Truth or Pharisaism?

Romans 14-4

*Post was originally published on March 17, 2017. Relevant still for such a time as this one.*

What is pharisaism? Pharisaism is adhering to the principles and practices of the Pharisees—men who were fierce (self-righteous) hypocrites, as we see in the Bible.

The Pharisees’ belief was that everyone should live by their rules, their man-made traditions (even when they themselves didn’t). When people didn’t, they unmercifully criticized them, and Jesus wasn’t excluded. Let’s look at one example.

In John 9, verses 1-7, we see Jesus heal a man who’d been blind since birth.  In verses 8-12, his neighbors see his healing and are astonished. “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” they asked.

Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But the man who was healed insisted, “I am the man.”

“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

“The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes,” he said. “He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

Following their brief conversation, the people brought the healed man to the Pharisees, and they also asked him how he’d received his sight.

“He put mud in my eyes,” the man repeated to them, “and I washed, and now I see.”

“This man [Jesus] is not from God,” said some of the Pharisees, “for He does not keep the Sabbath.”

As I studied this story one Tuesday of last year, God revealed to me how many believers today harbor the same mentality as those Pharisees did in the biblical days. When something is done by our brothers and sisters that is contrary to the way things “should” be done—in some of our minds—we criticize, point the finger, mock, and/or dismiss the person as a brother or sister in Christ. But that shouldn’t be.

In Romans 14, verses 1-12, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us how we should behave toward our brothers and sisters who share different convictions than we do. 

Now, although in the case of today’s passage the focus was on food (meat and vegetable eating) and esteeming one day as more sacred than another—perhaps those were the areas that caused the most strife among the Roman Christians—the principles of the chapter are clear and apply to us today.

Background Information: From my reading/study of this chapter, I learned that there were some among the Roman Christians who found it hard to break away from old practices they’d adhered to for so long under the law. Those people refused to eat meat because they saw it as unclean, as it was under the law. Others, in the same category, still regarded certain days as being more sacred than others, as it was under the law (e.g., feast days). On the other side, there were the Roman Christians who’d grasped and relished their freedom in Christ. These people didn’t (any longer) see meat as unclean and, therefore, ate it. They also didn’t regard one day as better than another. To them, all days were the same.

Those Christians who took hold of the freedom given them in Christ, Paul deemed the stronger group. Those who struggled to let go of old practices and fully grasp their freedom in Christ, were deemed the weaker group. Each of these groups had a tendency to turn their noses up at the other, esteeming themselves as “better” than the others. The stronger group despised the weaker group for their “strict” beliefs. And the weaker group judged the stronger group for their “carnal” beliefs.

But Paul, in today’s text, instructs the groups on how to handle their differences…sensibly. He begins by telling the strong group to “accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables” (verses 1-2). Then to both groups he says: “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them” (verse 3). (Note: Faith, here, means conscience. A strong conscience is one that is shaped and functions by the truth of God’s Word. A weak conscience has an incorrect, or incomplete, view of God’s Word.)

In the same way, we today are to accept our brothers and sisters who may be weaker (or stronger) in faith, without quarreling over opinions. We aren’t to try to shove our beliefs (examples from our culture today: vegetarianism/veganism, hair choices, celebration of holidays, homeschooling, breastfeeding, etc.) onto those who feel differently than we do. But we are to love and accept them, as is, as God has.

Now, understand clearly, Paul isn’t saying to overlook a brother or sister’s living in immorality, walking in step with the wicked, following the lead of false teachers, denying essential biblical doctrine, etc. – things that blatantly go against God’s Word – all because they don’t “feel” convicted or condemned in their minds. No. But, where we differ in matters of personal conviction (on things that are ‘in line’ with, or don’t defy, God’s Word), we shouldn’t conduct ourselves in a pharisaical manner, dismissing our brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they won’t follow our “rules for living.” Instead, we are to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (verse 19).

Therefore, my sisters, whatever you’re convinced is right, or the “better way,” in your mind (verse 5b), keep that between yourself and God (unless asked your opinion, or you’re asked to do something that goes against your conscience). Your convictions are your convictions; refuse to force them onto another, for the Kingdom of God is not about trivial things, such as eating and drinking, as Paul reminds us, but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Selah.

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