Sabbath, November 30, 2013
“The Lord expects His servants to excel others in life and character. He has placed every facility at the command of those who serve Him. The Christian is looked upon by the whole universe as one who strives for the mastery, running the race set before him, that he may obtain the prize, even an immortal crown; but if he who professes to follow Christ does not make it manifest that his motives are above those of the world in this great contest where there is everything to win and everything to lose, he will never be a victor. He is to make use of every entrusted power, that he may overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil through the power of the Holy Spirit, by grace abundantly provided….” –God’s Amazing Grace, p. 271.
Acting for personal advantage
1. How far did the Pharisees go in dealing with widows? What does prophecy say about the display of forms and external religiosity in the last days?
Matthew 23:14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
2 Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 Timothy 3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
“The Pharisees had great influence with the people, and of this they took advantage to serve their own interests. They gained the confidence of pious widows, and then represented it as a duty for them to devote their property to religious purposes. Having secured control of their money, the wily schemers used it for their own benefit. To cover their dishonesty, they offered long prayers in public, and made a great show of piety. This hypocrisy Christ declared would bring them the greater damnation. The same rebuke falls upon many in our day who make a high profession of piety. Their lives are stained by selfishness and avarice, yet they throw over it all a garment of seeming purity, and thus for a time deceive their fellow men. But they cannot deceive God. He reads every purpose of the heart, and will judge every man according to his deeds.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 614.
Fruit produced according to the character of the tree
2. Not being truly converted, could the Pharisees’ missionary activity have a good result, bringing people to the Lord? And today, is it of value for one to preach a powerful message to convince others if he is not himself converted?
Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
“In the words we speak to the people, and in the prayers we offer, God desires us to give unmistakable evidence that we have spiritual life. We do not enjoy the fullness of blessing which the Lord has prepared for us, because we do not ask in faith. If we would exercise faith in the word of the living God, we would have the richest blessing. We dishonor God by our lack of faith, therefore we cannot impart life to others by bearing a living, uplifting testimony. We cannot give what we do not possess.” –PH130–“Camp Meetings, Their Object, and How to Conduct Them,” p. 34.
“The Lord had instructed His people that He was the owner of the vineyard, and that all their possessions were given them in trust to be used for Him. But the priests and teachers did not perform the work of their sacred office as if they were handling the property of God. They were systematically robbing Him of the means and facilities entrusted to them for the advancement of His work. Their covetousness and greed caused them to be despised even by the heathen. Thus the Gentile world was given occasion to misinterpret the character of God and the laws of His kingdom.” –Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 292, 293.
Adapting to convenience
3. How seriously did they take certain kinds of oaths? What will be the result today if we consider as relative that which should be recognized as binding?
Matthew 23:16-19 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
“The priests interpreted God’s requirements according to their own false and narrow standard. They presumed to make nice distinctions as to the comparative guilt of various sins, passing over some lightly, and treating others of perhaps less consequence as unpardonable. For a money consideration they excused persons from their vows. And for large sums of money they sometimes passed over aggravated crimes. At the same time these priests and rulers would in other cases pronounce severe judgment for trivial offenses.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 616.
Fanaticism and trifling
4. What did the Saviour say about their painstaking calculation and payment of tithe on small, insignificant things, while they were neglectful of important matters?
Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
“In these words Christ again condemns the abuse of sacred obligation. The obligation itself He does not set aside. The tithing system was ordained by God, and it had been observed from the earliest times. Abraham, the father of the faithful, paid tithes of all that he possessed. The Jewish rulers recognized the obligation of tithing, and this was right; but they did not leave the people to carry out their own convictions of duty. Arbitrary rules were laid down for every case. The requirements had become so complicated that it was impossible for them to be fulfilled. None knew when their obligations were met. As God gave it, the system was just and reasonable; but the priests and rabbis had made it a wearisome burden.
“All that God commands is of consequence. Christ recognized the payment of tithes as a duty; but He showed that this could not excuse the neglect of other duties. The Pharisees were very exact in tithing garden herbs, such as mint, anise, and rue; this cost them little, and it gave them a reputation for exactness and sanctity. At the same time their useless restrictions oppressed the people and destroyed respect for the sacred system of God’s own appointing. They occupied men’s minds with trifling distinctions, and turned their attention from essential truths.” –The Desire of Ages, pp. 616, 617.
5. What happens when one loses the sense of the divine standard and begins to introduce his own concepts and values? How far did the Pharisees go in such cases?
Matthew 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
John 7:21-24 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
John 18:28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
“Other laws had been perverted by the rabbis in like manner. In the directions given through Moses, it was forbidden to eat any unclean thing. The use of swine’s flesh, and the flesh of certain other animals, was prohibited, as likely to fill the blood with impurities, and to shorten life. But the Pharisees did not leave these restrictions as God had given them. They went to unwarranted extremes. Among other things the people were required to strain all the water used, lest it should contain the smallest insect, which might be classed with the unclean animals. Jesus, contrasting these trivial exactions with the magnitude of their actual sins, said to the Pharisees, ‘Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.’ ” –The Desire of Ages, p. 617.
Profession versus genuine goodness
6. Is a mere profession of religion valued by the Lord? What is our condition if we present a good appearance while our hearts are dominated by unholy passions?
Matthew 23:25, 26 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“A mere profession of godliness is worthless. It is he that abideth in Christ that is a Christian…. Unless the mind of God becomes the mind of men, every effort to purify himself will be useless; for it is impossible to elevate man except through a knowledge of God.” –(Letter 13, 1893) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 951.
“Those who would be victors should contemplate and count the cost of salvation. Strong human passions must be subdued; the independent will must be brought into captivity to Christ. The Christian is to realize that he is not his own. He will have temptations to resist, and battles to fight against his own inclinations; for the Lord will accept no halfway service. Hypocrisy is an abomination to Him. The follower of Christ must walk by faith, as seeing Him who is invisible. Christ will be his dearest treasure, his all and in all.” –God’s Amazing Grace, p. 271.
7. What will happen to those who appear religious while they are not good people? Instead of correcting the outward appearance, for what righteousness should we strive daily?
Matthew 23:27, 28 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Matthew 7:21, 22 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Matthew 5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
“As the whited and beautifully decorated tomb concealed the putrefying remains within, so the outward holiness of the priests and rulers concealed iniquity.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 617.
“The outward gloss may be put on, and men may be as were the Pharisees whom Jesus describes as ‘whited sepulchres’ full of corruption and dead men’s bones. But all the deformity of the soul is open to Him who judgeth righteously, and unless the truth is planted in the heart, it cannot control the life. Cleansing the outside of the cup will never make the vessel pure within. A nominal acceptance of truth is good as far as it goes, and the ability to give a reason for our faith is a good accomplishment, but if the truth does not go deeper than this, the soul will never be saved. The heart must be purified from all moral defilement.” –(Letter 13, 1893) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 951.
“This experience is essential to those who profess the name of Christ, for its influence pervades the conduct, and sanctifies the influence of the Christian’s life in its effect upon others. The business connections and intercourse of Christians with men of the world will be sanctified by the grace of Christ; and wherever they are, a moral atmosphere will be created, that will have power for good; for it will breathe the spirit of the Master.
“He who has the mind of Christ knows that his only safe course is to keep close to Jesus, following the light of life. He will not accept work, or engage himself in business, that will hinder him from reaching the perfection of Christian character…. ‘No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.’ 2 Timothy 2:4.” –God’s Amazing Grace, p. 271.