The Pharisaic Attitude

Submitted by RVH on Mon, 10/05/2020 - 18:43
Pharisee and Jesus

Matthew 23:1-6   English Standard Version


Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues

Matthew 15:8   English Standard Version

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;

The entire 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel is devoted to Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees.

Seven times, Jesus uses the phrase “Woe to you.”

Jesus calls the Pharisees blind fools and on three occasions calls them hypocrites.

Let’s take a look at some of the things Jesus says about the Pharisees;


  • They were full of pride
  • They told others what to do, but did not practice what they preached
  • They did all of their good deeds, so that others would see them
  • They loved the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogue
  • They tithed, but ignored the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness
  • They looked righteous to others on the outside, but inside were full of greed and self- indulgence
  • They were like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness
  • They outwardly appear righteous to others, but within were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness


Jesus further tells them that they are serpents and a brood of vipers and asks “how are you to escape being sentenced to hell.”

Jesus makes it very clear that the “Pharisaic Attitude” can in no way co-exist with His teachings and the Christian life.

As we examine ourselves, we must be sure that we are not sliding into or allowing the “Pharisaic Attitude” to exist.

The Pharisees wrote the book on self-righteousness. They also wrote the book on hypocrisy. They did great things, but not for God’s glory. The things they did were to be seen by others, therefore for their own glory. They gave of their money, but again it was to be seen by others.

 They were great actors, in that they appeared pure, holy and righteous to those around them, but outside the view of others they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

.The Pharisees looked down on and despised others.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican? Remember what the Pharisee said?  He said “God I thank you that I am not like others, especially this tax collector.”

The Pharisee prayed to God, but his prayer was all about himself. About how good he was.

The Pharisees felt they were better than everyone else. In their mind they were a superior class of people and this is what they portrayed to others.

 I like to say that “they were proud that they were so humble.”



Pharisee potato head


As Christians, we must always be on guard against the “Pharisaic Attitude”, which can creep into our attitude, thoughts, words and actions at any time. To guard against it, we must realize and recognize it when we see it.

Let us take a look at this “Pharisaic Attitude” and think about our personal walk with God;

  • Are we full of pride?
  • Do we ever exhibit self-righteousness?
  • Do we look down on those who are not like us?
  • Do we show bigotry and racism toward Blacks? Toward Hispanics? Toward immigrants?
  • Do we consider ourselves better than others?
  • Are we so committed to our “Political Sect” that we look down on, or despise the other political beliefs?
  • Do we want others to see our good deeds?
  • Is our motive for giving and helping to get credit for it?
  • Can we honestly say that we definitely practice what we preach?

The unfortunate truth is that the “Pharisaic Attitude” rears its ugly head and slips into our lives more often than we want to admit.

Jesus did not mince words, making it very clear that this attitude is not compatible with the Christian way. It is totally contrary to the two great commandments of loving God with all of our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbor as ourself. He made it clear that it is hypocrisy and a very dangerous path to be on.

So, how do we guard against falling into this attitude?

First, we must periodically take spiritual inventory.

Through self-reflection and introspection, we need to examine our thoughts, words, deeds, actions and attitudes.

This spiritual self-examination needs to be performed regularly and often.

We need to take notice of our attitude and any changes in it. We need to notice any negative patterns that may be developing. We need to notice if there are more instances of bitterness, anger, resentment, or grievances. We need to see if we are more prideful or more desiring of credit and praise. We need to see if we are less tolerant or less accepting of those who “are not like us.” All of these are things we should be on guard against.  

Then, we must be certain we are being honest in our examination.

Humans have the ability to delude themselves and if we enter this self-examination process assured that we will find no wrong, then that is likely what we will find.

If done honestly and prayerfully, this inward look may not be pleasant, but it is vital.

The warnings of Jesus were not just to the Pharisees of His time, but to the “Pharisaic Attitude” wherever and whenever it is found.

If we want to grow spiritually and walk closer to God in our daily life, we must make certain we are exhibiting Christ to the world through our words, deeds, actions and attitudes.

If we want to be the “light of the world” and influence others positively, we must be certain that those we come in contact with see Christ and His teachings in our attitude, our words, our actions and deeds.

We must be certain that they don’t see hypocrisy or actions that are contrary to Christ and His teachings.

Jesus gave us plenty of warnings about this “Pharisaic Attitude” and it can become real in our life without even realizing it. Remember that we humans are very good at rationalizing and justifying our thoughts.

“We shouldn’t help out so and so because you know he drinks and won’t work—let him go hungry for a while” or “Those immigrants are taking our jobs so I don’t care what happens to them.” 

See how easy it is to fall into Satan’s trap?

Remember that there are “Pharisees” all around us from time to time. Some are in positions of power. No doubt, some sit in the church pews each week. Also, there is no doubt that some even stand in the pulpit or teach classes. All feeling they are “right” and “righteous.”

Satan is clever and knows what buttons to push.  We must guard our thoughts first of all, as thoughts will become words and actions.

Let us make certain that Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 23 never apply to us.

So, the best advice possible is as follows;

If there is ever a doubt, we can simply ask ourselves this question;

“What would Christ think, say or do in this situation.” 

We can’t go wrong, if we remember this and act accordingly.