "Christian"

Often times people take a grey area (or a spiritual preference) and make them a black and white line (or spiritual principle.) Examples? How about secular music, rated R movies, drinking, dating, dancing, working moms, television, sports/football, or how to spend your money? Pushing your personal spiritual preferences (or conviction) is a dangerous game. It goes against so many things scripturally. Have you ever noticed slight digs come out of your mouth in reference to something that is a grey area? Or maybe you legitimately told someone not to do something - either scenario, I believe it is a religious and pharisaical spirit. I've noticed myself take slight shots at secular music. Obviously, I feel justified because of passages like, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." [Phillipians 4:8 esv] But, can I, in all honest say that I am above reproach in this area? Am I implying this is only in reference to garbage entertainment or secular entertainment? Jeez, self-check here: I am not beyond someone because I cut out secular music! I still watch secular entertainment and enjoy several things of this "world." Even football, I asked a fellow Christian Minister about his experience in his assembly about football and he said, "it will forever be the sport that people judge you for." I get it - Sunday = football = distracted from church = re-prioritize your life BRO! But, how come this is the sport that makes you such a spiritual heathen? I digress...

Ask yourself these questions that came from an article called, Discipleship Defined:

- Is it sin? - If it is, do not do it.

- Does it negatively affect a fellow believer? - Being a stumbling block is a no-go.

- Does it affect your testimony to an unbeliever? - The goal is to always carry a positive witness to the lost.

- Does it go against your conscience? - If it does, why are you considering it?

- Is it unwise? - Oof, probably is most of the time.

Here is the full article - worth a gander.


6. They cannot receive correction and are un-coachable

This is not necessarily where I wish to stop; but it is where I feel asked to stop. 6 points are enough to reflect upon and watch for in our own lives, for now. God is always working towards making us better versions of ourselves. If you become un-coachable and cannot receive correction, you, to me, are lost. I felt it fitting to end with this idea - because it begs to ask, how did you receive this article? With grace, humility and eagerness to reflect internally? Or did you get frustrated, or close it out and say this is a sham? Something I absolutely love and agree with came from T.D. Jakes, he said, "Do you wish to know how to spot the difference between a sheep and a wolf in sheep's clothing? Confront it. Sheep don't snarl." Wow - as a leader, how often have we seen people who blame others, make excuses, or get too frustrated to even hear what you are trying to tell them? We, as Christians, should always be teachable - it is the first mark of humility. My manager spoke of leadership a couple weeks ago, "A group or person goes through phases, like a sculpture. At first, it is a large rock and you break off large pieces attempting to create something beautiful. Then, as you get further along, those large breaks become smaller and smaller until you are fine-tuning the sculpture with small chips or sanding. The goal has always been the same, but the process changes." I loved it, because sometimes you do not want to be corrected or coached because you've essentially "arrived." But, let's be honest, we are all works in progress and constantly need fine-tuning.

In Conclusion…

My hope and prayer is that this will impact your life in some way for the good of the cross. We all need help and encouragement, we all need forgiveness for when we fall, and we all need a patient teacher with us through it all. One of my biggest passions in life is mentoring and encouraging others to become the next version of them that God is calling them to become. I have not arrived myself, but as God’s grace grants me testimony, I am running the race set before me – with endurance, as to win. I also want you to win the race that Christ has set before you.

God bless,



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