There were many instances in the Bible where Jesus gave us warnings. Mostly they were warnings about men and in particular about those who professed to teach the word of God but were false teachers or false prophets. In this section of scripture he tells us to beware of the scribes who exhibit certain characteristics that is not of God.
The Work of the Scribes
The scribes were the learned men of their day. They were able to read and write and had the responsibility of writing and copying out documents for the people. In Jesus day there were no copying machines and no printing presses. Thus every document that was to be issued to many people had to either be carried by one person and announced then taken elsewhere, or had to be hand copied over and over so it could be issued.
In the same way the scribes reproduced the scriptures and the laws and prophetic writings so they could be issued and read at the synagogues each Sabbath day. Whenever a new synagogue was built or a religious outpost was established, a copy of the scriptures was required to be sent and this was the work of the scribes.
It is important to know then that there were not a lot of people at the time who had the ability to read and write, and certainly not at the highly educated level of a scribe. We know that the Apostle John could write, but those who read Greek know that his writing style was very simplistic. His message was not simple, but his writing style was. It appears evident that the Apostle Peter could not write at all and so he would have relied upon someone else to act as scribe.
The Pride of the Scribes
Now because of the great learning and the high esteem with which the scribes were held, it is clear from Jesus’ words that many of them became proud. He said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts” (Verse 46)
They liked the “good life” and they paraded themselves around to people so that the people would consider them as someone important. This is evil pride and arrogance of the first order. They were seeking the praise of men rather than the praise of God, and as Jesus has said elsewhere, they will have received their reward. It is better to receive a reward from God for His rewards are eternal, whereas the prais of men is fickle and changing.
The scribes were puffed up with conceit thinking they were something special. Paul warns us too about such thinking saying, “For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.” (Romans 12:3) He also warned about the problems of excessively seeking knowledge, which is what the scribes had done for, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
The Pretense of the Scribes
To make matters worse many of the scribes were also members of the religious sects of the time. They were aligned with the Pharisees or Sadducees and other religious groups, and as such were charged with the reading of the scriptures and teaching the people the ways of God.
But as Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for hypocrisy, so too he upbraids the scribes for their false ways. He accuses them of obtaining personal and financial gain from those least able to give it and then they offer long and windy prayers as a pretense for their actions. Jesus said, “…devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Verse 47) Their behaviour is quite atrocious and not at all fitting for men who claim to be servants of God.
The focus of the scribes was on knowledge, not for the sake of building up in love but for power and personal gain. In Paul’s statements above we see the folly of such a goal and in Jesus’ warnings we recognise that our aim should be love. Yes we need knowledge about the Lord and how to obey God, but it is knowledge directed to learning those things and how to walk in the ways of the Lord.
In the end we see the Lord’s judgement on these proud and arrogant men when he says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Verse 47)
Lesson for Today
Do we have similar “scribes” in the church today? Are there those, “…who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts?” Are there those who “devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers?
I am certain such people exist in the church today. There are some who see Christianity as a means of gain in a financial sense and they use Christianity as a cloak for greed.
But Jesus has provided us with warning signs and we should shun such people. If their intentions are false, then what can we say about their teaching? If their desires are to lust after the things of this world, is their heart right with God? And what possible truth could you gain from those who are following the god of money and comfort in this world?
As Jesus said, beware of such people and give them a wide berth for the sake of your own salvation.
(Photo sourced from “www.sxc.hu/” stock.xchng taken by Stephen J. Sullivan)