It’s Easy To Be A Pharisee

(Today's post by James a Rooks)

Matthew 23:1-22

In today's reading of Matthew 23:1-22, I was struck with Jesus' warning about false teachers and his correction to false teachers. The first half of the passage is framed as a warning to Jesus' followers to look out for “these kind of people”. Look at the qualities found in them and the fruit of their lives found in verses 1-12.

Mat 23:1-12 NASB 1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 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. 4 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. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Just on a very surface level, you can see what is happening with the Pharisees. Men who've placed themselves in lofty positions. Their deeds are not worthy of being followed. They leave heavy burdens on others. They revel in their religiosity. They love public recognition and the title that comes with their position. Should be easy to recognize and stay away from, right?

Next, Jesus shifts from pointing out the warnings about the Pharisees to a railing indictment directed at the Pharisees. Over the next few verses, Jesus delivers seven “woes” to the Pharisees. I was curious about the word “woe” so I consulted with a guy named Webster. Here's what he told me about “woe”:



grievous distress, affliction, or trouble: His woe was almost beyond description.


an affliction: She suffered a fall, among her other woes.


an exclamation of grief, distress, or lamentation.

It's during these “woes” that my thoughts of judgement on the Pharisees of old (and a few that I could think of from today) turned to thoughts of conviction. As I was reading the Word, the Holy Spirit began to say “don't just look at them, this could be about you.” I have often read about the Pharisees and other religious leaders with a certain contempt at how they carried themselves. Now I'm looking at a passage that's been read and reviewed dozens of times in a different light. These “bad guys” probably didn't wake up every day hoping to hear a woe declared against them by Jesus. At some point I'm pretty sure they were in it for the right reason, until one day they became proud.

What could happen to me if I become proud? Reread the passage, and you'll see. Every bit of it is possible. From my perspective, that's pretty scary. I take this as a warning for us to be wary of religious leaders like the Pharisees but also as a look into the destructive results of self pride which we are all succeptible to.

As I learned about this in today's reading, I found myself desiring a greater dependance on God, a greater desire for His presence, and a greater desire for the Word. I hope that you'll do the same. I'll end with verse 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

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