Jesus Loving Pharisees
JULY 12, 2022
Do you ever feel like your head is on straight, but your heart is upside down?
I’ve been walking with a group of men through the book of James on Tuesday mornings and it’s been revealing. What it revealed the most for me is the disconnect that often occurs between our mind and our hearts. On an intelligent level it’s easy to “hear the word” as James puts it, but it’s a completely different animal when it comes to that truth dripping down into our hearts, taking root, and then spreading throughout our daily lives. If this wasn’t challenging enough, what really matters goes to an even deeper level, not to just hearing then doing, but how we do what we do. I know, it can feel like a lot because it is. Right motivation is one of the most challenging aspects of the Christian life, at least it is for me. It doesn’t help that we live in a post-Christian culture that promotes me over we and encourages boasting as a means of expressing strength and individuality. If I serve, I snap off a selfie and share it. If I give, I make sure to do it in a way that others take notice. If I sacrifice something, I’ll let you know how hard it was for me and how much it cost. Even when I’m doing the right thing, I feel this internal tension and pressure to be praised at every turn, and it disgusts me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus but what I’ve come to realize is I’m also a pharisee. James understood this tension as he writes to a church that also struggled with a disconnect between the mind, heart, and hands. They knew the truth, looked the part, but their motivation was off. As our group was discussing this week, we got the first part of James 1:27. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” The question I asked was, “Is James trying to say this is what Christianity is all about or is he getting at something deeper?” One of the men chimed up as you could almost see the light bulb come on above his head, “It’s deeper…these are people that couldn’t give you anything in return.” Bingo. The point isn’t that James is narrowing Christian service and following Jesus down to orphan and widow care; what He’s doing is taking a scalpel, cutting away at all of the junk, and getting down to the motivation of our heart.
Why do you do what you do? How do you do what you do? Every action the pharisees took was to ensure that others took notice and would see them as supremely righteous. Don’t be so quick to think we don’t do the same. Even if our motivation isn’t to be seen as righteous, there is a motivation to everything we do. Some of us think if we do the right thing, God will love us more. For others we’ve bought into this false idea that doing good works means getting more good things from God, and the list goes on. So where do those of us who love Jesus but regularly find ourselves in this same boat go from here? Here are a few thoughts:
- STEP BACK & BE HONEST – We move at such a fast pace that we often don’t take time to reflect. Mark out 15-30 minutes this week and actually reflect on motivation when it comes to serving, giving, sacrificing, etc. Be honest with yourself and before God. Ask Him to bring to the surface selfish desires, wrong motivation, and the root cause to all of it. For me, it’s usually respect. I want people to see me in a certain way.
- INVITE OTHERS IN – Christian community is so important here. Think of a few people in your closest Christian community and invite them to speak in now and in the future. Ask them if they see anything that’s off when it comes to motivation and living out God’s word. This requires vulnerability and teachability, but is incredibly helpful and freeing.
- REGULARLY CONFESS & MOVE FORWARD – This is where the beauty of God’s grace comes in. Every single day of our lives we have the opportunity to confess where we fall short, accept God’s kindness and grace, and move forward. Sanctification isn’t a straight line up, it’s a roller coaster of twists and turns as we learn, grow, and seek to become more like Jesus.