Sons of vipers! The hypocrisy of modern legalism!

Hypocrisy to me is how some people’s principles can conflict with both common sense andhypocrite doing the right thing. A principle is defined as “a fundamental truth or position that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior for a chain of reasoning.”*

To live by your principles is an admirable thing. To have principles that are senseless is, well… senseless. Think about this:

  • If your principles are YOUR fundamental truths, are they really truths?  

  • If your principles are a foundation for your belief system or your chain of reasoning, what if they are flawed? 

For the better part of a decade, I have served my community through being a volunteer Mediator and Arbitrator. This opportunity has allowed me to be witness to some powerful things everyone should be a party to in some way or another:

  1. It has allowed me to personally witness both the best in people and the worst they have to offer in a business setting.
  2. It has allowed me to see perspectives of all angles, including those that are perceived, skewed, and/or selfish.

I share this because in a recent Mediation, I experienced legalism in a really raw form – and, honestly, I was dumbfounded. Legalism is a “strict adherence.” It is following the letter of the law. It is being an extreme rule follower.

Because confidentiality is crucial to the process, I will not be revealing juicy details or naming names. What I can say is after opening statements were read aloud and agreed upon, I used a flip chart to illustrate the financial disagreement. It ended up being only $300. That’s it. No less, no more. I’ve negotiated and decided cases for tens of thousands of dollars. Really? We were here for $300. I almost wanted to just write a check myself so we could all leave. Both parties, the consumer and business, agreed it was not much money and were in the room because of “principle.” Upon hearing this, I knew we were up against a difference in principles. Each party believed their principles to be a fundamental truth to them. I also knew one or both would be absent common sense or having to do with doing the right thing, or else we wouldn’t be there.

As we got to the heart of the disagreement, I could not help but paint one of the parties in my head with a wide, thick brush stroke of legalism and hypocrisy. He would not give in the matter because he thought if he did, he would violate what he stood for. He was adamant it was a “principle thing,” saying if he gave in, he would have to close his business down (not true by any stretch of the imagination and is why I was dumbfounded and perplexed he would not budge his position). When I pointed out they had likely lost several thousand dollars by NOT meeting the other party’s desire for outcome, it made no difference. In fact, we were quickly at a stalemate, as neither side would break their stance in the principle that led them to be there. (Next step… Binding Arbitration.)

You don’t have to be a Pharisee to be legalistic. Look at all who hit the trifecta of interpreting rules, playing by their own rules, and imposing rules on others. They seek to forcibly make others conform to their principles, truths, or reality.

I found it unexpected how someone would hold on to their principle to the point where they would spite themselves and their business rather than entering a negotiation. They were truly cutting off their nose to spite their face. If there had been scissors in the room, I’m sure we would have had a mess.

Thoughts of the Pharisees ran through my mind. They were a principle-enforcing sect in the time of Jesus that got their religious undergarments all wadded up when it came to religious ceremonies and Old Testament law.

Jesus had strong words for the Pharisees who could not see sand from water when it came to how they interpreted the law of Moses. He called them “snakes” and “sons of vipers.” This was about as close as Jesus got to cussing. He was spitting-nails mad and backed it up with his pointed words. Though there are more run-ins between Jesus and the Pharissees (which I admittedly do find entertaining every time Jesus put them in their self-righteous place), a good chapter on this is Matthew 23.

“The teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” – Matthew 23:2-3

In further regard to the Pharisees, Jesus scathingly rebuked them (NLT):

  • They crush people with unbearable demands – and never lift a finger to ease the burden
  • Everything they do is for show
  • They are hypocrites; blind guides; blind fools; full of greed and self-indulgence
  • They shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces
  • They ignore more important aspects of the law: justice, mercy, and faith
  • Outwardly: they look like righteous people, Inwardly: their hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness

Wow! Jesus pulled no punches. He called it like it was. While the particular party who was being legalistic in the Mediation proceeding was not condemning the other party to hell or radically impressing his views, he was impaired in his narrow claim of validity with his statement of principle. In studying how Jesus both felt about and dealt with the Pharisees, I respected the other party for peacefully standing his ground. In fact, it’s dangerous ground to have a foundation of poor reasoning and hypocrisy. Think about your life and how you go about conducting yourself. Is this you? Maybe sometimes? Consider some self-reflection.

Being legalistic is most often a blot on your character, an assassination of your purpose, and a blinding of justice. We are all better than that. Jesus thinks so. And he will forgive us for it.

*Google definition of principle

Trey Campbell,
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