Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.[a] 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.[b] 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’[c]
8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.[d] 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
According to Webster, a leader is a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
I have had the privilege of leading various groups of people for more than a decade. When my husband and I started a non-profit ministry to serve married couples in 2010, I was also given the responsibility of leading an organization. I found it strange, however, that once I had a title behind my name and a few business cards to hand out, I felt different. It didn’t take me long to discover that I, like other “religious leaders” was becoming proud of my calling, my knowledge, my gifts and my ability to attract followers. I quickly realized that if I didn’t humble myself before the Lord, I would be in serious danger of becoming a Pharisee.
I’ve served under a variety of leaders in the body of Christ in the years since I became a follower of Jesus. I’ve been crushed by some of their demands and watched in amasement as they never lifted a finger to help the ones in which they led. I’ve heard some give powerful speeches about loving one another and then watch them walk off the stage and treat others with contempt and disrespect. I’ve sat in auditoriums filled with volunteers at service appreciation banquets while guest speakers praised the pastor and staff over and over and over again, declaring that we, the body had the greatest among men/women leading us….all the while wondering if they were talking about the same people I served under for years!? I’ve witnessed new believers climb the ranks from volunteer to team leader to staff member at a rapid pace…and sadly, I’ve seen those same kind hearted people become a clone of their mentor; reflecting the same arrogant attitude of superiority towards those whom they were leading. Julius, in “Remember the Titans” summed up their transformation perfectly: “attitude reflects leadership……captain.”
In the remaining verses of Matthew 23, Jesus condemned the religious leaders 7 TIMES saying, “what sorrow awaits you. Hypocrites!” Sadly, I must admit, I’ve heard Him say the same to me. He has humbled me on more than one occasion when I have exalted myself above my fellow sojourners. I pray that He continues to do the same through the power of His Word, through my conversations with Him, and through the rebukes of those who lead me, serve alongside me, and those who follow my example.
13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.[a]
15 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell[b] you yourselves are!
16 “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ 17 Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. 19 How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. 21 And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. 22 And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.
23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[c] but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel![d]
25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish,[e] and then the outside will become clean, too.
27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. 30 Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’
31 “But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. 33 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?
34 “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. 35 As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.