I apologize if it seems I am picking on the Pharisees, but my words are hardly more critical than Jesus’ own. In essence, they represented a contradiction, which if any one of us is truly honest can find such contradictions in our own lives and attitudes. However, the worst aspect of the religious rulers of Jesus’ day was that they were too full of pride and arrogance to change even after being challenged on their faults.
Hopefully, dear reader, you and I can do much better. Their example, after all, is recorded for our own instruction and learning (cf. Heb 4:6; 1Co 10:6). All Scripture is there for our benefit (2Ti 3:16), and that includes the example of the Pharisees. Their worst actions and attitudes are put on display for us not so we can feel superior (for, isn’t that one of the main problems they themselves had?) but so that we can avoid the same destructive attitudes and behaviors.
So, this article and the next one in this series on judgmentalism are intimately interwoven. Some might even say they are the same thing. In essence, this entire series is about the same thing, however. They are just facets of the arrogance that the Pharisees allowed to dominate in their hearts. It is an arrogance that we can allow in our own lives if we are not attuned to it in order to avoid it. Unfortunately, it is an arrogance that some leaders (and some followers!) of some of these organizations have been blinded by. We need to avoid the poisonous apples, or else it rub off on us as well!
Certainly, both of these vices come from the same need. Once one decides they are superior to another human being in any way, the carnal mind immediately sets out to justify such a belief. The most obvious way to do this is to compare one’s self to another.
12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
I confess that I must scratch my head whenever some routinely break this principle. First of all, those who beat their chests or compare themselves to those who beat their chests are not to be emulated! We are to “not make ourselves of [their] number”! To me, that even means attending where this is regularly practiced is not a good idea!
Second, Paul, a Pharisee, knew good and well what he was writing, for of a certainty he saw it firsthand many times. An example of this is recorded in the opening graphic and also in John 7.
40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
I’m stopping here to make a point. There was division among the crowd listening to Jesus. “Many” believed on Him! Prior to this (v 31), “many of the people”, meaning the masses, believed upon His miracles. However, the ones who disbelieved the most were the religious leaders!
45 Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?
49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
What’s important here is not just the words but the attitude behind them. The Pharisees often held themselves (and others held them up as well, so it wasn’t totally one-sided) as paragons of righteousness. The “people” were viewed literally as the great unwashed (that is, ceremonially unclean). According to the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary on John “Chapter 7“, “this people” literally means either “multitude” or “ignorant rabble”, and that doesn’t come through very well in English. Matthew Henry also makes this same observation:
(2.) That they will disparage themselves. Most men, even in their religion, are willing to be governed by the example of those of the first rank; these officers therefore, whose preferments, such as they were, gave them a sense of honour, are desired to consider,
[2.] That they will link themselves with the despicable vulgar sort of people (v. 43) But this people, who know not the law, are cursed, meaning especially those that were well-affected to the doctrine of Christ. Observe, First, How scornfully and disdainfully they speak of them: This people. It is not laos, this lay-people, distinguished from them that were the clergy, but ochlos outos, this rabble-people, this pitiful, scandalous, scoundrel people, whom they disdained to set with the dogs of their flock though God had set them with the lambs of his. If they meant the commonalty of the Jewish nation, they were the seed of Abraham, and in covenant with God, and not to be spoken of with such contempt.
~ Matthew Henry, “Commentary on John 7“
There are, of course, many other examples that Jesus gave, such as looking for the prime seats and banquets as such, which in essence mean comparing themselves to others in order to exalt themselves.
This is a form of pride and arrogance, and it goes hand-in-hand with its sister attitude of judgmentalism. However, you cannot be judgmental of someone if you don’t compare yourself to them, so that is why I am listing them separately.
In the past, I remember WCG often putting out numbers of subscribers, the number of respondents to Reader’s Digest cards, etc. In general, there is nothing wrong with such things, but it depends upon what the purpose behind the tracking of such numbers is about. It can give hope and encouragement to those donating. After all, when one’s hard earned money goes towards a cause, one wants to know that it is actually doing some good.
I see often that such numbers are carelessly thrown about today. However, it appears to be so much chest beating rather than encouragement.
- One fellow constantly touts his Alexa ratings, steadfast in his foolishness in comparing his “outreach”, such as it is, to others. He refuses to acknowledge the faulty mechanisms that Alex uses, which have led many SEO experts to abandon it. No less Pharisaical is his comparison of his “Philadelphia mantel” (where is that phrase in the Bible? Oh, right, it doesn’t exist.) to the “Laodicean” organizations based upon outreach. That is not what “Philadelphia” or “Laodicea” means, as I have pointed out many times. In fact, “Laodicea” means “the lay people judge”, and it is a judgmental attitude that continually seeps out from his writings, through the screen and making a mess everywhere. Oh, and he was a lay member until he decided to go on his own.
- Speaking of judgmentalism, it is interesting to note another fellow who boasts of “thousands” of followers seeking the truth, thereby trying to add to his stature so he can constantly judge other church organizations for their supposed lack of zeal. He continually compares other COG organizations’ beliefs against his own. Either you believe his way or you will go through the Tribulation. Of course, he would be a lot more credible if he actually wasn’t busy misquoting and taking statements out of context of Herbert W Armstrong, various church leaders, various commenters and even the Bible itself. On top of that, there are the insinuations, the implicit accusations, the breaking of Philippians 4 and the gossip. Makes you wonder how he comes up with his estimates of “thousands” of people watching, even though he is barely a blip on the screen of various sites that should know.
- One rather prolific author is constantly talking about growth in booklets and Internet outreach. He brags about vague quantities of people joining his organization from other COG organizations. He is conveniently never specific, unless of course it is a failed date about some event that never comes to pass. He calls other organizations “the synagogue of Satan”, but he seems to forget that Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and giving a false prophecy is about the surest lie of all.
- Another group desperately tries to pat itself on the back (or should I say pat its prophet on his back?) has quit throwing around numbers about growth. In its early days, literature was sent around to various people trying to siphon off membership for its particular cult. Simple fact is that its been in decline for some time, and it has had some vultures circling it for some time now. Another set of figures thrown around was contribution, which was shown as “cumulative” contributions rather than straight simple contributions. It is a very thin deception to make it appear like it is growing, and such devices alone should tell someone what the real deal is. Yet, once again, it is “Philadelphian” and all others are “Laodicean”, which is considered worse than being a devil worshiper.
The list can get even more delusional, so I’ll stop here. I think the point is made, the attitudes exposed, and a real Christian can use this to arm his or herself against it, whether it come internally or externally.
The main problem with comparing ourselves to others should be self-evident. It sets the bar too low. Christ is our example, not other human beings. That is why Christ was so adamant about taking the beam out of our own eye before worrying about a little tiny speck in our brother’s eye. Focusing on others is the wrong focus. It is like Peter walking on the water, sinking because he took his eye off of Christ!
Bottom line: No one can convince me that the attitude of the Pharisees isn’t alive and well in COG-land. Comparing themselves to others and judging others harshly and unfairly were and the hallmarks of the Pharisees, both ancient and contemporary.