The Greatest Among You Shall be the Least

(Matthew 23:5-12)

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the scribes extended to their desire to be considered as persons of importance. As Jesus showed in this section, they desired and looked for the adulation and praise of men rather than the praise of God. They took their roles to be positions of power so they could lord it over the people. However as Jesus taught, the greatest among you shall be the least.

There are many of the so-called leaders of the church today who still look at working in the ministry as an opportunity for power. They still seek the praise of men and are doing the same things the Pharisees did. In this section of scripture we see Jesus upbraid them for a number of things. They sought the best seats in the synagogues. Is this any different to the elders, pastors and leaders of the church having special seats assigned on the platform of the churches? They sought places of honour at feasts and salutations in the market place. Is this any different to those in the ministry who seek these same things today? They loved being called rabbi or teacher. Is this any different to those today that insist on being called father or pastor, using this as a title rather than a function?

No. These forms of hypocrisy that Jesus called the Pharisees and scribes to account for are still occurring in the church today. Jesus said that his people are not to do these things. Those in the service of the gospel and the Lord are called to serve. Just as Jesus said that he came to serve and not to be served, so too his people and especially the ministers of the gospel are called to serve.

The role of the ministers of the gospel is not to be at the head of the church. That is Jesus’ place. Indeed any man who sets himself up or is set up as the head of a church is taking the place of Jesus. This is even worse than hypocrisy for if a person takes the place of Jesus in the church, it is no longer a Christian church. This becomes an anti-Christ structure since they have replaced Christ.

Jesus said call no man on earth your father, not meaning our biological father, but meaning our spiritual father. We have only one spiritual Father and that is God. Likewise we should call no man teacher or master on earth. We have only one teacher and master and that is Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is saying is that we are a co-equal brotherhood in Christ. None is greater than any other or less than any other. We are all equal. Thus we should not use names or titles of exaltation or salutation with one another. As Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” One of the most important qualities we can all develop in our walk with Christ is an attitude of humility.

If we would wish to be exalted by the Lord and by God, then seek to be humble. Seek humility and you will be exalted by the Lord. Those who exalt themselves show themselves as being proud and arrogant. A proud person does not listen. An arrogant person does not learn for they believe they know better and are better than others. This was one of the main problems with the Pharisees. They were proud and arrogant and believed they had it all. They would not listen, they did not learn and so they missed out. Even worse, they opposed Jesus who could have taught them and they tried to prevent him teaching and preaching to the people, as they also did with the disciples.

We must take heed of these lessons in Matthew 23 and learn the mistakes of the Pharisees and scribes so we do not repeat their mistakes. We must be humble and sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from him. Then we will move forward and grow into mature Christians. Then we will be able to learn what is pleasing to God and do what is good in his sight. So be aware of these things and also be aware of any who are not practicing these things in accordance with the words of the Lord. Learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees so you do not repeat them.

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites

(Matthew 23:1-4)

The twenty-third chapter of Matthew is an indictment on the scribes and Pharisees. Many times throughout this chapter he says to them, Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” If there is anything the Lord hated more than anything else it was hypocrisy. Men are no different either. Nobody likes a hypocrite and one of the worst names a person can be called is to be called a hypocrite.

This chapter of the bible more than any other shows up the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. It is unfortunate that today we still see many of these hypocritical attributes in the modern church. There is much to learn and much to be gained by a study of this chapter.

In these first few verses Jesus tells his disciples to listen to the words of the Pharisees and scribes when they preach the law. He recognised that they were the keepers of the law and were responsible for teaching it. They had the experience and practice to do so. But Jesus also warned them that although the scribes and Pharisees had this charge, they themselves did not keep the law. Thus they were hypocrites and thus the Lord said to the disciples to listen to their words, but not to do what they did. They did not practice what they preached.

One of the great problems Jesus saw with these men was that they made life difficult for the people. They bound the people up in laws, statutes and ordinances but did not give the people relief or a way of escape. As he said, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” (Verse 4)

They used the Law of Moses as a means of control and power. They used it to lord it over the people. But the law was given to Moses not as a burden, but to teach the people right from wrong. No man could keep the law, but through the law all men could learn the wisdom of God. All men could look into the law and understand that by keeping the law of God, man could live a better life. And God was compassionate to mankind for even within the law he made allowances for the fact that man would make mistakes. Yes there were punishments for breaking certain laws, but there were also offerings and sacrifices that could be given to atone for sins. God was not so intolerable that he did not allow for the frailty and humanity of men.

But the Pharisees did not teach the law in this way. They used it to gain advantage and influence over the people. They were overbearing and burdened the people, and as Jesus showed, would not lift a finger to lighten the burden. They were legalistic in the most negative sense of the word, and this brought only bondage and suffering. Compassion would have provided release, but these men chose to rule with an iron fist so they could retain control over the people.

We see a classic case of their legalism in the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus. They said to him that under law she was to be put to death, but sought what he would do to test him. Jesus showed compassion by saying, “Let him who is without sin be the first to cast a stone,” and one by one they all left from the eldest to the youngest. Jesus did not condemn the woman but showed her compassion. But there was a condition. She was to go and sin no more.

The Pharisees could have equally shown compassion to the woman, but they did not. Their immediate response was to stone her, and they were within their right to do so, but Jesus showed that through love and compassion there is a better way. We do not know the details of the case and whether this woman had been entrapped or whatever. Still the Lord gave her the benefit of the doubt on the proviso she did not continue to sin. I am sure if she were caught again the verdict would have been much different.

The hypocrisy of the Pharisees still remains in the church today. There are still those who would stone those caught in sin rather than offer compassion and release that comes through Jesus Christ. We are fortunate that Christ has provided a way to be free from sin and the law. And we will see as we go through the rest of this chapter some instances where the hypocrisy of the Pharisees remains in the church today.