Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(Matthew 23:1-12 ESV)
Many people believe that Jesus was a loving man who spoke nice things. And that is true. But not many people realize that Jesus also spoke some shockingly castigating words. In today’s passage (and continuing for the next few days) we will read these words. Note that Jesus reserved these words for the religious leaders of the day, who were the political leaders as well.
These men thought they represented God but they really only represented themselves and their warped sense of self-righteousness. They claimed to be leading people to heaven but were really leading them to hell.
Times have not changed much in 2,000 years. The world is still filled with religious and political leaders who claim to be teaching truth but who are actually espousing lies. Anyone who follows them will end up in hell, not heaven.
Nobody notices when an habitually ill-tempered man gets angry. But when a person who is known for being gentle and loving explodes in words of wrath people pay attention. That is why Jesus’ teaching in this passage is so important. His extreme criticism of religion must be respected and heeded if we are to identify those who speak spiritual lies.
False leaders are hypocrites. Those who teach false religion preach but do not practice therefore people should do and observe what they teach (as it may be accurate) but we should not do the works they do for their works do not align with their words.
False leaders make a relationship with God burdensome. False religion claims that we must follow a bunch of rules in order to be right with God; people are condemned when they sin. But this is not at all how God works. Jesus’ burden is light and He offers to carry it with us [Matthew 11:28-30]. A relationship with God is supposed to lift people up; it should not drag people down.
False leaders call attention to themselves. False leaders do what they do to be seen by others. Jesus’ comments about phylacteries and fringes refer to man-made traditions born out of spiritual commands given by God in the Old Testament [Exodus 13:9, 16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18]. The Pharisees and scribes had taken these commands literally and used them to show off their alleged spirituality. Many devout Jews still wear phylacteries.
False leaders use their position for personal gain. Rather than serving God, false religious leaders actually are serving themselves. They seek to benefit in social situations (feasts), within the church (synagogues), and in business (marketplaces) because of their titles (being called rabbi).
Yes, Christians are called upon to do good things that other can see. But our motivation must not be to promote self; it should be to glorify God [Matthew 5:16; 6:1-6].
The true goal of the life of a follower of Christ is to decrease while Jesus is increased [John 3:30]. We are to take up our cross and obliterate self [Luke 9:23]. Any leader who does not do this is a false teacher and can in no way lead others into a proper relationship with God.
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