Matthew 23:1-12: Don’t Do What They Do
March 6, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Numbers 12-14, Psalm 53, Matthew 23:1-12, Romans 5:1-11
Matthew 23 is all one piece of cloth, and it is hard to divide it up into sections and look at each part in turn. Throughout it all, Jesus is denouncing fake “religion,” and not only denouncing it, but bringing forward various principles that reveal the typical characteristics of such pharisaic religiosity.
The first sign of such false religiosity is impressive teaching but unimpressive living (23:2-3). Rather ironically, then, when we encounter such disparity, we can, if the doctrine is sound, safely emulate the message, but we are to beware of copying the lifestyle of the pharisaic religious teacher.
The second sign is that they tend to make following God harder for people, and having made it harder, they won’t actually help the people they teach to meet these increased demands (23:4). It seems impressive to erect high barriers and raise standards, but the hypocrisy is exposed by the lack of willingness of the pharisaic religiosity to do anything to help the people meet such high demands.
The third sign is that the behavior does have an underlying purpose, and that is to impress other people. Whereas the true follower of God is concerned to please God (or else why would he be following God?), the pharisaic religiosity is really concerned to impress people. They want to look good to others (23:5). This is why in Jesus’ day, their phylacteries—little boxes containing parts of the Scriptures attached to the forehead—were made to be especially prominent and obvious to other people. This is why they loved the place of honor at feasts, and the best seats at the synagogues. The specific examples have changed since Jesus’ day, but the basic idea, and some of the practice, is still the same: look good, be visible, be seen by others, appear impressively pious in the eyes of people.
Jesus’ followers, however, are to march to the beat of a different drum. They are not to be called “rabbi,” because Christ is the teacher, and they are only brothers. They are not to allow themselves to be called father, because God is their Father. Often today we go by names such as “teacher” (the equivalent of rabbi). If we dare to allow such titles be given to us, we must make sure that they are accorded with a lowercase “t,” not an uppercase “T”—and we would do well to encourage those who follow us to simply call us by our name where possible.
Why is this? “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (23:11). And “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (23:12).
Avoid the leaven of the Pharisees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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