How to Discern the Doctrine of the Pharisees

What are the fundamentals we should grasp in believing in God? Some brothers and sisters may say, “Running to and fro, expending ourselves, doing more work, giving more offerings, attending church meetings on time, studying the Bible promptly, being tolerant and patient toward others, loving your enemies” etc. Each of us can give many examples. As a matter of fact, of all the Lord Jesus’ requirements for us, there is a most crucial one, which determines whether we can get God’s approval and gain success in our belief in Him.

It is written in the Gospel of Luke, “Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). The Gospel of Matthew also records, “Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12). From these verses, we can see that this requirement is the Lord’s warning to us and is also what we should grasp. That is to say, only if we have discernment about the leaven of the Pharisees and are not deceived by it will we possibly gain success in our believing in God. Or else, we will be detested and rejected by God. So how can we have discernment about the doctrine of the hypocritical Pharisees in our daily life? How do we beware of them? What concrete principles do we need to grasp?

First of all, let’s read several verses. In Matthew 15:3-9 the Lord Jesus once revealed the Pharisees and said, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and mother: and, He that curses father or mother, let him die the death. But you say, Whoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatever you might be profited by me; And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” We can see that though the Jewish Pharisees of that time served Jehovah God outwardly as religious leaders and expounded on the Bible in the synagogues, they didn’t revere God in the slightest, nor did they have God’s way in their hearts or abide by His commandments in actuality. They had used many human ideas and notions, rules and traditions, and knowledge and doctrines to replace God’s laws and commandments, abolish His words, and take the place of His sincere will and requirements for man, publicly standing in enmity to Him. In the end, the whole of Judaism deviated from God’s way and their belief in Him was futile.

Next, let’s read Matthew 23:23-24. The Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone. You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mat 23:27-28). From these verses, we can see that the Lord Jesus condemned the Pharisees as hypocrites, for they pretended to be godly before others. They loved to pray in the synagogues and in intersections, gave alms purposely to be noticed by men, wrote scriptures all over the border of their garments, paid tithe of mint and anise and cumin, etc. They did well in the smallest detail and observed those rules throughout the ages; nevertheless they did not seek to enter into the reality of God’s words and live out the blameless and upright human likeness of one who fears God. They didn’t understand God’s will and purpose of setting forth laws and commandments, nor did they lead the Israelites to know His will. Instead, they practiced some regulations outwardly to replace the practices of His requirements for man. They used false appearance to blind men’s heart, deceive and control people, establish themselves, and win favor for worship. All they did was for the sake of managing and consolidating their positions and livelihoods. Ultimately, they were condemned and hated by the Lord Jesus.

Then let’s take a look at today. Of numerous sayings prevailed in today’s religious world, there are many doctrines of the Pharisees which have replaced the truth and God’s will with theories out of human ideas. If we pay some attention to pondering and investigating these problems, we will surely get the answer.


Nowadays, the most prevailing viewpoint in the religious world is a famous quote from Paul, which is most highly praised by pastors and elders. As is written in the Bible, “But watch you in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of your ministry. … I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 5-8). Since these words are recorded in the Bible, we all keep them as a sound doctrine. Therefore, we believe that people who work diligently, evangelize everywhere, and endure afflictions deserve to be rewarded and bestowed a crown of righteousness, regarding this is in conformity with the system of distribution according to work. Hence we take it for granted that we can accept this doctrine and act in accordance with it. Many pastors and elders even take it as their goal and motivation of serving, do their utmost to recommend and keep it wholeheartedly. However, when we study the words of the Lord Jesus carefully, it is not difficult to see that even though the famous quote from Paul is deeply favored by pastors and elders, it just contravenes the will and requirements of God. We might as well read the words of the Lord Jesus, “But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say to him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say to him, Make ready with which I may sup, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:7-10). From His words, we see God’s will is that we can work as servants, take His commission as the duties of created beings, and fulfill them without asking Him for anything. For we are dust, created beings, and useless vessels. Being so small and lowly, we are capable of doing nothing for Him and the functions we perform are hardly worth mentioning. Hence, we are not qualified to take credit and demand rewards from Him. God created the heavens and earth and all things, and He bestowed life and breath upon man. Whatever we do for the gospel or the church, we cannot fully repay Him for His provision of our life and His love to us. God requires us to possess such conscience and sense, which is exactly the attitude of revering God we should have before Him. However, in today’s religious world, pastors and elders never have a single word to say about God’s will. Instead, they do their best to strongly promote Paul’s words to lead and teach people. They replace the words of the Lord Jesus with Paul’s words, and the Lord’s will and requirements with Paul’s view toward pursuit. Isn’t this “Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” and “Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”? Is this not the doctrine and the leaven of the Pharisees? Do you perceive these things? Have you ever distinguished and guarded against them?

Nowadays, people in the religious world place a lot of importance on the preaching of salvation by faith. It is recorded in the Bible, “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). These verses have become the tenet preached by many pastors and elders on their sermons. In the hearts of many believers, it also becomes the guarantee of entering into the kingdom of heaven and receiving eternal life. Nevertheless, when reading the words of the Lord Jesus in the Bible carefully, we will find Paul’s point of view is a long way away from God’s requirements of man. In Matthew 7:21-23 the Lord Jesus told us clearly, “Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” From these verses, we see that if we merely confess to the Lord with our mouth and believe in Him in our heart, we still fall far short of the standards of entering into the kingdom of heaven and receiving eternal life; only those who do the will of the heavenly Father can enter the kingdom of heaven and can be called true believers in God. Supposing we do not practice the Lord’s words but focus on the work only, we will work arbitrarily and then deviate from His way. If we want to enter into the kingdom of heaven, we shall seek the way to do the will of the heavenly Father, experience the Lord’s words, practice His words and live out His words. This is the real meaning of believing in God. However, among the preaching of all the pastors and elders, we seldom hear or see them accept and seek the words of the Lord Jesus and lead brothers and sisters in accordance with His words. Instead, they treat Paul’s word as the tenet, which is easily accepted by people and conforms to their conceptions. Obviously, it is “Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” and “Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” This is how people are deceived by the leaven of the Pharisees and deviate from the Lord’s way.

In addition, today’s religious world falls into another state: Although the pastors and elders pay more attention to preaching about humility, love, and patience, the original intentions of their pursuits contain personal motivations and aims. That is to say, if we seek humility, love and patience in order to be seen of man, admired and worshiped by man and appreciated by God, thereby establishing our own image and consolidating our position, then our practices of humility, love, and patience are not regarded as truly practicing the Lord’s words, experiencing His words or following His way. The Lord Jesus said, “But be not you called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all you are brothers. And call no man your father on the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be you called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ” (Matthew 23: 8-10). From His word, we see only God is worthy of being worshiped and relied on. We are only created beings, not qualified to enjoy people’s worship or looking up to. If we pursue these things, we’ll transgress our own identities and substances and compete with God for status as well. It can be seen that if our practices of humility, love, and patience are not for bearing testimony to God, but for pursuing personal prestige and image, then aren’t these practices actually hypocrisy—the leaven of the Pharisees? The Jewish Pharisees of that time paid a tithe every month on time and abode by the regulations in the laws strictly; however, they did this not for worshiping Jehovah God or following His way, but for showing their piety and spirituality and flaunting their identities and status of religious leaders. They neither paid attention to the laws God issued nor practiced them. By comparison, do such phenomena exist in today’s religious world? Religious leaders continue to preach the sermons about love and consecration, humility and patience. Seemingly, they are practicing the Lord’s words. As a matter of fact, they are enjoying the title they should not have enjoyed and standing in the place they should not have stood. For example, pastors and their spouses are called masters and masters’ wives. It is commonly seen that seniority is given top priority among the religious leaders. In spite that these practices evidently go against the teachings of the Lord Jesus, many believers have got quite used to them. It is clear that the leaven of the Pharisees can actually deceive many people.

From what are mentioned above, we see that it’s really worthwhile for us to seek the truth in the word of the Lord Jesus “Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees.” It has a close bearing on our relationship with God and the path we walk in believing in Him. To get His true salvation, we need to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.” It is so crucial! May God enlighten us more so that we can understand His will more practically and enter the right path of believing in Him as soon as possible.

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