As described in the Bible, the Jewish sect of the Pharisees was made up of individuals who were very religious and followed the letter of the law as they interpreted it. Two notable instances relate to the Sabbath and the tithe (tenth). The Law of Moses gave specific commands relative to these. The Sabbath law is part of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8-10a “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.” In the time of Moses, a man was stoned to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:36). The Pharisees were highly critical of Jesus in that they perceived that He broke the Sabbath by healing and doing good on that day.
Relative to the tithe, we have Leviticus 27:30 “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord.” The Pharisees were careful to tithe everything, even to tithing the herbs in the garden. But Jesus still found fault with them. Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
Jesus didn’t criticize them for tithing or keeping the Sabbath. To the Pharisees, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 15:8-9 “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
God wants us to worship Him from our hearts and our spirits. John 4:23-24 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” Romans 7:6 “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”
We may look down upon the Pharisees for being rule keepers and neglecting the heart and spirit. The truth is that we today can be just as guilty as they were in being rule keepers and neglecting the heart and spirit. In your worship of God, do you worship Him in your spirit or are you just concerned about keeping the rules taught in the Bible? I encourage you to examine yourself whether you are serving God in “the oldness of the letter” or in “the newness of the spirit”.