GCV Blog

Raising Pharisees: What It Can Look Like (Part 1)

Ever heard of the law of unintended consequences? The idea is that when we humans confidently set out to do something good we often get consequences we never wanted. For instance, in South Carolina where I used to live, kudzu has taken root everywhere. Kudzu is a nasty climbing vine, introduced from its native Japan to deal with soil erosion. It spreads so quickly and is so hard to get rid of, however, that it has been nicknamed “the vine that ate the South.” Southern states have tried a variety of programs to eliminate kudzu, like using sheep and llamas to graze it down. One can only wonder what kind of unintended consequences are resulting from dealing with kudzu’s unintended consequences.

At any rate, I’m concerned that there is one very prevalent and recurring unintended consequence in Christian parenting, which is that when we set out to raise God-fearing children we can actually end up with a bunch of Pharisees. I’d like to consider the topic of raising hypocrites with you in my upcoming pastoral words. The following observations describing a child hypocrite are adapted from Kurt Gebhards’s article “Raising Pharisees.” Next time, he’ll give suggestions for fighting Pharisaism.

  • His outward behavior and adherence to rules are driven by a desire to please men, not by a love for God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk. 12:30).
  • He values his good works being observed by adults more than the action itself (Mt. 6:5).
  • He is outwardly obedient and responsive while maintaining a quietly deceitful and rebellious attitude (Gal. 6:7).
  • He scrupulously observes the letter of the law—like religiously bringing his Bible to church—but neglects the weightier spirit of the law—like sharing his favorite toys with his siblings (Mt. 23:23).
  • He craves the verbal praises and tangible rewards of his parents and teachers, but cares little for the approbation of God Himself (Jn. 12:43).

As a teen, this can look like some of the following:

  • He prefers well-defined, black and white rules, for they give him a sense of certainty that God must surely reward those achievements (Lk. 18:12).
  • He elevates or equates personal preferences with divine imperatives (Mt. 15:2-3).
  • He separates from those he considers of lesser cultural morality—people whose table manners, courtesy of speech and refinement of mannerisms do not match middle-class norms (Lk. 15:1-2).
  • He excels at fault-finding, and the standard by which he condemns others is not primarily biblical, but personal, preferential or traditional (Mt. 7:5).

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