Pharisaism, Money, and the Greatness of God

Crossway Books Chapel | Wheaton, Illinois

I would like to speak to you for a few minutes today about Pharisaism, the love of money, and the greatness of God.

  • Pharisaism (legalism or moralism) —a life built out of doctrinal vigilance, moral rigor, and a sense of entitlement that is not rooted in a brokenhearted dependence on the undeserved mercy of God bought by the blood of Jesus.

  • The love of money — a condition of the heart that feels more security, more pleasure, and more hope in earthly possessions than it does in the fellowship and faithfulness of God.

  • The greatness of God — his majesty, his beauty, his worth, which, if we see it, and savor it in the face of Christ as we ought, sets us free from the deceitfulness of riches and the duplicity of Pharisaism.

Four Causes for Concern

There are four reasons why I have chosen to talk about this with you today:

1. At 73 I feel more keenly than I ever remember feeling that the remaining corruption in my heart, which Paul calls indwelling sin (Romans 7:17, 20, 23), is exceedingly deceitful when it comes to money and possessions and security and comfort. I feel the need for more vigilance today than ever.

“Beneath Pharisaism, legalism, and moralism is the kind of heart that loves money more than God.”

2. Just a few weeks ago, in a matter of a few days, the internet carried the news of one pastor who has a ten million dollar home with a fortune of sixty million; another pastor with compensation of almost a million with another million for discretionary expenses; the amazingly small charitable giving of the Democratic candidates — all of which was enough to make one weep.

3. I have been working my way through Philippians for Look at the Book and came to Philippians 3:18–19:

Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Who are these people, whose god is their belly and whose hearts are drawn like a magnet to earthly things? Are they the same as the “dogs” in verse 2? Are they the Jewish moralists who vie with Paul and his pharisaic pedigree?

4. And fourth, the Crossway website says that you are “a not-for-profit ministry” and exist “solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing and other means. . . . Any surplus that may arise shall be used solely to further the ministry and shall not inure to the benefit of any individual.”

I would like my words today to encourage you in that posture and preserve your hearts and your ministry for this vision until Jesus comes.

Legalist or Libertine?

The main thing I want us to see is the connection between Pharisaism and the love of money. Because if you’re like me, you are inclined to segregate these two kinds of people: religious rigorists on the side of legalism, and lovers of money on the side of libertinism. And what I want us to see is that that segregation is a mistake. And that beneath Pharisaism, legalism, and moralism is the kind of heart that loves money more than God.

In other words, when Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is a root of all evils” and some by desiring this, “have wandered away from the faith,” he really does mean that all evils are rooted in the kind of heart that finds more security, more hope, and more pleasure in money (possessions) than in God.

The love of money, Paul says, leads away from faith, and without faith no one can please God (Hebrews 11:6), because what is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Which means that Pharisaism, legalism, and moralism (as one instance of “all evils”) are rooted in the kind of heart that loves money. So, beware of segregating sinners into separate groups of legalists and lovers of money.

Four Glimpses of Disordered Desire

Here are four very brief glimpses from the Bible to illustrate this point. We will look at

  1. Pharisees,
  2. the rich young man,
  3. Judas, and
  4. the enemies of the cross in Philippians 3.

1. Pharisees

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. (Luke 16:13–14)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed (harpagē) and self-indulgence (arkasia). . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness (akatharsia, which most often in the New Testament is used in connection with sexual impurity). So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (anomia). (Matthew 23:25, 27–28)

So, Jesus shatters my intuition that legalists and lovers of money are different groups. No, he says that Pharisaic lovers of law-keeping — who may even take vows of poverty and chastity — are deep down, beneath their whitewashed moral appearance, lovers of money (Luke 16:14), greedy and self-indulgent (Matthew 23:26), unclean (Matthew 23:27), and lawless (Matthew 23:28).

“The only commandment-keeping that counts with God is the kind that comes from a heart that loves Jesus more than money.”

In other words, those who are most rigorously devoted to law-keeping are using law-keeping to cloak a heart that is lawless. Meaning: God and his word are not their authority (their law); their belly, their sexual organs — their appetites — are their god. That’s what “self-indulgence” and “uncleanness” means.

So, I must rid myself of the kind of thinking that separates sinners into the doctrinally vigilant, morally rigorous religious people on the one side, and the greedy, self-indulgent, worldly lovers of money over on the other side. No. The love of money is the root of all evils, including Pharisaism.

2. Rich Young Man

As he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17–22)

So, what do we have here? We have a lifelong keeper of the commandments: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20). And we have a lover of money and possessions: “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22), and he wouldn’t let them go to have Jesus.

So whatever else his rigorous commandment-keeping meant, it was, in fact, a cloak for the love of money. The only commandment-keeping that counts with God is the kind that comes from a heart that loves Jesus more than money. But to the likes of this rich young man Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me” (John 8:42). But you don’t. So, your commandment-keeping is something very different than the mark of a trusting child of God.

3. Judas

The point of mentioning Judas is not that he was identified as a commandment-keeper (though, he no doubt was), but that he was a preacher of the kingdom and a worker of miracles — and a lover of money.

He [Jesus] called the twelve [that includes Judas] and began to send them out two by two [someone paired with Judas], and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. . . . So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent [Judas preached repentance!]. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:7, 12–13)

Judas cast out demons and healed the sick. We know this for two reasons:

  1. If they all had this power except Judas, he would have been exposed as a charlatan. But in fact, the eleven trusted him to the end as the keeper of the moneybag (John 13:29).

  2. Jesus made clear that unbelievers like Judas can work miracles, even in the name of Jesus.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:21–23,

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

How many times must Judas have said, “Lord, Lord!” How many demons must he have cast out! How many mighty works must he have done!

But he was a lover of money. Judas did not care about the poor, but “he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). In the end, he sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

So not only must we beware of segregating religious Pharisees from the lovers of money, but also of segregating lawless (Matthew 7:23) miracle workers from the lovers of money. Because the love of money is the root of all evils, including Pharisaism and lawless miracle working.

4. Enemies of the Cross

Which brings me finally to Philippians 3:18–19. Scholars debate whether the “enemies of the cross” in verse 18 are the circumcising Pharisee-types in verse 2, or those whose “god is their belly” and who “glory in their shame” in verse 19.

“This was the secret: the greatness of all that God was for him in Christ.”

I think Jesus would say that circumcision and self-indulgence are not alternatives in the real world. The Pharisee, who is ready to challenge Paul’s law-keeping, is a lover of money. His god is his belly, he glories in his shame, and his mind is set on earthly things. Because the heart that loves money more than Christ is the root of all evils — not just the root of lawless moral decadence, but also the root of Pharisaic moral diligence.

I said there were three things I wanted to talk about: Pharisaism, the love of money, and the greatness of God. So, I close with Paul’s secret for the deliverance from the love of money and from Pharisaism. It is the same secret for both.

Gripped by Grandeur

Paul said in Philippians 3:5–6 that he was “a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Which meant, in Jesus’s mind, that deep down beneath Paul’s legalism was an insatiable heart of discontent that loved money more than the Messiah. In chapter 4, Paul admits that this had been the case and tells us how he was set free.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned [this is his confession and his deliverance — it wasn’t always this way — he had to learn it] in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned [he didn’t know this contentment in the days of his Pharisaic diligence] the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

And what was the secret? What had he learned? What freed him from the money-loving heart that cloaked itself with Pharisaic zeal? He tells us very plainly in Philippians 3:7–8:

Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

This was the secret: the greatness of all that God was for him in Christ — the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus. Compared to him, everything — all money and all moral achievements — is rubbish.

So, I pray that everyone who leads and serves Crossway Books will know the all-satisfying greatness of God in Christ — and so be set free from the love of money and thus sever the root of Pharisaism.