“Watch Out for the Leaven of the Pharisees”
Jesus warned his disciples: “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1) This warning was also written by Matthew, and he helps us to understand that Jesus was talking about the bad teachings of the Pharisees.—Matthew 16:12.
The Bible sometimes uses “leaven,” or yeast, to refer to something that makes a person become bad. Because they believed the dangerous teachings of the Pharisees and imitated their wrong thinking, many people did what was bad. Why were the Pharisees’ teachings dangerous?
1 The Pharisees were proud and believed that they were better and more righteous than other people.
Jesus spoke about this bad attitude in one of his parables. He said: “The Pharisee stood and began to pray these things to himself, ‘O God, I thank you I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give the tenth of all things I acquire.’ But the tax collector standing at a distance was not willing even to raise his eyes heavenward, but kept beating his breast, saying, ‘O God, be gracious to me a sinner.’”—Luke 18:11-13.
Jesus praised the humility of the tax collector and said that this man was more righteous than the Pharisee. Why? “Because everyone that exalts himself will be humiliated, but he that humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) Many people thought that all tax collectors were dishonest, but Jesus wanted to help the tax collectors who liked what he taught. We know of two of them who became his disciples, Matthew and Zacchaeus.
Perhaps we were born with some abilities that others do not have, or we may have been given responsibilities in Jehovah’s organization. Or maybe we notice the weaknesses of other people. What should we do if we start to think that we are better than they are? We should quickly stop thinking like this. The Bible says that people who love others are patient, kind, and not jealous. They do not boast and are not proud. They are not selfish and are not happy when others sin.—1 Corinthians 13:4-6.
The apostle Paul said: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Then he continued: “Of these I am foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15) We should think the way Paul did.
Questions to think about:
Do I understand that I am a sinner and that I can be saved only because Jehovah has shown me great kindness? Or do I think that I am better than others because I have been serving Jehovah for many years, because I have responsibilities in God’s organization, or because I have some abilities that others do not have?
2 The Pharisees did good things so that others could see them and think they were righteous. They wanted to be important, and they liked to have special titles.
But Jesus said about them: “All the works they do they do to be viewed by men; for they broaden the scripture-containing cases that they wear as safeguards, and enlarge the fringes of their garments. They like the most prominent place at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues, and the greetings in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi by men.” (Matthew 23:5-7) The way Jesus thought was completely different from the way the Pharisees thought. He was humble even though he was the Son of God and was perfect. When one man called him “good,” Jesus said: “Why do you call me good? Nobody is good, except one, God.” (Mark 10:18) At another time, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples so that they could learn that they should always be humble.—John 13:1-15.
All true Christians should serve their brothers and sisters. (Galatians 5:13) This is especially true of those who want to become overseers in the congregation. It is good if a brother is working to become an overseer. But the reason why he wants to become an overseer should be to help others. An overseer is not more important than other people, and he does not rule over them. He needs to be like Jesus, “lowly in heart.”—Matthew 11:29; 1 Timothy 3:1, 6.
Questions to think about:
Do I treat brothers with responsibilities in the congregation better than I treat others because I hope that I will get more privileges? In my worship, do I prefer to do the things that will make other people notice me and praise me? Am I always trying to be better than others?
3 The rules and traditions of the Pharisees made life hard for the common people.
Jehovah gave his Law to the Israelites to show them how to worship him. But he did not tell them every little thing they needed to do to obey that Law. For example, the Law said that the Israelites could not work on the Sabbath. But it did not give a list of things they should do or should not do on that day. (Exodus 20:10) The Pharisees added their own rules and traditions because they thought that Jehovah’s Law did not give enough information. Jesus obeyed God’s Law, but he did not obey the strict rules that the Pharisees added. (Matthew 5:17, 18; 23:23) He understood the reasons for God’s laws, and he knew that God wanted people to show mercy and compassion. Jesus was kind, even when his disciples disappointed him. For example, on the night he was arrested, Jesus asked three of his apostles to stay awake. But they kept falling asleep. Even though they did this, Jesus was kind to them and said: “The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”—Mark 14:34-42.
Questions to think about:
Do I make strict rules and try to make other people obey them? Do I always want others to do what I think is right? Do I expect more from others than what they can do?
Jesus’ teachings were very different from the teachings of the Pharisees. Can you think of anything you could do to be more like Jesus? Whatever it is, try your best to do it.
[Pictures on page 31]
Christian elders are not like the proud Pharisees, but they are humble and serve others