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)
Yesterday we studied Jesus’ scathing indictment against the hypocritical, self-absorbed Jewish religious leaders. These men were leading people away from heaven with their lies. They loved to use the respect they had from others for personal gain. They also loved being called rabbi. That is, they gloried in their man-made titles.
But true spiritual leaders are not to be called rabbi or any other title. Having such a title implies spiritual superiority. But as Jesus points out, no human being is spiritually superior to any other.
Considering a human being to be our “teacher” (which is what rabbi means) diminishes God’s role as our one teacher. God is the only source of truth. The Holy Spirit is the only teacher of that truth [John 14:26].
Rather, humans beings are all brothers (and sisters), including our pastors and other spiritual leaders. Sure, God has called some to lead His people. But those leaders are still sinners in need of forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, just like the rest of us.
Jesus goes on to say that we should call no man your father on earth. Within the context of the passage Jesus is referring to the idea of a spiritual father; no one is spiritually superior to anyone else. The Catholic church blatantly violates this command by using the term “father” for members of their clergy. This should not be done because we have one Father, who is in heaven.
Note that we should esteem those who work full-time for God [1 Thessalonians 5:13]. But we are not to give them honor that is due to God. Doing so steals the honor and glory that is reserved for God and diminishes people’s respect and perceived need for God as it’s always easier to put our trust in that which is seen versus that which is unseen.
As opposed to the false religious leaders in Israel and the false religious and political leaders of today, we are not to seek honor for ourselves. This is not the way to greatness.
The greatest person is not the one most honored by other people. Rather it is the one who is willing to be a servant. Having degrees or acronyms after one’s name (e.g. PhD, MBA, etc) does not impress God. God is impressed by the one who humbles himself. It is this person who God will exalt. This is exactly what Jesus modeled for us with His life [Philippians 2:5-9].
But those who exalt themselves on this earth will, in the end, be humbled when they find out they have been rejected by God after they die.
People naturally calculate another’s greatness by how many people serve and honor them. God determines greatness by how we serve others. The way up is the way down. The lower we fall in our esteem, the higher we rise in God’s estimation [James 4:7-10].
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