By: Mike Kelly
Do you recall the Pharisees in the New Testament and how Christ consistently criticized them for holding to the “Letter of the Law” and not the “Spirit of the Law”. I find myself being a Pharisee more than I think God is happy with.
Paul had this to say about it: 2Cor 3:6 “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
First, let me state unequivocally that we do not get to re-interpret scripture on how we feel about it.
That’s not what this verse is about. Theology has to take in all the scriptures. It’s not a pick and choose kind of thing.
Theology, or the understanding of the nature of God, requires that we systematically apply God’s word. We have to look at the overall scripture and the context of the words.
For instance, Luke 12:19 reads “and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
While that isn’t a totally bad thing, it is in its context a bad thing for the next two verses provide the context: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The meaning is that we can and should plan and prepare but we must always do so in keeping with God’s intent which is that we serve him and not ourselves.
Besides a systematic understanding of scripture, we need to look behind the words into the intent of God. For instance, the 10 Commandments tell us not to murder. Great, that’s easy.
Most of us have never murdered anyone. But Jesus tells us that God’s intent was not so much physical murder but severe anger at others Matt 5:21-22 21 in the Amplified Version shows it most clearly: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘YOU SHALL NOT MURDER,’ and ‘Whoever murders shall be guilty before the court.’
But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks and insultingly] to his brother, ‘Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fiery hell.”
When looked at like that, I am guilty. I cannot count the number of people I have been severely angry with over my life.
Which brings me back to the idea of being a Pharisee today. I uphold the outward letter of the Law fairly well. But, like the Pharisees of Jesus’s time, I frequently miss the intent or the spirit of the law. You, too?
In the next few weeks, we’ll look at the modern-day Pharisees and some of the hot topics the Church faces. Things like speaking in tongues, homosexuality, the Israel-Hama war, consumerism, political protesting, abortion, and others.
I am a conservative theologian but sometimes, I think I am a self-righteous individual. There is a difference between being sure and true to our beliefs and being Christian in them.
Football has a foul for taunting. I think the church needs a flag for that as well. It was the attitude of the Pharisees that Jesus attacked. They believed they were right and were self-righteous in that belief rather than being humble and loving.
Mike Kelly is the founding pastor of Bryan’s Grace Community Church (retired) and Board Chairman of Bryan’s Sanctuary Homeless Shelter and Williams County’s Compassion (free) Medical Clinic.