This morning as we come to the time of the Word of God, the Lord really kind of impressed upon my heart to take us to a passage that speaks to the matter of spiritual leadership.
Since we are concluding our Shepherd’s Conference today, and we felt that we should speak to these issues which are on the heart of our guests, I want to draw your attention to Matthew chapter 23 this morning. Matthew chapter 23. It’s not my desire this morning to preach a sermon to you particularly, but more to open a chapter of the Word of God to you and let God’s Spirit speak. As I prepared my thoughts and prepared in the study of the Word, I wasn’t really concerned with a lot of the textual details that I often deal with. I wasn’t concerned with a lot of illustrative material, but simply to unfold the significance of this tremendous chapter - Matthew 23.
Now, those of you who know me, who are a part of Grace church or who’ve listened to tape or radio, know that I have a very difficult time covering very many verses in one message. In fact, I have been known to spend weeks in a verse or two. But I would like, this morning, to just move rather rapidly through the greater portion of this chapter and see if I can’t at least identify in your minds some of the very crucial elements of what I’m calling the anti-model of spiritual leadership, the anti-model of spiritual leadership.
Those of you who have been with us in our study of Philippians know that over the last three weeks in Philippians, we have been dealing with three models of spiritual leadership: Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. Philippians chapter 2 gives us these three men as illustrations of those who, in humility and without complaint, in difficult circumstances, worked out their salvation in effective service to Jesus Christ. They are magnificent models of spiritual leadership, and we have spent three weeks examining the character of that modeling.
In contrast to that, as if set apart in bold relief, I want to share with you from this chapter the anti-model of spiritual leadership, what a spiritual leader is not. And I basically have two reasons for doing that. One, I am concerned about the mass of false spiritual leaders in our world today. And I think it’s important for us to understand this chapter because it will aid us in recognition. In other words, it’ll help us to evaluate those who offer themselves as spiritual leaders, and we can assess whether or not they are legitimate.
So, this chapter will provide for us a guideline for the recognition of false leaders. Secondly, it provides not only recognition but instruction. And by contrast, as we look at what a spiritual leader is not to be, we will therefore understand what a spiritual leader is to be. And so, if we can, we’ll turn the table a little bit in our thinking, and having seen what Jesus condemns, we will then know what He exalts, what He commends. Having seen the character of a false leader, we can understand by contrast the character of a true spiritual leader.
I was doing an interview one time with Paul Moyer who’s on KABC Television, and he asked me a question that I’ve always thought about because I thought it was such a poignant question. He said to me, “In the midst of all the scandals that are going on in Christianity,” he says, “why don’t you people police your movement? Isn’t anybody in charge? How can you allow these kinds of people to discredit the good people in Christianity?
And so, if I might, this morning I would like to allow the Lord Jesus Christ, in His own words, to police our movement by helping us to have a guide by which we evaluate the truth or falsehood of someone and also a contrast by which we can evaluate our own standard for spiritual service.
Now, it is obvious that there have always been false prophets, false preachers, false teachers, false leaders, false shepherds, even false Christs as we read about in the New Testament. Certainly Jeremiah pointed them out, the prophets who prophesy falsely. Ezekiel pointed them out, those foolish prophets who followed their own spirit.
Jesus pointed them out as false prophets, false Christs who show great signs and wonders. Paul pointed them out as hypocritical liars who are spouting demonic doctrines generated by seducing spirits. Peter spoke of them as those who secretly bring in destructive heresies. “They’re like dogs who eat their own vomit,” he said. John spoke of them as the many antichrists that already exist. Jude called them deluded dreamers who defile the flesh; spots on your love feasts; scabs and blemishes.
There have always been false shepherds; there have always been those who are of great danger to the people of God. Jesus said, “Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.” He did not mean wolves dressed up like sheep. Sheep’s clothing is wool, and the wool robe was the garment of the prophet.
As Zechariah said, “They wear wool to deceive.” They are not dressed up like sheep; they are dressed up like shepherds, and they are false ones.
And then in John chapter 10, Jesus talked about the true shepherd, and He talked about the sheepfold, and He said, “There are those thieves and robbers, who are not true shepherds, who try to climb in and destroy the sheep.
In Acts chapter 20, the apostle Paul said, “I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in, not sparing the flock, and of your own selves, perverse men will rise up.” Always the inevitability. “And so,” said Paul, “for three years I have ceased not to warn you night and day with tears.”
But of all of the portions of scripture that deal with these false teachers, none is more poignant, none is more direct, none puts them in clearer focus, and none is more penetratingly full of judgment than Matthew 23. And these words seem to be the strongest, harshest, most direct and comprehensive diatribe against false teachers in the Scripture. And that may well be, of course, because they were spoken by our Lord against the greatest assault that hell had ever amassed, namely the three-year assault o the ministry of Jesus Christ. It may well be that this was the greatest assault of false doctrine and false teaching, to this point, in the world’s history. Certainly this is the greatest denunciation of false teachers in Scripture.
Now, I want to give you a little bit of the background. It is the Passover season. Jesus will soon be at the cross in just a matter of days. He has gone into the temple. In the temple He has entered into conflict with the religious leaders – namely the scribes and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the legalistic sect of Jews who believed in salvation by works. They were fundamental legalists. Within the Pharisees was a group known as the scribes, who were the experts in the law. They were Pharisaical law experts. They had devised an apostate Judaistic system in which salvation was gained by one’s own self-righteous achievements.
It is to them that Jesus brings this message. It is His final public sermon that He ever preached. The rest of His conversations are with the disciples from this point on. He gives this message in the temple where He has been in an ongoing conflict with them. He has given parables that speak of their judgment; now He is direct. He gives the message in the hearing of the scribes and the Pharisees because after all, it is directed at them. But He also gives it in the hearing of the crowd, the multitude, because it acts as a warning to them to turn from these false leaders.
Furthermore, He gives it in the hearing of the disciples, because they are to be the true teachers to whom the people must turn. So, the disciples are there; the crowd is there; the scribes and the Pharisees are there as well. And verse 1, “Then says Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples saying, ‘The scribes the Pharisees’” – and at that point, we’ll stop long enough to say He directs the message to the scribes and Pharisees in the sense that they are the subject, while there is a much larger audience. This is a judgment on them, but more than that, it is a warning to the rest of the crowd. But more that, it is a call to that warned crowd to follow His disciples who are the bearers of truth and righteousness.
Now, basically He focuses on two things: their character and their condemnation. And I submit to you that we have here both a guide for the recognition of false teachers as well as a standard in the negative sense of what a true and faithful servant of God should be like.
Let’s look, first of all, at their character. And as I said, we’ll not have time to dig into all the details. We’ll move rather rapidly, but I’ll give you six marks of false spiritual leaders that will be a guide for you today as much as they were then.
Number one, false spiritual leaders, false preachers and teachers lack authenticity. They lack authenticity. Verse 2 says, “‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the seat of Moses’” – or the chair of Moses. Each synagogue had a special seat or a chair, the chair of Moses. It was a chair occupied by the legal authority on the law, the supreme authority on the law. The supreme teacher in that synagogue community would be said to be sitting in the chair.
We have the same situation today in universities. We talk about a chair of philosophy, or a chair of science, a chair of history, a chair of literature. What we mean by that is the leading expert in that entire venue of education sits in that seat of prime authority.
They had it in the synagogue as well. There was the seat of Moses. It is the chair of authority. The word “seat,” by the way, is kathedra. The Roman Catholic Church says that when the pope speaks for God, He speaks ex cathedra, out of the seat of authority.
And so, this was typical of the synagogue. There was a chair occupied by the leading law expert. It may not always have been a literal chair, but it is seen as a position of authority.
Now, the point that I want you to notice, in verse 2, is the scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. The point is they put themselves there. There’s no call of God here; there’s no authenticity. They are self-appointed usurpers who took the place of authority and tried to keep everybody that threatened that authority out of that place.
All you have to do is read into the gospels a little while, and you find that the Pharisees became immediately, violently hostile to Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus’ teaching threatened their authority. The first sermon recorded in the gospels, Matthew 5 to 7, the Sermon on the Mount, they responded by saying that He spoke as one having – what? – authority. There were many, many people in positions of authority threatened by the clear, precise, powerful, dramatic, dynamic teaching of Jesus.
In fact, in Luke 4, when He came to Nazareth, and He stood up and read from Isaiah and spoke in terms of an explanation and a fulfillment of what Isaiah said, they were so threatened by His message, so threatened by His power and authority, they took Him to the brow of a hill and would have killed Him except that He escaped them.
Jesus, in John 15 and 16, promises His own that they will have persecution, they will have trouble, that the world will hate them because the world hated Him. And then, in chapter 16, verse 2, He says, “The day will come when they will put you out of the synagogue.” Why? Because your truthfulness and your authenticity will be a threat to their usurped authenticity. And they did it. They did it with Paul. Paul was a tremendous threat to them. And they did it with the other of the apostles.
False spiritual leaders are always self-appointed experts. They are not called by God; they are not anointed by God; they are not properly trained; they are not properly ordained within the community of those who hold the Word of God precious and live by biblical truth; they are not accountable. They exist in a self-appointed identification. It is what Jeremiah said when He said, “They go, but they were not sent. They preach, but God did not give them the message.”
So, all those who say they are the spokesman of God must be carefully examined to see if they are gifted of God, called of God, faithful to the Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God so that there is authenticity. I mean let’s face it; the religious charlatans in our culture are absolutely pandemic; they’re everyplace. Anybody who wants to can pop onto the scene, become a self-appointed prophet, say whatever he wants and get a following.
I read the other day this which appeared in a newspaper, “We are a fast-growing faith actively seeking new members who believe as we do that all men should seek the truth in their own way by any means they deem right. As a minister of our faith, you can set up your own church, apply for exemption from property and other taxes, perform marriages and exercise all the ecclesiastical powers, and we can tell you how. Get sizable cash grants for doing missionary work. Some transportation companies, hotels, and theaters will even give ministers reduced rates. Get the whole package for $100.00. This ordination is declared to be legal and valid anywhere in the country.” But nowhere in the kingdom. Just more of the same old stuff. And it is everywhere.
But the true shepherd, the true pastor is authentic, called by God, gifted by God, confirmed by the church, godly in character, faithful to the Word.
Secondly, they are indicted, in regard to their character, not only because they lacked authenticity, but they lacked simplicity. And this is alluded to in verse 3. It says, “Therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe” – now, why does He say that? Why does Jesus say, “Do what they tell you”? Because He’s speaking in reference to the chair of Moses. If they are sitting in the chair of Moses and articulating the law of God, then do what they say. Do what they say. The implication of that is that when anyone speaks the Word of God, he speaks as the true minister of God should speak. And the truth of God, even in the mouth of a false prophet, is no less the truth. Right? The Word of God in the mouth of a liar is no less the Word of God.
And so, He is simply saying that the Word of God is the message, the Word of God is the issue, and even they, if they speak the Word of God, speak truth that you must do. The problem was, of course, that they didn’t limit it to that. They would speak the Law of Moses; they would take the chair of Moses and speak the Word of God. In the synagogue, they would read the Word of God. The problem was they lacked simplicity. They had gone way beyond the Word of God. It is said that the Pharisees alone had 50 volumes of man-made regulations in addition to the revelation of the Old Testament. They lacked simplicity. They did not stay with the Word of God and only the Word of God. For them it was not sola Scriptura. The religious leaders of Israel were not unlike many today who add to the Word of God their visions, their traditions, their revelations that exceed the Word of God.
I heard a false teacher on the television two days ago, and he was telling the people that he had received a new word from God. And that word from God is that no Christian should ever, ever die accidentally by disease. You should never die at any point in time until you will to die. In other words, you are in total control of when you die, how you die, where you die, and why you die. And if you’re not in total control of that, then you’re not living your Christian life to the full. Now, you don’t find that in the Bible.
“Oh,” he said, “there’s a verse for it. The verse is Paul said, ‘I am now ready to be offered.’ And that what Paul was saying, ‘This is when I’d like to die, this is why I’d like to die, and this is how I’d like to die. Please kill me; it is my time,’ and he commanded everything in the world to come together to take his life. And therefore, we have that same promise, and any of you who are dying” – and then he said to all these people – “don’t you say it was God’s will when your child died. Don’t you say it was God’s will when your parent died. Don’t you way it was God’s will when someone in your family died. The Lord has shown me that that was never God’s will; that was the person’s will, because they were willing the wrong thing at the wrong time.”
Well, that certainly is not biblical. But you’ve got about 3,000 people saying, “Oh, yes.”
You can look at the Mormon Church. It’s not just the Bible; it’s the Bible plus The Book of Mormon, the doctrines and the covenants. You look at Christian Science, it’s the Bible plus Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. And you look at the writings of all these other people who have attached themselves in a cultic form to some bizarre interpretation of Scripture, you look today who want to add their visions and their revelations, private interpretations, prophesies, reams of stuff beyond Scripture.
There is, in the life and ministry of a true spiritual leader, a simplicity in that his content is confined to the Word of God. Basic.
Third thing that they lacked, they lacked integrity. Please note verse 3 again, “Do not do according to their deeds; for they say and do not do.” They lack integrity. They say but they don’t do. In other words, “He says, ‘When they sit in the chair of Moses and they speak Mosaic truth, do what they say. When they speak the law of God, do what they say. But don’t do what they do, because even when they say the truth they don’t do it.” They have no integrity. That’s a very basic issue.
False leaders are always corrupt on the inside. Always. Read carefully 2 Peter chapter 2. Read carefully Jude’s epistle. There are monumental statements in there about their internal corruption. If you add that to this chapter and to some other places in the New Testament, you get a description of their lack of integrity that would run something like this: they are called leaven. They are called whited tombs. They are called whited walls. They are called graves concealed by grass. They are called broken pots covered with silver dross. They are called tares. They are called wolves. They are called wells without water; false prophets; presumptuous, natural, brute beasts to be taken and destroyed. They are called filth spots and scabs, immoral, covetous, cursed children, clouds in a tempest to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever. They are called deluded dreamers who defile the flesh; spots on your love feasts; clouds without water; trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots. They’re called raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars to whom it is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. They’re called murmurers; complainers; walkers after their own lust, with their mouths speaking great, swelling words; cloaks over sin; and sensual.
The point is, no matter what they say, that’s what they are. That’s what they are. They are full of masked vice. They maintain a theatrical goodness, but not a real one because they have no internal restraint against the flesh. They may spout God’s truth once in a while, like the clock that isn’t working is still right twice a day. So, you need to be very discerning. So, they lack authenticity; they have no call from God. They lack simplicity. They are not confined to the Word of God. They lack integrity; they do not live what they call other people to do.
Fourthly, they lack sympathy. Please notice verse 4, “They tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” They load up the burdens – the picture here is of a man who’s unmercifully loaded his beast of burden with assorted loads on his back. And the Pharisees and the scribes were like this. They were bringing people under a tremendous pile of rules and regulations and impossible demands, leaving them hopelessly loaded down, hopelessly guilty, without deliverance, no way to find comfort. And, of course, the heaviest load of all was a works righteousness system.
Friends, anybody in a false religion, anybody under a false teacher who is trying to work his way to salvation has an unbearable load that is piled on him by the false leaders. It also notes in verse 4, “They will not move.” The word is actually “remove.” They will not remove the burden. No sympathy, no care, no love. They are heartless; they are abusive. They use people; they manipulate people; they keep people under a tremendous load of guilt.
You know, people are just gullible for that. It’s amazing, but that gullibility isn’t new. Do you remember 2 Corinthians 11:20? Paul here is talking about true and false prophets, deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. The context is right on. He says in verse 13, “These are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” Then in verse 20, he says this, “You bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face.” Isn’t that amazing? You take it.
I mean how amazing that you can literally be suckered by all of that, even to the point where if he hits you in the face you take it. Incredible how people become spellbound under those who load them up with absolutely unbearable burdens of responsibility and guilt and manipulation. No compassion at all. None at all. They lack authenticity; they lack simplicity; they lack integrity; they lack sympathy. They use people; they abuse people. People are manipulated for their own goals and their own self-fulfilling ends.
Number five, they lack spirituality. Verse 5 says, “They do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” That’s quite an interesting verse. Four times in the Old Testament the Jews are told to bind the law of God on their forehead and on their hand four times.
The Jews understood that. They understood that that was symbolic of having the law of God in your mind – that’s thought – and having the law of God applied in your action – that’s work; that’s living. So, having the law of God bound on your forehead meant to have it at the center of your thoughts. Having it bound on your hand meant to have it at the core of your behavior. They all understood that. But about 400 B.C., some Jews decided that they needed to make that internal principle of the law of God in the mind and in the behavior an external act.
So, about 400 B.C., they started building little boxes, covering them with black leather. In them they put four portions of scripture, two out of Exodus chapter 2, two out of Deuteronomy chapter 2, tucked them in a little box, covered it with leather, strapped it on their head and strapped it on their arm. Those are called phylacteries. I have seen them many times when I was flying to Israel with an entire planeload – a 747 full of Orthodox Jews. I saw a lot of it. Every stop we made, they all got out and faced towards the East and did – put all their phylacteries on and all their prayer cloths. You’ll still see it today among Orthodox Jews in the United States, particularly New York City where they are, and other parts of the world.
The external demonstration of that became the issue. Now, what he’s saying here is very interesting. By the way, when they tie the little thongs around on their arm and their head and everywhere, they tie them in the shape of Hebrew letters. And the Hebrew letters together spell Shaddai, which is one of the names of God – El Shaddai.
And so, it’s a very formal, external, ritualistic thing from about 400 B.C. on. Why do they do it? Well, look what He says here. Not only do they do that on the outside, but – this is interesting – they enlarge their phylacteries. They put a big box on their head. Why? So people will see how devout they are. It’s all externalism. And then they were also commanded in Numbers chapter 15 to put tassels on their robes. Why? So they would be singled out as God’s people. Why did God do that? To keep them from mingling with the pagans. They were easily identifiable by the kind of robe they wore, and they had the tassels. It was a symbol of their Jewishness, of their identity with the people of God and of their commitment to the law of God.
So, now, when they want to parade how committed to the law of God they are, they get great big tassels and great big boxes, “See how spiritual we are?” They became, by the way, magical charms to keep away evil, and they taught that God even wore one on His head, amazingly enough. This was sheer external show. They had no spirituality.
Do you know what it says in Jude 19? “They were devoid of the Holy Spirit.” They were devoid of the Holy Spirit. They had not the Holy Spirit. They weren’t spiritual. That’s deadly because they had no way to restrain the flesh; they had no way to constrain their fallenness; they had no way to control their sin. So, you see these false spiritual leaders on big ego trips, parading all their holiness, parading all their piosity on the outside, but the truth is the Spirit does not dwell on the inside. They are corrupt. They are all those things that we read you a moment ago because they have no spirituality. It is all, as Galatians 6:12 says, “A fair show in the flesh.”
And one more virtue they lack, number 6, they lack humility. They lack humility. Verse 6, they love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues. The seats of honor were at the right and the left hand of the host. And they loved to be at the right and the left hand of the host. They were really into that. I mean even James and John got sucked into that deal, didn’t they? “Can we please sit on the right and the left hand in the kingdom?” they said to Jesus. This was typical of those who sought preeminence and prominence. They wanted to be on the right and the left hand of the guests. They wanted to be in the know. They were really looking for significance.
Furthermore, they wanted to sit in the chief seats, up front on the raised platform in the synagogue is where they would sit, and all the dignitaries would sit there and face the people. That’s what they chose; that’s what they like. They like being elevated and being highly esteemed in the eyes of the people.
Now, that’s one reason I don’t sit up on the platform. I just want to stay as far away from that as I can. But it isn’t necessarily wrong to sit on a platform. I do that a lot of places I go. It’s wrong to have the attitude of wanting to be seen and thought to be holy and pious because you’re up there. So, I’m not discounting the fact that it’s perfectly all right to have people sitting on a platform as long as their hearts are right; that’s the issue. But their hearts were not right. And I’m a little cautious about my own heart; so, I don’t feed that. But they lacked humility. They sought the chief places of respect and honor.
Then notice, would you please – this is very interesting – verse 7, they also loved respectful greetings in the marketplaces. They loved people to acknowledge them as dignitaries. They wanted honored titles. In fact, the rabbinical writings give an elaborate direction about how you’re to greet a rabbi when you meet him. There’s all kinds of things you’re supposed to say. And by the way, it says they are to be treated superior to kings.
Some of the Jewish writings I’ve seen indicated that one time the Academy of Rabbis was having an argument with God, and they had to select a very special rabbi to settle it. Now, that is an exalted opinion of oneself when a rabbi has to resolve a conflict that God can’t solve. The Mishnah says – quote – “It is more punishable to act against the words of the scribes than against the words of Scripture.”
So, you get the idea of how they were elevated in their own minds. They had an inflated sense of their own importance. And here’s what they liked. “They love being called by men Rabbi.” They love that. What does that mean? Do you want to know what the Latin is? Decere from which we get doctor. They like being called Doctor, because that elevated them; that lifted them up, “Your Excellency,” would be another way to translate that. “You Superior One, you. You Great One.” They love that. They sought that.
We still have people like that around. They seek that. They want to be sure that you don’t miss that they’re Dr. Someone or Excellency Someone or Great One Someone. But there’s always been a propensity in a false leader to seek that glorification, that prominence. That’s why there’s such a market in degree mills for easily gained titles of honor. Then notice what he says also. He says, “They love to be called Rabbi.”
Verse 8, “But do not be called Rabbi” – don’t you go around being called Doctor, don’t you go around being called Excellency, Great One, Superior Mind, Great Teacher. Hey, if you ever said anything true, you got it from your teacher. Right? “For One is your teacher, and you are all brothers.” There’s the leveler, folks; we’re all brothers. There’s the leveler. We can’t seek anything more than that. Brother John, that’s me. Just brother.
Now, I’m glad when people are nice, and they grant a degree. And I can understand the proper work and academia, the proper work and ministry that causes one to be carefully honored. And if the heart is right, that’s not a problem. But if the heart is wrong, that’s gas on the fire. It’s a heart issue.
So, He says, “Don’t be called Rabbi.” And I kind of think He may have been looking at the Twelve at this point. And then He says, “Don’t be called leaders.” They loved to be called leader. That’s master. Master. He says, “Only One is your Leader; that’s Christ.” Earlier He said, “One is your Teacher.” That’s probably the Holy Spirit. Verse 9, He says, “Don’t call anybody on Earth father, for One’s your Father.” You’ve got the whole Trinity there. The Spirit is your Teacher; God is your Father; Christ is your Leader. All you are is brothers. Don’t get an elevated view of yourself, and don’t go around demanding that everyone give you honor by calling you all these things.
By the way, I just kind of passed by verse 9, “Don’t call anyone on Earth your father; for One is your Father, who is in heaven.” I think sometimes the Catholic Church must have erased that out of the Bible because it’s so absolutely explicit, “Don’t call anyone father.” What does “father” mean? Source. Source. Source of life, source of spiritual life. There’s only one source of spiritual life; that’s God the Father. There’s only one true Teacher, and the only time I am ever a worthy teacher is when I teach you exactly what He taught in the Word.
There’s only one Leader, and that’s Christ, not me. And my leadership is useless if I’m not leading you into the will of Christ. So, we’re all leveled at this point. But they lacked humility.
He goes to the disciples then in the final two verses and says, ‘The greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” Learn humility.
Now, what have we seen? Six characteristics of a false spiritual leader. He lacks authenticity, simplicity, integrity, sympathy, spirituality, and humility. And all you have to do to find out what a spiritual leader should be is flip that over. What should be the characteristic of a true spiritual leader? Authenticity. What does that mean? Called by God. Strong sense of divine call. Confirmation by the church. Affirmation by the church of his giftedness and of his moral character and virtue and godliness.
Secondly, simplicity. We should be characterized as those who are totally committed to and bound by the parameters of the revealed Word of the living God. That is the beginning and the end of our message.
Integrity. What does that mean? That the true spiritual leader will live what he preaches, live what he says. That’s integrity. Integrity means wholeness. An integer is a whole number. That’s where that word comes from. It’s not a fraction. Wholeness. All the parts are touching. No inconsistencies. Integrity.
We are also to be marked by sympathy. Those of us who serve Jesus Christ with authenticity, those who serve in simplicity with integrity are to be also sympathetic. We’re to be like Jesus of whom it is so wonderfully said by the prophet and then quoted again in Matthew 12 that “A bruised reed He will not break and smoking flax He will not extinguish.”
Do you understand the beauty of that statement? A shepherd would take a little reed, and he would use it to play a little tune. But because he would use it over and over again, his saliva would eventually weaken it and it would get soft, and it would begin to kind of be crushed, and it wouldn’t blow the tune properly. And so, he would break it and throw it away.
And there was very often a wick that would be burning in an oil lamp, and the wick would get down to the very end, and it wouldn’t burn with a flame that would light; it would just smolder with smoke. And the bruised reed would be thrown away, and the smoking flax would be thrown away. It’s discarding the frail things. Jesus comes along, and it is said of Him “the bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not extinguish.” Just the opposite. He will strengthen the bruised, and He will give light back to the flickering. That’s the ministry of compassion, the ministry of sympathy, the ministry of gentleness that characterizes the true shepherd.
And then, fifthly, we are to be marked by spirituality. Our life is not a life of outward show, but our life is a life of inward power. It is not that we enlarge the outward stuff. It is not what we look like on the outside. It is not a pious appearance. It is a heart controlled by the Spirit of God. Basic things.
And finally, humility. As opposed to the ugly pride of the false preachers and teachers, we are to have an evident, inward, manifest meekness. Meekness. That’s it. We who are those who God has called are to be the gifted, the ones set apart by God, not self-appointed. The ones who seek to serve, not to be served. The ones who are faithful in the stewardship of our life and ministry to the sacred trust of Scripture. The ones who are not inventing their own ideas or giving their own opinions. The ones who are faithful to feed the flock not fleece the flock. The ones who seek by the manifest meekness and gentleness of Christ not to abuse the flock but to comfort and encourage the flock. The ones who seek no honor for self but honor only for Christ. The ones who do not preach what they will not live, but the ones who lives what they preach. Shepherds who know their humility will make them useful, and shepherds who understand that neither they nor their flock are their own but God’s.
Then in verse 13, we come to the break. And from here on we have not the character of these spiritual leaders but the condemnation. And I’m just going to touch on this lightly, but listen very carefully for the power of this is great. Jesus condemns them, and He condemns them for eight sins that they perpetrate because of this kind of character. Character cannot be isolated from conduct. And this is their conduct which leads to their condemnation.
The first thing to note is they are cursed. Each of those curses begins with the word “woe.” In the Greek that’s an interesting word; it’s got all vowels in it. It’s ouai. It’s onomatopoetic. It’s a groan at best. It expresses grief, sorrow, pain, despair, and that’s its point. It’s as if Christ is saying, “Whaaa?” in sadness and despair as He thinks about their imminent judgment. And what is the false teacher going to be judged for? First exclusion. Exclusion.
Verse 13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Exclusion.
What do I mean? They keep people out of the kingdom. That is the damning heresies that they propagate. Whether you’re talking about the Mormons, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Christian Scientists, or Dianetics, or Worldwide Church of God, or unity, or liberalism, or whatever it is, they bar the gates of heaven and open wide the mouth of hell, do they not? They are guilty of the sin of exclusion. They keep people out of the kingdom. A frightening contradiction in spiritual service, for we are they who are to lead people into the kingdom. That’s why Jesus, in all the ministry that He had with His disciples, and in the 40 days after His resurrection, Acts 1 says, spoke to them of things pertaining to the kingdom. Why? Because theirs was a kingdom-gathering ministry. These false teachers exclude people from the kingdom. They aren’t in it, and they bar the gates to those they influence.
Secondly, they’re guilty of the sin of exploitation. While there is some discussion about verse 14’s inclusion in the text, we’ll look at it and accept it as being here. It says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore, you shall receive greater condemnation.” You come off as this pious, long-praying, spiritual person, and you take advantage of widows. You are an exploiting person. Exploitation. Taking advantage of poor people, taking advantage of people in need, taking money from widows.
Would you say that’s still characteristic of false teachers? You better believe it. According to the statistics that I have seen – and I forget the exact figure – the majority of dollars being sent to the typical false teachers that are moving around this country are coming from older women. Many of them over 60 years of age. Many of them in a widowed situation. And that is a vile sin for one who offers himself as the servant of God come to meet people’s needs, to exploit them for personal vice sake.
Thirdly, they’re guilty of the sin of perversion. Not only exclusion and exploitation, but perversion. Verse 15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte” – or one convert – “and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” He comes in as a convert and becomes a pervert.
The point is this: you corrupt everybody that comes to you. Yours is not a proper ministry of conversion; it’s a ministry of perversion. You don’t make converts; you make perverts. Somebody who comes to you – and let’s face it; false teachers attract the broken, the hurting, the suffering, the questioning, the doubting, the struggling people, the weak-willed people, the people who have all kinds of problems they can’t solve, who are struggling with the exigencies of life, and they bring them in, and instead of bringing them to the true God, they make them perverts, twice as much the children of hell as they themselves are. What is a child of hell? One whose character and deeds cause him to deserve hell.
Fourthly, they’re guilty of subversion. Verse 16, and following – and I won’t read all of this because of times, but it simply describes how they had invented this system of swearing. You know? And they wanted to lie is basically the bottom line. They wanted to lie. But they knew it was a very serious thing to lie. So, they developed a subversive system of lying based upon oaths. And it got as complex as this, verse 16, “You say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that’s nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he’s obligated.’”
So, let’s say a guy wants you to make him a promise, and you don’t want to keep the promise. So, you say, “I swear by the temple to keep that promise.” Well, you don’t have to keep that, because according to the system, swearing by the temple, you don’t have to keep – that’s like having your fingers crossed behind your back, when you’re six years old, and you tell your friend you’ll do something you know you’re not going to do. And when he says, “You didn’t do it,” you said, “Yeah, but I had my fingers crossed.” It’s the same kind of system.
So, they had some things that were binding to swear by, some things that were not binding, and you could lie through your teach all you wanted, and as long as you were swearing by something that was nonbinding, it was okay. So, what they had done was subverted God’s truth by developing a system that permitted them to live in sin and not violate, categorically, their defined moral code. So, they’re condemned for exclusion, exploitation, perversion, subversion.
Number five, inversion. Turning something inside out, that’s inversion. Look at verse 23, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin.”
You say, “What’s that?”
Herbs. You know what a mint leaf is? They said, “If we have ten ministry leaves we give one to the temple.” Good for you. “If we have ten dill seeds, we give one to the temple.” Oh, that’s good, wonderful. But the problem is, “You have neglected the weightier provision of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness” – I mean those are the big things. You’ve turned it all inside out. You pay no attention to justice, mercy, and faithfulness, but you’re counting seeds of kitchen herbs used to spice your dinner. Ludicrous, making little things big and big things insignificant, reversing the divine patterns, the divine priorities. Really a sad thing to think about. They neglected the things that really mattered, paid attention to the things that didn’t matter at all.
His says, “You should take care of the little things, but not neglect the other things.” They don’t matter morally. They’re not even an issue. That really showed up in the incident in the book of Matthew, where Jesus says you’re supposed to take care of your parents – the Sermon on the Mount. When it comes time to give to your parents, you say, “Oh, it’s korban; it’s korban. Sorry.” What does that mean? Korban means devoted to God. What do they say that for? “Oh, I’ve already pledged it to God; I’ve already pledged it to God; I can’t give it to them.” You heartless, merciless person. You won’t even meet your parents’ needs, and you piously say, “Oh, I’ve devoted it to God; I’ve devoted it to God.” And the implication is, in so saying, you devoted it to God, swore you’d give it to God, only you swore by the temple, which didn’t count. So, you have no intention of giving it to God, you phony. But that’s what they were into. Inversion of the divine priority.
Sixth, they were guilty of extortion. Verse 25 – oh, verse 24 I need to comment on. He says, “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Do you know they literally did that? Not the second half, but the first half? Do you know that some of them were so afraid of taking in a dead insect into their body because of the law that they had prescribed, that there is evidence that when they drank wine, they would suck it through their teeth like this so they could strain off on their teeth the gnats. Now, there were gnats in wine because there were gnats on grapes, and when they made the grapes and things like that, they might get crushed in there. So, they would suck it like this, and then they’d pick the gnats off their teeth. So, the Lord says, “You strain out the gnats, and then you swallow a camel.” Very vivid.
Then verse 25, extortion. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” Would you please note that is so characteristic of false teachers. They are robbers. The Greek word is harpagēs. It means rapers, plunderers. It’s the word for pillaging, raping, plundering. It’s not a term – it not a term for, you know, the stealthy thief who comes in the night and takes something out; you don’t know he’s been. It’s the marauder, the plunderer, the rapist, the brigand. So, they look so scrupulous and clean on the outside. They are rapers; they are robbers; they are plunderers. And because of your extortion, because you’ve done so much harm to others, for the sake of self-indulgence – you are robbers for self-indulgence sake, verse 26 says, “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so the outside of it may become clean also.” Start from the inside out.
Number seven, they are condemned for deception. Verse 27, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” This is very vivid. There are tombs all over Jerusalem. This was Passover. Lots of people in the city - very crowded, very pressed together. Lots of strangers in the city who might know where the tombs were. So, typically, each year, before Passover, they went through the city and whitewashed all the tombs because to touch a tomb was to become unclean. You didn’t want to become unclean at Passover. Obviously.
So, they would go around and whitewash all the tombs at the Passover time so that the people coming into the city would be able to see them and not touch them. And so, He is looking at that very moment in the temple, perhaps, and He can see the tomb. Certainly if He was able to see out the backside of the temple mount, he could see that the Mount of Olives would be a place where there are tombs. We know that. But nonetheless, He is simply saying, “You look white and shiny and bright and pure and clean on the outside. The fact is, on the inside you are full of dead men’s bones, rotten, vile, decaying flesh.” Deception. You will be condemned for your deception. You have deceived people. You have deluded people.
And then lastly, pretension. They are guilty of deception as well as extortion as well as inversion, subversion, perversion, exploitation, exclusion. The last word, “pretension.” Verse 29, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets. You adorn the monuments of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’” – we’re not like them. Oh, we’re much better than our forefathers.
They pretend to be better than they are. They pretend to be so holy, so sanctimonious, better than their fathers, “You can trust us. Oh, there have been false leaders in the past, false prophets in the past. You can trust us. We represent God.” Listen, don’t believe it; they aren’t better than the past.
“Evil men,” says Paul to Timothy, “will grow worse and worse.”
And how does Jesus respond to that? He responds like this, verse 31, “You bear witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets.” How did they do that? How did they give testimony that they were worse than their forefathers? I’ll tell you why. Their forefathers killed the servants of God; these guys were about to kill – whom? – the Son of God.
And so, in 32, He says, “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.” Complete it, go ahead. And He’s really saying, “Take My life. Take My life.” And then He closes our little section, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” Very serious.
Now, let me conclude very quickly. When you look at your ministry as a servant of God, you look not only at the positive but you look at the negative. The positive model, as we’ve seen - Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus; the negative, as we’ve seen - these men. We are reminded that God has called us to authenticity, simplicity, all those good things that we noted.
We are reminded that God has called us not to keep people out of the kingdom, but to bring them in. He has called us not to be abusive and debilitating and cruel to people, but to care for the poor and needy. Not to contaminate our followers, but to make them pure and holy as they follow our pattern. Not to create a subversive kind of religious code that undermines biblical truth, but to uphold biblical truth. Not to reverse the divine order of priority, but to emphasize the weightier matters of God’s law, not the minute things. Not to extort and use and abuse people, but to give our life in their behalf. Not to contaminate everybody who touches us with the putridness of our own life, but to make those holy who come near. And certainly not to pretend to be something that we’re not.
May God make us faithful, one, to recognize the false and to respect the true, and to help us through this particular portion to see what we should be.
Let me close with Jeremiah 23. Just listen, three verses. Jeremiah 23:1, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: ‘You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I’m about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds’” – I’m going to take care of you for what you’ve done to My sheep.
But then He says in verse 4, “‘I shall also raise up shepherds over them, and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing.’” That’s the kind of shepherd God wants us to be, who don’t terrify the sheep, but feed the sheep; who don’t lose the sheep, but keep the sheep. May God make us faithful spiritual leaders. Let’s bow together in prayer.
Father, we do ask that You would move in us. Help us to say yes to Your Holy Spirit as He calls us to a life of faithful service. Whether we be pastors, lay leaders, deacons, workers in the church, faithful Christians, Lord help us. Help us to be all that You wanted us to be when You gave this message and, no doubt, by contrast, were showing the disciples what we’ve seen today, “Don’t be like this; on the other hand, be the opposite.”
Help us to be faithful so that You might use us to Your glory, in Jesus’ name, amen.
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