Jesus and the Pharisees

The Pharisees were known for standing on the street corner in sack cloth and ashes crying aloud to God so all who pass them by thought of them as righteous and devout.

Old Theology Book Spines

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

THEN SAID JESUS to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries (1) broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men” (Matt. 23:1-7, NRSV).

What is a Pharisee?

Pharisee PointingThe root meaning of the word “Pharisee is related to the Hebrew word perisayya, which means “separated.” They held themselves to be separate from and above priests and clerics. The office of Pharisee flourished during the latter part of the Second Temple period (BC 515-AD 70), and occupied the chair of Moses in the synagogue. Unfortunately, the standard rabbinic traditions have been shaped by polemics.

The Pharisaic movement’s origin is shrouded in mystery. According to Josephus (Ant. 13.288-300), the Pharisees first became a significant force in Jewish affairs during the reign of Hyrcanus I.  Essentially, they were a society of scholars who believed in resurrection, and in following legalistic traditions. But they often enforced regulations  outside the scope of Scripture, preferring instead to apply “the traditions of their fathers.” They believed Mosaic Law and the Torah established authority for the interpretation of Jewish Laws, which they enforced with a heavy hand. They used the Torah to enforce their own theology. The result was a total of 613 commandments, or “rules,” governing every aspect of Jewish life—how to dress properly, dietary laws, practices governing Temple procedures, rules for blood sacrifice, and more. The Pharisees were strongly committed to daily observance of the Law. Further, they believed in spirits and angels, the resurrection, and the Messiah’s coming.

Jesus in the Eyes of the Pharisees

Pharisaic opposition to Jesus is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. In Mark’s eyes, Jesus’ main adversaries in Galilee were the scribes, but, according to Matthew, they were the Pharisees. Luke said, “…the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things, lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say” (Luke 11:53-54). Many  reacted to Jesus with hostility, chiefly the scribes and Pharisees. Luke 20:20 says, “So [the Pharisees] watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”

John tells us of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees took issue with Jesus telling the man, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk” on the Sabbath. Jesus defended his actions to the Pharisees by saying, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17). This remark infuriated the Pharisees even more. Jesus had intimated that He was the Son of God! “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God” ( John 5:18).

Everywhere Jesus went, Jesus attracted huge crowds pressing in to listen to His every word and watch His every move. He was profoundly popular among the people. They loved Him. The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus insofar; they were far from popular given the heavy burdens they placed on the Jews. Jesus said His burden was light (see Matt. 11:28-30). The only thing the Jews felt from the Pharisees was judgment. Rather than lead the people, they looked only at their sins and faults. The Pharisees also hated Jesus because He exposed their hypocrisy. These church leaders had set a moral standard for the community that they did not necessarily adhere to, especially “to the letter.” These men sat in the highest places in the synagogue,  ornately dressed, expected nothing but honor and admiration.

The Pharisees feared Jesus, but would never admit it in public. Of main concern was the chance that Israel’s worship of Jesus as the Christ would bring the wrath of Yahweh down on their nation once again. They were quite concerned that authority over the Jews would be eliminated. Perhaps these new believers in Christ would ban together and revolt against the church. This would likely cause the Roman Empire to step in, using whatever means to bring the people back in line. Accordingly, the Pharisees plotted to arrest Jesus and remove Him from the community before He stirred up trouble.

The Pharisees in the Eyes of Jesus

Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted the Pharisees in public, denouncing their hypocrisy, spiritual blindness, and oppressive ways. These “separate” men had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Torah, which was to be applied to everyday life. Instead, the Pharisees used the Torah to control and manipulate the people. Disregarding ethical considerations, and being devoid of mercy, they imposed an intolerable burden of legal observance upon the common people. Legal precepts invented by the Pharisees were proscribed to add excessive and oppressive laws and regulations to enslave the Jews. To this end, the Pharisees were always on alert for violations of even the simplest regulations.

The Woes of the Pharisees is a list of criticisms by Jesus against scribes and Pharisees recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Here is what Jesus said,

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you… you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others… you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places… you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it… you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers… you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering” (Matt. 11:39-44, 46, 52).

Luke ends chapter twenty of his gospel with accusing the Pharisees of lying in wait to ensnare Jesus; they looked for statements made by Jesus that contradicted the Mosaic Law. Ironically, Jesus was sent to fulfill the Law, and He referred to Scripture in virtually every lesson He taught during His ministry. Jesus compared the Pharisees to tenants of a vineyard who wanted to kill the owner’s son in order to steal his inheritance (Matthew 21:38). Finally, knowing what the consequences would be, He declared that He was the Son of God. This was too much for the Pharisees to bear. How could this man be the Son of God, a man who broke their Sabbath laws and ate with sinners? To their minds it was inconceivable. “This is blasphemy!”

A shout out to Nicodemus who, although a Pharisee, earnestly sought out Christ during His earthly ministry, ultimately shared with Joseph of Arimathea the responsibility of burying Jesus’s body. (see John 3:1-21).

Jesus indeed had much to say about pretense of virtue by pious people, and how they wrongly condemn others for transgressing rules which they themselves did not follow. The message Jesus brought forth focused on faith in God and humility. He emphatically stated that religious rules and regulations cannot save man from the wages of sin. He taught that “rules” can be set aside to meet human need when necessary (Matt. 12:1-14). In essence, He said, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6). It has been said that the nearly-endless Jewish rules of conduct were extremely detailed. Rules about the Sabbath “…are as mountains hanging by a hair, for [teaching of] Scripture [thereon] is scanty and the rules many” (Tractate Hagiga: Synopsis of Subjects) (2).

Just after Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil [sic] them” (John 5:17), He added, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Matthew Henry writes, “No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness till he repents of his evil deeds” (3). Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone in Christ alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace and glory.  Regeneration produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct. Righteousness provides us with “right standing,” which wraps us in Christ and prepares us for sanctification and restoration.

Concluding Remarks

The Pharisees failed to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, the very foundation of our salvation. As a result, they could not accept the concept of putting on the righteousness of Jesus. Most Pharisees were likely “religious,” or even devout, in the Judaic beliefs. However, many were “in it” for power, recognition, privilege, and money. Jesus began attacking their hypocrisy at the start of His ministry, telling the Jewish people, “…observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). Given the disconnect between the Pharisees outward appearance and religious works and what was in their hearts, “Pharisee” took on a pejorative meaning that is synonymous with hypocrite.

These men of God were adamant that the spiritual life of the people should be centered in the Torah and the Synagogue. They claimed  authority over the Mosaic Law, and established an aristocracy of learning. Pharisaic influence was  went so far as to say that he who transgressed their words deserved death (Ber. 4a). There are some biblical scholars who believe the Pharisees saw their stronghold over Israel as one of protection; building a fence around the Law. Through this oppression that the foundation was laid for rabbinic law which piled statute upon statute until often the real purpose of the Law was lost.

When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, His authority outweighed any authority wielded by the Pharisees. Initially, the Pharisees assumed that the belief of some of the crowd was due to ignorance. But the attention lavished upon Jesus tended to increase the hatred and jealousy of the church leaders. These emotions were at the root of their plot to kill the Messiah. Remarkably, the Pharisees knew nothing of their role in creating the perfect, spotless Lamb who would be sacrificed to satisfy the debt of mankind.

 

 

 

(1) A small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law.

(2) One of the tractates comprising the Moed, one of six orders of the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions included in the Talmud.

(3) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Matthew Henry, 1997), 865.

 

 

What About This Man Called Job?

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

CURSE GOD AND DIE. Withhold your praise and adoration, for He has assailed you without reason. You did nothing wrong. Are you not righteous? Do you not seek His face daily? Have you not repented, turning from your wicked ways? Did you lie today? No! Did you steal from others today? No! Did you willfully or callously sin today? No! Have you put God before all things today? Well, probably. Did you willingly accept whatever He put before you today without complaint? Yeah, I guess. Did you judge anyone today? Now wait a minute! That guy was wrong. Completely out of line! So that would be a yes, then? You don’t have to answer. Have you ever cursed the day you were born, shaking your fist at God, and asking Him to end your life of nonstop despair and misery? Did you lose sight of the horizon, deciding the darkness of the moment will never end? Never mind. I withdraw the question.

Spiritual-darkness-e1524259521247

Darkness is a terrible foe. Devoid of all light, it keeps us from seeing even a tiny speck of hope. Early in my many attempts to break free from the bondage of active addiction, my uncle said, “Your problem is you can’t see the horizon.” Darkness, by its very nature, blinds us to our circumstance. Close your eyes for a moment and try to remember exactly where everything is in the room where you’re sitting as you read this. Without peeking, make a mental picture of every inch you can recall. Angles, colors, position of furniture, which magazines lay on the cocktail table unread, books you forgot to put away last night, the location of your TV remote, where you placed your box of tissues. Then open your eyes and see how well you did. This exercise speaks of two things: it is impossible to see without light; and, we are often unaware of our surroundings or predicament.

The Man

Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion. He had seven sons and three daughters. He was also very wealthy—seven thousand head of sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred teams of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a huge staff of servants—the most influential man in all the East (Job 1:1-3, MSG).

Job Before God

We are given a glimpse of Job’s character, which is presented in the simple and direct style of a patriarchal narrative. Although not an Israelite, Job is a worshiper of the one true God. Job is a blameless and upright man—e.g., he is beyond reproach but not sinless and perfect. Job acts as a true patriarch of his family, offering daily sacrifices to God on behalf of each of his children. The Book of Job was likely written by Job, and is one of the more ancient books in existence. The fortitude and patience of Job, though not a small thing, gave way in his severe troubles. However, his faith remained focused on the  coming of his Redeemer, giving him steadfastness and constancy. He did not curse or blame God for the troubles that stalked him.

Matthew Henry wrote, “Job was prosperous, and yet pious.” (1) We can see from his routine sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family that he understood the sinful state of man and the need for dependence on God’s mercy. Although his afflictions began at the hand of Satan, the LORD gave permission for Job’s persecution for wise and holy purposes. Henry said, “There is an evil spirit, the enemy of God, and of all righteousness, who is continually seeking to distress, to lead astray, and, if possible, to destroy those who love God.” (2) When Satan appeared in the presence of God to accuse Job, the LORD asked, “Whence have you come?” Satan answered Him, saying, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7, NRSV). We know the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), and this is precisely what he was doing that day in Uz.

The story of Job provides us with a unique opportunity to study man’s slow burn when besieged with persistent trials and tribulations. Satan asked permission from God to oppress Job in order to prove Job’s faith and righteousness was contingent upon his wealth and prosperity. Satan said, “But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face” (1:11). Putting aside the fact that God knew exactly how Job would respond, He permitted the devil to attack Job (1:12). In essence, God said to Satan, “We’ll see! Go ahead, do want you want with all that he has.” It’s important to note that God protected Job’s life, telling Satan to not lay a hand on him.

Satan’s attack came on all at once. Job was having a meal when a servant came to tell him, “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; and the Sabe’ans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you” (1:14-15). Before this man could finish presenting Job with the bad news, another servant burst in and told him lightning struck his flock of sheep, killing every head and all servants except him (1:16). A third man told Job the Sabe’ans had returned and took all his camels and killed every servant but him. Another servant arrived, telling Job his children were killed when a strong wind caused the house to fall on them as they ate supper. In each instance, the devil allowed a servant to witness these calamities and survive to inform Job.

It was not until several of Job’s friends arrived that he seems to have noticed how far he’d fallen during this onslaught. When they arrived, they barely recognized Job. Crying out in lament, they ripped their robes, dumped ashes on their heads as a sign of their grief, and sat with Job on the ground for seven days. No one spoke. It is likely that during this week of silence Satan continued to assault Job’s beliefs by planting doubt in his mind. Henry wrote, “These inward trials show the reason of the change that took place in Job’s conduct, from entire submission to God’s will, to the impatience which appears here and in other parts of the book.” (3)

Job cried out:

Obliterate the day I was born. Blank out the night I was conceived! Let it be a black hole in space. May God forget it ever happened. Erase it from the books! May the day of my birth be buried in deep darkness, swallowed by the night. And the night of my conception—the devil take it! Rip the date off the calendar, delete it from the almanac. Oh, turn that night into pure nothingness—no sounds of pleasure from that night, ever! Why didn’t I die at birth, my first breath out of the womb my last? Why were there arms to rock me, and breasts for me to drink from (Job 3:3-7, 11-12, MSG)?

Eliphaz, one of the friends, says that although Job often comforted other people, he now demonstrated that he never actually knew their pain. Eliphaz believed Job’s pain must be due to some sin he committed and he told Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agreed that Job must have performed evil to provoke God’s justice and argued that he should attempt to manifest more innocent behavior. Bildad supposed that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar suggested that whatever wrongdoing Job has done he likely deserved more suffering than what he had experienced.

Although Job cursed the day he was born, he did not curse God. I imagine he was later ashamed of these utterances. As I read these words this morning, I was reminded of my past and the countless times I shouted at God, cursing Him for not helping me, and wishing I had never been born.  On more than one occasion I shook my fist at heaven and said to God, “Either cure me or kill me!” The longer I toiled under mental illness and addiction, the more I was convinced my life was meaningless. Each time I would stop using drugs and alcohol and head back to treatment, I was highly motivated. I wanted to learn from my mistakes. During these moments, I felt blessed to be alive, and I was grateful that I could use my horrific past to help counsel others. Then it would start over again, worse than the last time.

Job had lost his way and was without any prospect of reprise or hope of better days. Certainly, we all contemplate our misery when in the thick of it, and for those whose trials appear to have no end there seems to be no reason to go on. According to the American Psychological Association, the suicide rate in America rose 33 percent from 1999 to 2017. Suicide ranks as the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for ages 10 through 34. It remains the 10th leading cause of death overall. (4) Pinpointing the reasons that suicide rates rise or fall is challenging in part because the causes of suicide are complex. During those when moments I considered suicide, I’d lost all hope that things in my life would ever change. I was tired of letting people down. I became convinced I was a hopeless, helpless hypocrite.

His Accuser

Satan retorted, “So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart? Why, no one ever had it so good! You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose! But what do you think would happen if you reached down and took away everything that is his? He’d curse you right to your face, that’s what” (Job 1:9-10, MSG).

Satan the Accusing Serpent

We learn a great deal about Satan from his conversation with God about Job (1:6-12). He is accountable to God. His power over Job was limited. All angelic beings, good and evil, are compelled to appear before God. An evangelist friend of mine puts it this way: Satan appears in the “Court of God” daily, accusing us of wrongdoing, asking God to judge and punish us accordingly. God knew Job would eventually persevere through faith. Satan, of course, is not able to see the future. Moreover, although he wages spiritual battle against us through our thoughts, he cannot read our minds or know what we will do. If he could, he would have known his temptation of Job was futile. What, then, was the reason for his attack on Job? First, it shows us Satan is alive and well on earth, roaming about seeking those whom he can destroy. Second, no matter the circumstances—or our initial doubt and frustration—we can overcome the wiles of the devil through the Word of God and prayer.

Why was Satan in God’s presence along with all the angels at the beginning of this story? As an angel, Satan is obligated to give an account for his actions in the world. He told God he had been going to and fro on the earth, walking up and down on it. Notice the implication: Satan strutting about, boasting of his power as ruler of the earth, tempting and dominating whomever he wants. He attacked Job’s motives, saying that Job was blameless and had integrity only because he had no reason to turn against God. Satan wished to prove that Job worshiped God because God had given him so much, not because he truly loved and revered God. Truly, many Christians are “fair weather” believers, following God only when everything is going well, or seeking whatever they can get. Such superficial faith often falls on its face when confronted with adversity—especially if the believer perceives his or her hardship as unfair or undeserved.

Satan essentially slanders Job before the Court of God. Of course, Christians should dread nothing more than living as hypocrites. This was my fault for many years. When my brother said, “I hate you, and you are nothing but a hypocrite,” I was devastated. Not angry; just sad that he was right. When in active addiction, I would do or say whatever it took to get me out of hot water. To convince others I was fine. I wanted to be left alone. This was not Job’s problem. He genuinely meant what he said. There is nothing worse than being called out as a hypocrite when it is not true!

The devil undertook to expose Job as a hypocrite by afflicting him; and Job’s friends concluded he was a hypocrite because he showed marked impatience during his afflictions. Job’s friend Eliphaz says, “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:7-8). In other words, Job, what did you do to bring this calamity down upon you and your family?

His God

As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause; who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number: he gives rain upon the earth and sends waters upon the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety (Job 5:8-11).

Hands To Heaven

Regardless of Job’s self-righteous spirit, the LORD watched over him with the affection of a wise and loving father. God is fully aware of every attempt by Satan to bring suffering and difficulty upon us. God might allow us to suffer for a season, but there is always a reason. The apostle Paul wrote, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28, NRSV). God suffered Job to be tried, as he suffered Peter to be sifted. Jesus and his twelve had gathered in the upper room for a Passover dinner. In Luke 22:21 Jesus said, “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” This prompted much murmuring: Who could it be? Not, I, I would never do such a thing! The twelve argued about who among them loved Jesus more.

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (22:31-32) (italics mine). Let’s not miss the amazing prophetic lesson this represents. Only hours after being told that he would be a ruler in Christ’s kingdom, Peter is going to crash. From the heights of joyful anticipation and confidence to the pit of failure and bitter weeping in one night. We know Peter denied Christ three times just before dawn, before the rooster crowed twice, as Jesus had predicted. It is clear from the scene in The Passion of the Christ that Peter was mortified, if no outright frightened for his salvation.

Despite this egregious offense, Peter is the first to preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit under the New Covenant. He proclaims  a resurrected Jesus to the Jews, converting many to the gospel. He is later directed by God to bring the gospel to non-Jews as well. Despite Peter’s denial of Christ, Jesus made him the rock upon which He would build the Body of Christ. His ministry dovetailed nicely with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. When Jesus said and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren, he was speaking of the good that would come from Peter’s repentance.

Ultimately, God is in control. Today’s New Atheists enjoy charging God with the heartless and purposeless infliction of violence and despair on undeserving people. It’s the typical argument, If God is a God of love, why does He permit evil in His creation? Regarding Job, it is extremely important to notice that not once did Job blame God or curse Him for the suffering being poured out on him and his family. I had to re-read the Book of Job to be certain of this, but it’s true. Job cursed his own life, even the day he was born. In fact he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). It seems Job was more willing to assume blame for what was happening to him than blame his beloved LORD.

Although Job essentially said If God is not responsible, who is? he expressed hatred for his life and not for God. He remarked, “[H]ow can a man be just before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength—who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?” (9:2b-4). He continued: “How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (9:14-15). Henry provides a wonderful analysis of this rant. He writes, “Job is still righteous in his own eyes, and this answer, though it sets forth the power of God, implies that the question between the afflicted and the Lord of providence is a question of might, and not of right.” Henry notes, “[W]e begin to discover the evil fruits of pride and of a self-righteous spirit.” (5) Job did not believe he was without sin; reflecting on God’s goodness and justice, he tried to determine what had brought God’s disfavor upon him. Rather than blame God for his troubles, he wracked his brain to determine why he’d been singled out.

Not once did Job say to God, Why are you doing this to me? Nor did he curse God or recant his faith. Instead, he admonished his so-called friends and decided to take his case directly to God. It is important to note that Job says, “I’ll take whatever I have coming to me” (13:13). He asks God to remove his afflictions (The terror is too much for me!), but he does not accuse God of improper treatment. Remaining humble, he asks, “How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgression and my sin” (13:23). Maybe Job was beginning to see how his pride and complacency brought him to this moment in his life. Eliphaz had essentially accused him of lacking empathy. Perhaps additionally he recognized a sense of entitlement that he thought should prevent such attacks as he was presently facing.

Concluding Remarks

The story of Job is one of the finest examples we have of Romans 8:28. Persecution is the yardstick by which our sincerity as Christians is measured—it tends to separate the true believer from the hypocrite. Unsound hearts pretend in prosperity, but fall away during tribulation (Matthew 13:20-21). Because of their immaturity, imposters cannot sail in stormy weather.  God often uses adversity to publicly gauge the genuineness of a man’s faith. As I noted earlier, suffering times are often sifting times. Job said, “When I am tried I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). He had the type of faith that can’t be destroyed by fire. A Christian who is truly born of God, no matter what he loses, will hold fast his integrity (Job 2:3).

 Job was unsure about why he was being attacked, but he chose to keep seeking God. Aware that he had not intentionally or maliciously sinned, he ignored the chastisement of his friends. He had confidence in the goodness of both his cause and of his God; and cheerfully committed his cause to Him.  It is during times of trouble that fervent prayer is most important. God knows us better than we can ever know ourselves. This is why we can be sure that if we love God every detail in our lives is worked into something good. When we grow weary, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us through.

Job presents his “closing arguments” in 31:1-40. Ultimately, he clears himself of the charge of hypocrisy:

Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him. If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together; if I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners; let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley (31:35-40a).

It is only through humility and reverence that we can hope to learn from our errors, and turn trials and hardship into victory. Even though Satan must seek permission to challenge our faith, we are not expected to stand against his wiles alone. It is through the Name of Jesus that we can defeat the enemy, grown in stature, and glorify God through or every word and deed.

Footnotes

(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 415.

(2) Henry, 415.

(3) Henry, 418.

(4) Kirsten Weir, “Worrying Trends in U.S. Suicide Rates,” American Psychological Association, Vol. 50, No. 3 (March 2019), URL: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/03/trends-suicide

(5) Henry, 425.

Why Can’t I Follow My Heart?

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, RSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psych.

LATELY, I HAVE BEEN obsessed with whether I have a heart for God. It is a critical question for all of us. Unbelievably, there are many Christians in the church today who don’t question their heart. An assumption is made: “I go to church. I believe in God. I trust in Jesus Christ. I’m saved so I’m good.” There is a huge danger to having this illogical thought. Whenever we assume anything when it comes to our salvation or our theology, we risk loosing our way. It’s as if we’ve decided to “think” of ourselves as “Christian,” and then walked out the door to go about our lives.

This thought started pestering me in 2009 when my sponsor in a 12-step program told me, “You need to get God out of your head and into your heart.” I was puzzled. It made absolutely no sense. But I’m “saved,” I thought. How can God not be in my heart? When I became a young Christian at thirteen, I was told that Jesus had “come into my heart.” So if He did this, then He must still be there, right? I was later told by my then-current pastor in 2011, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” Whoa, what? Rather than see a pattern, I became defensive. I was so mortified that I cannot remember the rest of the conversation. It’s as if I decided on the spot that my pastor was wrong. He wasn’t!

What it Means

What does it mean to have God in our hearts? It is important that we know and understand this if we hope to grow in Christ. First, to grow in Him involves allowing Him in us; but this means to allow Him to become greater while we become less. Yeah, I know; that sounds ridiculous, right? Why would we think less of ourselves? It is a matter of humility. Something I have never come to naturally. I am one of those who, for whatever the reason, has to build myself up. Make myself worth something. In doing so, I have led a life of duplicity. Lacking the power to overcome, and the “armor” with which to protect myself, I chose to lie about my feelings of inadequacy. I hid my failures. I permitted life-limiting habits to rule over me. The moment I did that, I chose to live the life of a hypocrite. 

If we’re going to live according to a Christian worldview, we must decide to surrender all of our heart and let God have access to every room in our “house.” This should be an exciting proposition because something greater is coming. It presents us with the opportunity to “clean” our house. Jesus warns us, however, that if we clean house (ask Jesus to come into our heart), but let the rooms remain empty, we are putting ourselves at great risk. Matthew wrote in his Gospel that Jesus said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt. 12:28-29). Jesus then adds, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).

Can you imagine someone choosing a life of failure on purpose? Does that make any sense at all? What could possibly be at the root of deciding, time after time, to fail? To make choices that risk your life, your health, or your career? That destroys marriages and breaks the hearts of everyone in your family? That costs you countless tens-of-thousands of dollars in lost income and other financial losses? That shuts you off from the very God you claim to love and worship? Why would a “Christian” who is born-again and has invited God into his heart willfully disobey the God he loves? Why choose to be cut off from the Sunlight of the Spirit, going it alone? Why would a theist, especially a Bible-believing Christian, risk (or maybe unconsciously choose) to spend eternity in Hell? The answer to these questions is both complex and simple. Complex because we make it so; simple because the Word of God is clear about why. These were difficult questions to ask myself, but I could no longer put off asking them.

Where Your Treasure Is

I am sure most Christians have heard Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” One reason I rejected the comments of my sponsor and my pastor is because I did not think about this verse for one second. I responded intellectually and pridefully, taking “offense” rather than advice. A huge part of my reaction had to do with a complete lack of humility. I was clueless how prideful I was being. Humility, after all, does not mean thinking less of ourselves; it means thinking of ourselves less often. Throw in a pinch of IQ and an ounce of denial, stir in two-parts manipulation and one-part of shifting blame, and you’ve got a recipe for the most sour peach pie you’ve ever tasted. Metaphor aside, it’s a plan for ultimate failure and self-destruction. My self-destruction came in the form of addiction.

One of my most favorite biblical study tools is Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Regarding the section of Matthew 6:19-24, He says, “Worldy-mindedness is a common and fatal symptom of hypocrisy, for by no sin can Satan have a surer and faster hold of the soul, under the cloak of a profession of religion.” [1] If we confess Christ with our mouths, yet take no action to assure we are walking as He has called us to walk, we become the very hypocrites He warned about. Our soul chooses what it will look upon as the “best thing,” and then go after that thing with our whole heart! This “object” of our heart will most likely have intense pleasure, and, perhaps, offer us some reward we find most appealing above all else. It becomes the very thing we’re living for. Perhaps more accurately, it is something we’ve become dependent upon to live. This is what Christ refers to as a “master.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Trust me, when it comes to serving a master that delivers great fleshly rewards, we will not even realize we are enslaved!

Matthew 6:20-21 discusses the “treasures in heaven,” indicating they are forever exempt from decay and theft. Luke tells us, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23). This is what Matthew is discussing in chapter six. Whatever is of good and eternal significance comes out of what we do here on earth. Doing righteous deeds, suffering for Christ’s sake (which includes denying ourselves and taking up the cross), dealing truthfully and faithfully with one another, forgiving one another, being kind, willing to share—all of these things have the promise of reward. These become the treasures stored in heaven. Conversely, consistent unrighteous, disobedient behavior stores up much judgment and wrath. For the unbeliever, it ultimately leads to damnation. For the believer, Paul says, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 6:9-10).

When we fail to see the basic biblical truth of Matthew 6:22-23, as I did for decades, we see life with “bad eyes,” walking in darkness. These verses tell us such darkness is all the more disastrous and defeating because we fail to recognize it for what it is. This has metaphorical implications; the “eye” can be considered equal to the “heart.” Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With my whole heart I seek thee; let me not wander from thy commandments! I have laid up thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Here we see the tremendous benefits of Scripture. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. When we hide Him in our heart, we hide that which He embodies, including the commandments of God the Father. Doing this allows us to watch our feet; the path we’re on. Christ becomes the Light by which we walk.

The psalmist says in Psalm 119:9-16 that we are to pray and meditate on God’s Word. When we do this, we are able to participate in the judgment and discernment of God. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Matthew 6:24 is saying the results of our choices are being stored in Heaven for the day we stand before Christ. We have to ask ourselves if we are storing up treasures in Heaven. That depends on our actions, which are directly influenced by where we decide to set our eyes. How we see the world, ourselves and others, and what we choose to do. It’s really that simple.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind” (John 9:39). When church leaders challenged Jesus, asking “Are we also blind?” He said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). In other words, knowing the truth, they chose to ignore it and decide for themselves what was true. This is what Jesus referred to when He said we cannot serve God and mammon (John 6:24). This is a rather strange phrase. In the Greek, mamona, which is a literal translation of the same word in Aramaic, can refer to virtually anything of value: “wealth,” “property.” The root in both Aramaic and Hebrew (mn) means that in which one has placed their confidence or reliance. Both of these are compared—God and “other than God”—not as employers but slave owners. In other words, either God is served or “other than God” is served.

A Hard Lesson to Learn

We now see clearly the vital importance of Matthew 12:22-30. When we’re under Satan’s power and led captive by sin, we are blind to the things of God. Divided loyalty does not merely lead to a partial commitment to discipleship; it is an indication of deeply-rooted commitment to idolatry. Admittedly, this has been a very hard lesson for me. It made no sense during my active addiction that I was actually choosing to serve “other than God.” In this instance, my “god” or “idol” was alcohol, oxycodone, cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines. Because we “see” out of the abundance of the heart, my life of active addiction amounted to a continual walk in darkness, even while attending church, reading Scripture, teaching Bible study at two county prisons, sharing at 12-step meetings—sadly, even during much of the early years of this blog. Pride and fear has kept me from admitting this those of you who follow my blog, or anyone else. Walking in darkness also caused me to mistake the path I was on. This is precisely why my sponsor and my former pastor were absolutely correct. I did not have God in my heart. More tragically, my siblings were correct when they said I was being a hypocrite. I could be nothing less at that time, for I was putting on the appearance of being a Christian while walking in denial and disobedience.

What I was failing to see is that when we meet Christ, at a time predestined by God Himself, we will be held accountable to Him (from the day of our salvation) for every word and deed. Take a second and read that last sentence again. Yeah, I know! So let’s get this straight. Becoming “born-again” is not a get-out-of-judgment-free card. I have grown in Christ considerably over the past five or six months. Still, it was not until God put this lesson on my heart this morning that I was able to get to this moment, right now, when I saw a glimpse of what it’s going to feel like staring at His scars, remembering what the last twelve hours of His life were like, having to give an answer for every sad, dirty, low-down, manipulative, deceitful act I’ve done from the moment of my salvation, when I was given the power to dwell in the Holy Spirit and grow in the righteousness of Christ, until the day I draw my last breath. And there is nothing I can do to escape it.

So Now What?

First, anyone in this position must realize that when we finally decide to stop, drop, and roll, putting out the fire that is consuming us, we need to repent and turn over to Christ everything we’ve done. But that’s not the end of it. I have come to see the importance of “letting it go” (allowing the past be the past) and forgiving myself as I have been forgiven. If we fail to do this critical step, we will never be able to consistently see ourselves as a new creation. We will not be capable of seeing ourselves as God the Father sees us: clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Of course, the true “180” must come first or any degree to which we “shine” in Jesus will be dulled by sin and guilt. It is impossible to change if we live in shame. We’ll talk to ourselves with condemnation, forgetting there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

After settling the matter in our hearts that we are regenerated in Christ, we must then pray and meditate on God’s Word, learning everything we can about who we’ve become. It is crucial to remember a fairly universal warning: Satan will not let go willingly. The finest example we have regarding resisting temptation is presented to us in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan appeared to Christ in the dessert and essentially attacked His “Sonship.” This is quite accurate to what Satan tries to throw in our faces, but he is far more subtle and crafty with us. He challenged Jesus by saying, If you truly are the Son of God then change stone to bread; throw yourself down from the top of the temple and let the angels save you; renounce God and the universe is yours. Does this not sound a lot like what happens in our lives once we accept Christ and confess we are the sons and daughters of God?

There is only one way to defeat these challenges, which is exactly what Christ did. He knew the Scriptures because He had them hidden in His heart. Yes, He was part man and part God, likely giving Him a greater moral infrastructure than we have; however, He defeated temptation by saying what the Scriptures say. Then, standing firmly on the Word of God, He told Satan who He truly was and shouted, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, serve the Lord your God, and serve Him only” (Matthew 4:10). Decide for yourself who you believe you are, seek proof in the Scriptures, turn from your old path, and walk toward the Light of the World. The only way to change our sinful behavior is to see the path we’re on with open eyes and decide to go in an entirely new direction.

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 I want to start encouraging more feedback so we can open a dialog. Presently, in order to leave a comment you need to scroll back to the header and click on LEAVE A COMMENT, but I’m in the process of figuring out how to move the COMMENT bar to the end of each post. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 868.