Matthew 23:1-12, Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

On occasions Jesus condemned the motives and desires of the most prestigious in Israel’s religious ranks. Jesus’ statements concerning these religiously prestigious persons was so unthinkable that his closest disciples were astounded. (See Matthew 15:12.)

Matthew 23:12 is among Jesus’ most critical statements of these people known as the Pharisees. Please note three things. (1) When they read scripture (i.e., "sat on Moses’ seat"), they should be heeded. They shared God’s instructions, not theirs. (2) Yet, they had no concern for people. They were judges of others’ weaknesses or failures. They were unconcerned about encouraging or helping. They enjoyed making loads heavy, not assisting in carrying loads. (3) They loved occupying positions of prestige. They were certain of their significance! They loved others confirming their significance.

Jesus’ directive is chilling! When they speak from scripture, listen. However, do not act like they act. God’s key to spiritual greatness is found in humility, not in prestige.

It is easy to criticize the Pharisees. It is equally easy to repeat their mistakes. God was humble enough to care about us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). God was compassionate enough to send His son to us to direct us to Him (the way, the truth, the life—John 14:6, 7). God was (is) forgiving enough to cleanse us even when He knows we will fail again (1 John 1:5-10). None of us stand approved before God because we are so good, but because we are sanctified and justified in Jesus.

It is quite humbling to realize this: what God through Jesus Christ does for me each day He does for every other man and woman in Christ each day. No Christian is given the prerogative of judging those in Christ. Every Christian has the privilege of encouraging those in Christ. May the Lord say of each of us, “Follow his/her example.” Never let Him say of us, “Do not behave like he/she behaves.”

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 20 January 2005

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