I know of a guy who was really religious. He was the kind of guy that you would often find in the middle of prayer or some act of service. The dude knew his Bible back and forth, and a lot of people respected him for his holy vocation. I don’t actually know the guy’s name, but Jesus calls him a Pharisee. Even though I’ve never met him, I feel like I know him really well. Outwardly he looks devoted to God, but inwardly he lacks a real desire for God. Some might view him as righteousness, but God sees right through his hypocrisy.
When I read about Jesus rebuking a self-righteousness Pharisee, part of me smiles. But there’s another part of me that realizes the Pharisee I should be focused on is me.
There’s a Pharisee in all of us. It’s the part of us that is content when the outside is clean while the inside is dirty. It’s the part of us that cares more about being seen by others than by God. The Pharisee, though he would never acknowledge it, often feels no need for God. He will raise his hands in church before men but not his hearts in worship before God. It might look like he’s laying up treasures in heaven, but the reward he’s seeking is from men. This is the Pharisee we need to fight.
It’s a tricky battle because you can try to succeed spiritually simply out of self-interest, but that’s the Pharisee in you. You can try fighting the Pharisee in your own strength, but that will only make the Pharisee stronger.
The Pharisee is best fought through private prayer. When we worship God through private prayer, we kill off the Pharisee that seeks his own glory. It is private prayer that ignites a real desire for God and reflects a genuine need of Him. The spiritually arrogant, thinking they have already attained, will not submit to God in private prayer, but Christ reminds us that the ones who will soon be with God in His kingdom are the ones who long sought Him in their closet.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)
“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.” (Matt. 6:6)