“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:39,40)
It was the Pharisees’ zeal to live strictly “by the Book” that lent toward their straying from God’s heart. The Pharisees were the “Word people” of their day. When it came to the law of God they were as hard charging as they come. But they were also a proud and unmerciful lot. They placed demands on others that they did not keep. While pretending to keep the commandments, they skirted the law when it was in their interest to do so. Their orthodoxy on paper kept them blind, self-justified, and incapable of receiving conviction where they needed it most. They looked down their nose at sinners, Sadducees, and anyone who didn’t subscribe to every jot and tittle as well as they did.
The Pharisees impressed the people of their day. They gathered disciples because they were deemed the most genuine adherents of the Word until the Word appeared and put them to shame. Although their zeal and fidelity to scripture made them certain they were God’s favorites, when He showed up in their midst they didn’t even know Him and eventually put Him to death.
There was so much more to a life in God than the Pharisees had grasped. While there were straining at gnats they were swallowing camels. While they were scrupulously weighing out mint and anise and cummin they were oblivious to the greater need to be loving and merciful. Relationship with those closest to them: parents, spouses, and brethren, were trashed while they travelled land and sea to make one disciple.
The phenomenon of Pharisaism has not left us. It is most often found in those circles where people most want to live “by the Book.” While men are impressed by zeal toward God, the appearance of orthodoxy, and outward conformity to scripture, God looks deeper. His call to conformity is not to our doctrine and tradition but to His own Person. He is all for zeal when it is a zeal that would truly know Him in all His fullness and glory. Such a zeal will cause us to fall upon the Rock and be broken into a thousand pieces. From there He will truly build our lives on the foundation of His Word.