Jesus and the Pharisees : Study #1

To begin our study, I think we should say a little bit about who the Pharisees are. An article I found by Jack Zavada, I think is good. I will give you just the first part of it.

Who Were the Pharisees in the Bible?

The Pharisees in the Bible were members of a religious group or party that frequently clashed with Jesus Christ over his interpretation of the Law.

The Pharisees formed the largest and most influential religious-political party in New Testament times. They are consistently depicted in the Gospels as antagonists or opponents of Jesus Christ and the early Christians.

The name “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The Pharisees separated themselves from society to study and teach the law, but they also separated themselves from the common people because they considered them religiously unclean.

Besides this article—and there is a lot more to it if you care to click the title and read it—I’m sure we will gain a good bit of info on the Pharisees just by this progressive study.

What I want to do in this study is to just observe what the Pharisees do and say toward Jesus and about Jesus; we want to see their attitude toward Jesus. We also want to see Jesus’ attitude and sayings about the Pharisees. In the end, we want to make some applications for ourselves and maybe also about other people. We want to look and see how some people are like the Pharisees and how others are more like Jesus. Generally, we can say that Jesus is the good guy who does everything right (because He is God); and the Pharisees are the bad guys who do most things wrong—though in their eyes, they are always right—righteous.

Okay, here is what we will do. I have already found all the passages in the gospels where there is a conversation or debate between Jesus and a pharisee, or a group of Pharisees. I found 41 such passages, eliminating all the repeat passages (mainly between Matthew and Mark, in which case I used Matthew). We will take this study a little at a time until we are finished. We will start this first blog with Matthew 5:17-20.

Matthew 5:17-20

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Bold text for emphasis)

Observations

In this passage Jesus is preaching in His famous Sermon on the Mount. He is saying here that He has come to fulfill the law, not to abolish it—as the Pharisees may have been saying about Him. In this public sermon He does not tip toe around the Pharisees. He comes right at them, telling His disciples and all who are listening that their kind of righteousness is not good enough to enter heaven. He said that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees…you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

John MacArthur in his bible notes writes that the Pharisees “had a tendency to soften the law’s demands by focusing only on external obedience.” But Jesus here was preaching a more “radical holiness” that demanded on “internal conformity to the spirit of the law.”

Applications

If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we ought to boldly warn against false teachers. And if we know who they are we ought not to be afraid to point them out.

How to Live the Christian Life in This World – From Matthew 6:19-20

We have been studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and following D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones teaching from his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. We have now come to the section following the Disciples Prayer outline, verses 19 -20, where Jesus tells us,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.

So here, we come to the problem of living the Christian life in the world and therefore how to overcome to world while living in it. Jesus gives us two points to follow: 1) we are not to store up for ourselves treasures upon earth, but 2) we are to store up treasures in heaven.

We Are Not to Store Up for Ourselves Treasures Upon Earth

Here are a few notes from my reading:

Jesus wants us to be concerned not so much with having wealth and possessions, but with our attitude toward them.

We are to be concerned with our whole attitude toward life in this world. That is, we ought not to get our total satisfaction in life from things in this world.

A person’s treasures are the things that mean everything to him—what he is living for.

Here are some things in this world that can become our treasures: love of money, of honor, of position, of status. We are not to be so concerned with these things that they take up our entire life. These things will all pass away in the end.

We Are to Store Up Treasures in Heaven

Use your riches to prophet you for the next life.

Do not labor for what will perish but for what will endure to everlasting life.

Have a right view of life. In this world we are pilgrims.  We walk under the eye of God, toward our everlasting hope.

Our attitude must be that I am not the possessor of my things. They really do not belong to me. I am but a custodian of them.

 I should always be using my things for the glory of God.

I am a child of God placed here for His purpose.

I must hold my things loosely; I am to be in a state of blessed detachment from them; and I should always be considering how I can use the things that God has entrusted to me for His kingdom.

The Lord’s Prayer: The Last Three Petitions

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Matthew 6:11-13

In previous blog posts I first wrote on the invocation, “Our Father.”  And then I wrote on the first three petitions, which have to do with God and His glory: with His character and holiness, with His kingdom, and with His will.

Now we come to the last three petitions that have to do with our needs and desires. Though this prayer outline is quite brief, it is all inclusive: the needs of the body, the soul, and the spirit are all included. Nothing is left out. The needs of the body are termed as “our daily bread.” The needs of the soul are termed as “forgiveness.” And the needs of our spirit are termed as our deliverance from evil.

Our daily bread

This request is for our material needs: everything that is necessary for our living. And notice that this is the first petition having to do with what we need, suggesting that God cares that we be healthy in our life.

And just because He knows all our needs even before we ask, doesn’t mean that we should not ask Him. We should ask Him every morning because He desires us to speak with Him every day. And He also wants us to realize our dependence on Him; that we cannot live for one day without Him.

Forgive us

In the first section, “And forgive us our debts,” we must recognize that “us” is in reference to anyone who is in the family of God; all others are excluded. So, this prayer is only for His children. Next, know that He will give us forgiveness immediately if we ask (look at 1 John 1:9).

In the next part, “as we forgive our debtors,” notice that it says “as” we forgive our debtors, not “because” we forgive them. Hence, our forgiveness is not based on our work of forgiving others. Rather, we should see it altogether. In the family of God, He gives us the desire and the strength to forgive others; and He also forgives us. It is in the new nature of believers to forgive as God forgives.

We could see it this way: the proof that we are forgiven of God is that we forgive others. And if we have not forgiven others than this is an indication that God has not forgiven us—that we are not His children.

Deliverance from evil

The first part, “And lead us not into temptation,” is asking God not to allow us into any situation where we are liable to be tempted by Satan or the flesh. It is the same as in 1 Corinthians 10:13, where we can ask God to give us a way of escape from temptation. The second part, “deliver us from evil,” is asking God to show us that way of escape and then give us the power to get out of there—or He may just remove the power of evil from us, just as He tamed the lion in front of Daniel (you know the story).

Now here are three reasons why we should pray this third petition:

1. So that our fellowship with him may not be broken.

2. So that we will have a right relationship with Him.

3. So that we can get to know Him.

How to Pray Using The Lord’s Prayer

I have been reviewing the sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I am now covering his chapters on the Lord’s Prayer, from Matthew 6:9-13. So far, from my previous blog post, I wrote shortly on the first line, “Our Father in heaven.” That is the invocation, or we could say, that which takes us into prayer. Those words remind us that He is our Father and a mighty Father-God who is in heaven.

Now we come to the rest of the prayer, which is really an outline that Jesus has given us in order to pray better. And it consists of six petitions as follows:

1. Hallowed be Thy name.

2. Your kingdom come.

3. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

4. Give us this day our daily bread.

5. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

6. And do not lead us unto temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Notice that the first three petitions have regard to God and His glory, and the second three have reference to ourselves. And please take note of this order; for it is the way He wants us to pray. We must never start with ourselves; we must always begin first praying for God and His glory. In this blog, we will examine these first three petitions.

Hallowed be Thy name.

At first glance it doesn’t really appear to be a petition, or request, but more of a statement—that we are sort of willing His name to be hallowed, or holy. But it is definitely a petition, that His name would be hallowed on this earth.

Here are two other translations that may help:

“May your name be honored” (NLT).

“Reveal who you are” (the Message).

Hallowed means to sanctify, or to revere, or to make and keep holy. The petition is that God, in all that is true of Him, would be revered (God has many names, and it would be good to study those names).

Your kingdom come.

This petition is that His kingdom would come into every heart. Then it is also that His kingdom would come into the world and light up the world. His kingdom is His reign, His law, and His rule. This I think is a good missionary prayer. Every Christian should pray this prayer—that all would come to know Him and reign and rule in his or her life.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

This is the result of His kingdom coming, that His will would be done on earth just as it is in heaven.

How to Begin Your Prayers

Generally, before we (Christians) go to prayer, it is always good to realize what a privilege we have to be in God’s presence and to be able to talk with Him face to face and soul to soul. Prayer is truly a high activity of the soul—the highest activity of the soul.

When you begin to pray, don’t think that it is okay to just ramble on with your requests or to just say whatever is on you mind. We all tend to do that—me too. But there is a correct way to pray. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, He gave them a skeleton prayer to follow (found in Matthew 6:9-13). We call it “The Lord’s Prayer.” We are not to just recite this prayer, as some do; but we are to use it as a guide, or as an outline. If we do that, we are well on our way to be able to pray correctly; for in this skeleton prayer contains every prayer principle.

Our Father

As you go to pray, the first thing you should do as you bow your head is to pause and remind yourself of what you are about to do and who you are about to speak to. Remind yourself that you are in the presence of holiness, and that He, your Father, is with you listening and attentive. You may want to have a copy of the Lord’s Prayer before you, and focus first on the first two words of the prayer: Our Father. Yes, He is your Father, and my Father. So, realize that all of us who are believers have the same Father and we are in a wonderful relationship with Him.

Our Father in heaven

At this point in your prayer, you can continue to ruminate on what it means to be in the family of God and to thank and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for you. And then, at some point you will want to move on to the next few words… “in heaven.” He is your and our Father in heaven. What does that mean? It refers to His greatness and that His presence is everywhere. He is almighty God in heaven. He is all knowing, present everywhere, and all powerful.

In your prayers you may at first just be thinking of Him and of your relationship with Him. But at some point, you will also want to start speaking to Him. Thank Him and praise Him for being your Father and for who He is. Praise and worship Him in the best way you know how.

Final comments. If you have been a Christian for a long time maybe what I am teaching here seems too mechanical, or too basic. Believe me, I understand. But especially for a new Christian, I think it is important to get on the right track. I hear too many Christians praying incorrectly. Some of them, all they do is list their needs as if they are talking to Santa Claus. That is so disrespectful. I think it is important to at first follow the outline of the Lord’s Prayer. And then after a while, as it is firm in your mind, your prayers will flow more easily and you, without even realizing it, will be praying correctly, as He taught us.

The next line in the Lord’s Prayer is “hallowed be Your name.” I will save that for the next blog.

Fasting: How to Fast Correctly

In general, fasting is abstinence from food for spiritual reasons; it is that personal discipline that aids us in our spiritual life.

To start, I want to tell you that I am not a regular faster, nor do I enjoy even the thought of it. But as any discipline, I know that it has its purpose; and so, as I present this information—which happens to be in the chapter of the book I am blogging through, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount—I am now trying to follow God’s will if He should guide me to fast. I will now present to you the follow four points:

The Biblical Basis for Fasting

Some would argue that in this day of grace, in this New Testament era, we should not be fasting. But clearly, there is a biblical basis for it, both in the Old and New Testament. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, under the Law of Moses the children of Israel were commanded to fast once a year. And there are several examples of Old Testament fasting. Fasting is also mentioned in the New Testament. It is not directly commanded or taught by Jesus, but is indirectly taught and approved of by Jesus, since He Himself fasted (Matt. 4:2), and so did the early church (Acts13:2-3; 14:23).

Lloyd-Jones points out that the problem many are having now with fasting is clearly an over-reaction against Catholicism; for you recall from history that fasting was a huge part of the Catholic religion and clearly was an incorrect use of it.

The Wrong Use of Fasting

If we stick to what fasting basically is, a discipline that aids us in pray and in our spiritual relationship with God, that will keep us from any wrong use of it. With that being said, here are four wrong uses:

1. Fasting should not be done as a good work in itself.

2. Fasting should not be done to try to make yourself more disciplined or more spiritual.

3. Fasting should not be done to get a blessing from God or to be more prosperous.

4. Fasting should not be done to see if we can achieve some personal fasting goal—for example, to try to fast for a certain length of time. Overall, fasting itself will not please God. It should not be an end it itself. It is always to be regarded as a means to an end and not as an end in itself.

Correct Purposes for Fasting

Again, we will begin with the definition of fasting, which is a discipline to aid us in our spiritual life. From there we derive the following purposes:

1. To aid us in our lack of faith in doing some spiritual work (example: casting out a demon, Matt. 17:19-21).

2. Basically it is to be closer to God. We get this from Mark 2:18-20, where Jesus explains that His disciples did not fast because they were with Him, and so they had no need to fast. But after Jesus would be “taken away from them,” then they would fast—for obvious reasons.

3. As an aid in doing a special work of God, which would require a special spiritual guidance (example: Acts 14:2-3, choosing Barnabas and Saul as missionaries; Acts 14:23, appointing elders).

4. To receive help from God when faith is lacking (Example: the nation of Israel fasted when Moab and Ammon came against them and they were afraid, 2 Chron. 20:3).

How to Act When Fasting

Just as with giving and praying, fasting, Jesus said, is a practice of righteousness (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), and therefore, we should do these things without sounding a trumpet, as to inform those around us what we are doing. For any act of our Christianity should be an act of humility and just between us and God. Fasting therefore should be done in secret, or, without people knowing that we are doing it. Hence, we shouldn’t draw attention to what we are doing by not washing or shaving. We should rather look as normal as possible. And if we are worried that we will not get our proper recognition, we can take comfort in the fact that God sees everything we do and will secretly reward us (Matt. 6:18).

Matthew 6:16-18

“And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 “But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face 18 so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. NASB

The Sins We Commit in Prayer – Matthew 6:5-8

In Matthew 6:1-4 Jesus taught us how not to practice our righteousness, mainly in terms of our giving to the poor. Then in verses 5-8, He tells us how not to practice our prayers. He said,

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  6 “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  8 “So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.

From this passage we may identify two sins while going to prayer, or even in prayer. The first is that we may pray to be known and seen by others. We can call this sin…

1. Putting the Focus on Self When We Pray

So, first of all, when you hypocrites pray you are anxious to be known by others as being a great prayer warrior, or a holy man of prayer. Perhaps in your prayer group you get pleasure knowing that people think of you as a person of prayer. And so, thinking that they may regard you that way, you do everything possible to support their thoughts. Thus, you are quick to be the first to pray, and you will pray extra loud so that they can hear you.

But not only is the prayer-hypocrite anxious to be known by others as a person of prayer, he also wants to be seen as a man or woman of prayer. So, you may position yourself to be seen praying. Do you have a prayer room in your church? Do you enjoy having people see you go into the prayer room?

Prayer should not be that way. Prayer, Jesus said, is to God only. It is not for the eyes and ears of others. We should work on not being conscience of each other’s praying—that is, how they pray. Rather, when we pray, we should be carried on the wings of prayer so that we are always thinking on God.

The second sin we often commit in prayer is…

2. Thinking Too Much on The Form and Length of Time We Pray

We think that we will be heard for our beautiful words of prayer. You may think of this as “vain repetitions.” Perhaps you have heard of the terms “counting beads,” or “prayer wheels,” or “walking a labyrinth.” And many take great pride in repeating prayers over and over, thinking that this impresses God or others, or even yourself.

In all of what is said here, it is all the sin of self and pride—even in prayer. It is the sin of self-worship and self-adulation. When we try to worship God in our pride, we are actually worshipping self. Now we know that the best picture of man is to look at him on his knees waiting upon God. But even in that picture man sins if he thinks about himself as performing a holy act before God. Hence, sin is something that follows us into the presence of God.

So, when you pray try to shut out and forget yourself or what other are thinking about you.  Instead realize that you are in the presence of God and that He is listening to you and wants to meet your needs. Realize that He knows all your needs already and He desires to give you what you ask for.

Love Your Enemies

In Matthew 5: 43-44, we have this teaching to love our enemies, in contrast to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes, to love their neighbors, but to hate their enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

It is well known that the Jews in biblical times separated themselves from all others and regarded them as dogs. They drew their teaching from the Old Testament, where we find that God commanded His people to exterminate all the pagans in Cannon: the Amorites, the Moabites, the Midianites, and the Amalekites. And they also drew their teaching from the imprecatory Psalms, where the psalmist called curses on certain of God’s enemies.

But our answer is that their extermination was not a matter of personal hate, but of judgment and for the glory of God. God loves all people—all of His creation—but at the same time He must deal with us according to our sin. So, there is love, and there is also judgment. God loves all. He causes His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good; and so, He blesses all, even those who hate Him. But at the same time, unless man repents, they will eventually be judged by a righteous and holy God.

The Command to Love

In Matthew 5:38-42, we are instructed to resist not evil.  For example, if someone slaps us on the cheek, we are not to resist him. But then, our next step is to bless the one who hit us with kindness and love. What can we say or do to bless him? What would Jesus do? Scripture says that we are to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. This is the way of a Christian, the way of love.

How to Love

I think the most basic principle of love is that it is not dependent on what others say or do to us, but is governed by our view of the needs of others. That is, we must look to see how we can help them.

This attitude requires that we be detached from ourselves. That is, we must look away from our own feelings, away from any pain and hurt and pride; we must learn to put all that aside and focus on others—to love them, to love them with a disregard for ourselves and what it may cost us. Even if they do not except our love, and if they scream at us, and even hit us; we are to understand them and persist with our mission of love to them.

Here is a three-point requirement for anyone who is interested in loving others:

1. We must understand why people will reject our love to them—because they are governed by the god of this world.

2. We must do all we can to rescue them.

3. When you love them, do it not to befriend them, but to help them and to display the love of God to them. Let them see the love of God in you.

Now, be ready to do battle. Even when you love, the world will naturally hate you. But be persistent in your reply.

  • Reply to bitter words with kind words.
  • Reply to spiteful actions with good deeds.
  • Reply to persecution with your prayers for them.

And remember, your goal is not to befriend them or get them to like you, but to allow them to see the love of God, so that they might glorify Him.

SOURCE: Studies in the Sermon of the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

An Eye for An Eye – Matthew 5:38-42

I have been blogging from the book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The book is actually a copy of his sermons and well worth reading. Today we will cover this familiar text and see what Jesus says about it.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matt. 5:38-42)

This Mosaic teaching about an eye for an eye, etc., was from Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. According to Lloyd-Jones, the main intent of the teaching was to control anger and the desire for revenge, and to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Now the Pharisees taught that it was the right and the duty for each person that was violated to get his own revenge. However, it is important to understand that God gave the prescribed punishments to the judges to dish out and not to individuals. They were the ones to make sure that the punishment fit the crimes. Also, we are not to understand that the judges were always to take God’s prescribed punishment, “an eye for an eye,” etc. literally, but was meant only to teach fair judgments.

So, the Pharisees taught that we should enact our own revenge toward anyone who is evil toward us. That if they strike us, we should strike them back with the exact same force. But what does Jesus teach in regard to how we should act toward someone who is evil toward you? He says that we are not to resist them. What does that mean? Here are the points that Lloyd-Jones gives us:

1. The teaching is only for Christians. We can’t expect a non-Christian to act like a Christian in this way of not resisting evil. They will not understand it, nor do they have the Spiritual power to do it.

2. The teaching here applies to the relationship one has with another person, not to the government.

3. The teaching is directed toward my own attitude toward myself. Jesus tells us that we should not take personal revenge or have anger toward another for whatever they do to us. We should leave revenge to God and to the authorities. I should not be concerned with losing personal possessions and even damage to self. Our attitude as a Christian must be to deny self, to be dead to self.  

My Book, Prayer A to Z: Why A Book on Prayer?

In this blog post, and the next few, I will be writing about my books. I have written nine books and will soon be completing a tenth book. Today I will start with Prayer A to Z: A Comprehensive Bible-Based Study of Prayer. I began putting it together in 1992 and it was published in 2013. So, it took me a while to write it. But it’s long, 735 pages.

As you can tell by the title, it’s a book on prayer and was meant to be very comprehensive. Some may ask, why do I need to read a book on prayer? Especially a book of that length? I remember one person saying to me, just as I was beginning to write the book, that he didn’t need to be taught how to pray; he just needed to pray more. He was saying, in effect, that just by his practice of prayer, that, in itself, would make him better at prayer.

Well, I agree that the more we pray the better at prayer we will get and the closer our relationship with Him will be. But I also think that some instruction is necessary. In fact, we know that from what Jesus taught His disciples. He took the time to instruct them on how to pray. In chapters 17 and 18 of my book, I point this out. In chapter 17, I give eight of Jesus’ teachings on prayer. Then in chapter 18 is my study of the Lord’s Prayer, which is really Jesus’ lesson plan (or tutorial) on prayer to His disciples—and to us.

So, we really do need to be taught how to pray, and we especially need to pay attention to Jesus’ teachings on prayer. And really, all through the bible we can find prayer help and instruction. I especially like the Psalms.

And for those who think that all we need to do is pray, I want to give this warning: if you do that, you will be fighting against the Holy Spirit and your praying will not be according to His will or what He desires. For if He has given us instruction on prayer in His word, and we choose not to follow it, then we are being disobedient to the Holy Spirit and all our efforts at prayer will fail and may even cause us to be misled.

In my book, I not only present all the biblical teaching I could find on prayer, as I searched the Scriptures; I also read from about 100 books and articles offering their biblical studies on prayer, being careful not to include any material that was not biblical. I think there are too many books out there already that offer only people’s experiences. In my opinion, those kinds of books will do more damage than good. In terms of prayer, the only thing we need is God’s word and the testimonies of those who followed His word. Anything else is simply speculation.

I think this is enough for this post. Next time I will try to summarize the book by briefly going through the chapters.