Jerry C. Brewer
In His scathing denunciation of the Pharisees, Jesus said, “But all of their works they do to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments…” (Matt. 23:5). To publicly display their religion, the Pharisees utilized phylacteries which were boxes with straps attached in which they placed Old Testament scriptures and wore them on their heads as head bands. Their practice was derived from Deuteronomy 6:8 where—in figurative language—God told the Israelites that His statutes should be constantly studied and remembered. “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.” The wearing of phylacteries in Jesus’ day was a formalistic distortion of the figurative language of Deuteronomy 6:8 and was condemned by Jesus. It was hypocritical because those who wore phylacteries majored in finding “loopholes” in the Law of Moses to justify their own ideas of religion, rather than heeding the first commandment to love and serve God with all the heart (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 22:34-40). That kind of “phylactery religion” is alive, well, and flourishing in our time.
In our modern world, Pharisaical “phylactery religion” is the order of the day. It’s easier to put up a sign, wear a T-shirt with a religious slogan, or wear religious jewelry than it is to practice Christianity, pure and undefiled (Jas. 1:27).
When one becomes a Christian, his outward appearance is not altered. It is not an outward, but an inward change which takes place in conversion and that change is seen in the way that person lives.
Phylactery religion is contrary to every principle of service to God and is severely condemned in Matthew 23. But the denominational industry has embraced the Madison Avenue approach to religion which fits nicely with the Pharisees’ brand. The religious world rejects simple gospel preaching (Mark 16:15-16; 2 Tim. 2:1-4), substituting slogans and cute sayings. But James didn’t say, “show me thy faith without thy T-shirts, and I will show thee my faith by my T-shirts.” Read his words again: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). True faith is not manifested in clothes with slogans, jewelry, or cute sayings but in works of righteousness. That kind of faith is in the depth of one’s soul and can be seen in his life.
When Jesus returns for judgment, He won’t ask, “How many signs did you put up about me?’ or “What do you have written on your clothes, or on signs on the church building?” or, ”How many crosses are displayed in your house?” He will judge the world by His word (John 12:48) and every man shall give account for his life—not his signs, slogans, jewelry, or clothing (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25:31-46).
Phylactery religion is superficial, formalistic, Pharisaical, and vain. Christ neither needs nor wants our advertising campaigns. He wants our hearts and lives. The Bible teaches that the Christian is to be known by his manner of life, not by what he wears or displays in his house.