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The Pharisee in All of Us

August 9, 2018

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

I’ll never forget hearing the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in concert. The sincerity and depth of feeling the singers brought to the music showed that it was more than a mere performance. When they sang “I’m Not Afraid Anymore,” you could tell that many of the singers identified with the experience of living in constant fear before they met Jesus—fear of violence, fear of not having enough money, fear of what might happen to their children, fear of not being able to get the drugs needed to feed their addictions, fear of every tomorrow. As the soloist, Calvin Hunt, sang, the spotlights showed tears flowing down his cheeks. No wonder—Calvin spent years as a crack cocaine addict on the streets of Brooklyn before being transformed by the life-saving power of the gospel. That’s why he could sing with such passion; each word of the song flowed from the heart of one who had been forgiven much.

It reminds me of the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet. The drama unfolds for us in Luke 7:36-50, when she crashed the dinner party at Simon the Pharisee’s home. She knew that Jesus was there. This was her chance to express adoring worship to her Savior. He was worth the risk for her, the town prostitute, to show up uninvited, worth the embarrassment to step from the crowd and approach Him, worth the price of the valuable perfume and the kisses and tears that she poured out at His feet.

But as moving a moment as that was, Simon the Pharisee was not impressed. He was indignant about the “waste” of perfume (Mark 14:4-5) and thought, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). I suppose we shouldn’t expect the proud Simon, in bondage to his unbending tradition, to understand this kind of extravagant, self-effacing worship. But before we come down too hard on him, let’s consider the fact that there might just be a Pharisee in all of us.

Unfortunately, it seems that over time we grow accustomed to what we have been rescued from and what we really deserve. Without a continuing awareness of why grace is so necessary for us, we are lulled into forming an exaggerated perspective of our own worth before God. It’s no wonder, then, that our worship is often lacking the kind of passion that Calvin Hunt and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir display in their love for the Savior.

Jesus, knowing what Simon was thinking, rebuked him for his graceless, self-righteous attitude and for the pride that put his interests above the needs of others. In fact, Simon thought so well of himself that he felt it was too risky to honor Jesus as the guest of honor at his dinner. Yet Jesus commended this town prostitute for her extravagant worship. He told Simon, “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).

Let’s take the lesson personally. True ongoing love for Jesus flows from a heart that is gripped by the awareness of how much we have been forgiven. When we grasp both the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, then we’ll be looking for ways to join this woman at his feet to extravagantly express our love and gratitude to Him!


Carefully review the following questions to see if there might be a little bit of Pharisee lurking in your heart. Then begin to celebrate the fact that you have been forgiven much, and look for extravagant ways to show your love for Jesus today!

  • Would the “worst of sinners” feel loved by you, or would they sense that you are more likely to condemn and ostracize them?
  • Has your goodness become a habit, or does it thrive as a response of love and gratitude for all that Jesus has done for you?
  • Do you ever feel a twinge of jealousy when others are more “noticed” than you?
  • Do you feel like you have been forgiven much? Why, or why not?
  • Are you genuinely touched when you sing the words, “He saved a wretch like me,” or does it refer to someone else?
  • When was the last time you worshiped Jesus with a costly expression of love?
  • Have you ever loved Jesus in the face of intimidating circumstances?
  • Are you willing to be vulnerable in your expression of love for Jesus?
  • Think of some specific ways that you can “color outside the lines” of your comfort and convenience when it comes to expressing your love and gratitude to Jesus.