Part Two: The Pharisee and the Weak Brother

July 18, 2008 at 2:15 pm (Articles, Godly Living) (, , , )

Posted by Abigail

Every coin has two sides. Legalism is no exception. On the one hand we have the legalist who ties up heavy burdens to place on the backs of others, controlling the lifestyles of others directly. I introduce you to the Pharisee. On the other stands the one who is bowed down by an imagined burden (often placed there by someone else), terrified to move or grow for fear he might step over that line into sin. Please welcome the Weak Brother. I’m not creative enough to have invented these characters on my own—we find them in the pages of scripture.

Meet the Pharisee (2 Timothy 3)

Our most dangerous advocate for extra rules is the Pharisee, who mirrors the Jewish legalists of Jesus’ day. Jesus told them, “You nicely set aside the word of God for the sake of your traditions.” The greatest commandment is to “Love Yahweh with all your heart, soul and mind” and the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In creating rules and regulations that go beyond Scripture, the Pharisee becomes an idolater, more interested in legalities (and his own power through them) than in glorifying the Lord or tending His lambs. Jesus said loving Him equals obeying His commands, but His commands are not burdensome. The Pharisee’s rules are heavy and overbearing, while the Pharisee himself, like an unjust lawyer, is always looking for loopholes to disobey God. (Check out Galatians 2:4 on the issue of circumcision.)

While building laws of the letter, the Pharisee misses the purpose of God’s commands. He reads “Don’t get drunk, for that is wasteful” and forbids the use of any alcohol, while wasting time, resources or health in some other fashion. He won’t be seen with a neighbor who drinks, missing opportunities for the gospel, and he refuses to visit a church that uses wine for communion, shutting out fellowship. She wears skirts to her ankles and pins her hair up underneath a veil, but is loud, obnoxious, flirtatious or rude.

Jesus constantly collided with the Pharisees of His day. Thy rebuked His disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. “You’re harvesting!” The Sabbath had been created as a day devoted to God—and the disciples were in His presence, learning of Him. Jesus told the Pharisees in no uncertain terms that the silly rules they’d made up to define work were legalistic. By the same legalism they would deprive a sick man of healing on the Sabbath. “Can’t I do good on the Sabbath?” Jesus demanded. Did it tire Him out to heal a man? He was worn out only with the Pharisees endless nitpicking. Did the Pharisees keep the Sabbath holy? Tell me, is plotting the death of the Son of God good or evil?

The Pharisee has a deadly disease of the heart. He wishes to appear godly to others, to gain sway over others, to rule by rules. What’s the cure? Jesus spared nothing in His dealings with them. Let the word of God cut and convict. A tumor like the one festering in a Pharisee’s heart can only be removed by the sharp blade of Jesus’ words.

Meet the Weak Brother (1 Corinthians 8-10)

This form of legalism is simply the surfacing of ignorance, frequently fueled by past experiences or traditions, sometimes aggravated by the Pharisee. Paul tells us the Weak Brother simply doesn’t understand the freedom he has in Christ. He feels safer surrounded by rules that may keep him from temptation, but in his mind, breaking these rules has become a sin. How can he, in good conscience, be free to cross his imagined boundaries?

Paul speaks of meat sacrificed to idols. The Weak Brother of our day recalls his days of Rock and Roll and feels guilty when his toes tap time to Christian Rock. He trembles to think of Christian brothers smoking peace pipes in Turkey. For the man with ghosts in his past, avoiding certain things may be necessary to prevent his stumbling. Who am I to condemn him for choosing a path of abstinence? My part is to uphold him and honor his convictions and avoid causing him to violate his conscience.

The Weak Brother desires to please the Lord, so he creates rules that will keep him from displeasing the Lord. At an appropriate time, show him the truth of liberty in scripture. This form of legalism is more of an allergic reaction: give him a heavy dose of the truth and a washing with the water of the word, frequently, until symptoms subside.

Where Do You Fit In?

Most of the accusations of legalism actually spring from a pricked conscience, convicting of sin or calling to obedience and holiness. For those who simply hold personal convictions or practices to keep them from temptation, who am I to judge the servant of another? To his own Master he stands or falls. The choice to limit Christian liberty is personal—it’s between you and God. The choice to obey is not. God is a particular God. He seeks devotion as evidenced by literal obedience, springing from a heart full of love for Him.

Almost humorously, there are those who become legalistic about avoiding legalism. They grow to worship a definition of legalism, giving it greater importance than obeying the Lord or loving others. “Don’t be legalistic!” they shout, and toss out God’s commands. Beware the deceivers, who use the grace of God as an excuse for licentiousness.

Worried about appearing legalistic to others? First: it is God whom you serve, and those who are serving the world (“believers” or not) will not appreciate your obedience because it convicts them. Second: if you are seeking the Lord and desiring obedience to Him, you’ll find yourself upholding the greater commandments. The Pharisees were legalistic, tithing dill and cumin but neglecting mercy. Legalism can’t abide with love, since its very nature dishonors God and others. Seek the Lord devotedly, study His word diligently, interpret it carefully, apply it faithfully and teach others to do the same and you will stand approved and unashamed at the coming of our Lord.

Part One / Part Two / Part Three

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