THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION – Part 4


Matthew 23:1-4 – “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”  NASB

What was it about the Pharisees and their religion that induced the anger of our LORD?   That would demand that we consider what made the nation of Israel the ‘people of God’.  We know that God revealed Himself to them and His Presence was what made them special.  God gave them Himself.  Initially, God was the central focus, but the Pharisees elevated the Law to the center and God was no longer the center.  The Torah became more important than God.  That is revealed in their attitude and actions.

In the progression of this thought, they forgot that they were the People of God because of His presence and adopted the view that they were the People of God because they kept the rules.  In that process, they lost God in His Word.  That still happens today. 

They sank into a form of idolatry worshipping the Book, the Law, rather than the God of the Book.  The idea was, “if I can somehow keep the Law, I can get to God.”  That is a form of bondage that is incredibly destructive.  It demands an external show and is a rigid legalistic view.  When Jesus declared that He came to ‘fulfill’ the Law He did not mean what the Pharisees meant.  He got to the heart of the matter.

Let’s look at the Law and see if we can unearth the contrast of Jesus’ teaching and that of the Pharisees!    The Law says, “Thou shalt not kill.”  I contend that is not the Law but the wrapper that the Law comes in.  I believe that we must see what is behind the command.  The Law says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, etc.”  I believe those are all wrappers and ask, “What is underneath those commands?”

It is Love!  If I love you, I won’t seek to kill you, steal from you, cheat you, or covet what you have.  Love is the fulfillment of the Law!  Therefore, all the negatives “thou shalt not” are only the wrapping paper, not the law.  The Pharisees had taken the wrapper off the candy, discarded the candy, and were arguing about the wrapper.  It is incredible.  Love is the piece of chocolate in the middle, but they missed it and keep the wrapper.

For example, the Pharisee said, “Thou shalt not kill, but it is okay to hate those not of the Association.”  Jesus said, “No, boys you got it all wrong!”  He even identified that anger is the beginning of murder.  If you follow the Spirit of Religion embodied in the Pharisee’s brand of legalism you only have the command.  But if you have Love, you experience the transformation of your life. 

The Law says, “Don’t Kill.”  You may get within an inch of it and want to, but so long as you don’t do it, you are okay.  You have kept the commandment.  Love, on the other hand, says, “If I lose my temper, I must ask your forgiveness.”  Jesus came to get to the heart of the matter and the root of the problem.  He came to allow us to Live the Law of God not by following rigid rules and regulations but by having the Love of God in our hearts. 

Tragically, there are Christians living with a mindset that is incredibly near that of the Pharisees.  Some have lost God in the Word of God and that is sad.  The reality is if we are going to keep the Law, we need help and lots of it.

The Pharisee never asked, “How can I keep the Law?”  Rather he asked, “How shall I not break it?”  There is a difference.  To keep the Law, I Love my neighbor.  To not break it, I erect fences.  Their idea was, here is the command and it must be obeyed, and God help the person if they ever get close to it, because if you do you will break it for sure.  Therefore, we must put up enough fences to keep everyone from getting close enough to break the law. 

The Commandment to “Keep the Sabbath Day Holy” is a point we need to consider.  God gave it for rest and to enjoy.  He said, “Stay home today, have family time, rest, and enjoy the day.”  The Pharisee’s view was, “How shall I not break the law?”  I can’t work on the Sabbath.  What does that involve?  Well, plowing would be work, right?  But what is plowing?  If I drag a chair across the dirt floor and the legs divide the dust am I now technically, plowing?  That is a Fence they erected.  If I look in the mirror and notice a gray hair and pluck it out that equates to work and is taboo.  When the disciples took the ear of corn on the Sabbath the Pharisees wanted to crucify Jesus and them.  They Broke the Rules and were harvesting and grinding corn.  It was rules, rules, rules, and love was a million miles away.

The heart of the matter is the Spirit of Religion is all about the Rules and the Gospel is about Love!  If I love you and have the love of God in my heart, I will keep God’s commandments but not necessarily man’s rules and regulations.  Religious spirits are mean and drive away whereas love draws to us.  Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw to Me.” 

Reject the Spirit of Religion and allow the Holy Spirit to strip away your Fences and seek to be filled with the Love of God and in that, you will discover the Life that Jesus came to bring, and it will be Abundant!

God bless you as you enjoy this wonderful day in Him!

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