Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. - Matthew 23: 1-12 (ESV)
The 23 rd Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is entirely devoted to warnings, or woes, that Jesus proclaims against the scribes and Pharisees of His day. The scribes were those that possessed a deep understanding of the laws that governed in the days of Jesus. They were usually responsible for drafting legal documents in relation to those laws. The Pharisees were the dominant religious-political group of the day. They relied primarily upon oral tradition in addition to the written law. Combined they represented the religiosity of the day. They were the mega-churches. If there was cable television, they would own TBN. They were more concerned with the letter of their traditions than the true spirit of the God they claimed to serve. Jesus came along to upset their apple cart. He came along to remind people who God was in comparison to the man made religion they had become enamored with. If we fast forward to today, we see He is still doing this in our midst. For every televangelist shaking people down for money there is Jesus and His Word to over turn the tables the snake oil salesmen have set up in the house of God. For every self proclaimed pastor willing to compromise the Gospel for the sake of seeking and earthly purpose, there is Christ at our right hand, ready to show us the true way to the Father. So we begin a series today examining the seven woes Jesus spoke regarding the Pharisees and Scribes. The seven woes He is still speaking to the church today about our own man made religiosity.
Before getting into the specific warnings, Jesus introduces the topic with some general observations about this brood of vipers. So we could recognize if we find ourselves being led by people with such compromises being evident. Things we should be wary of. Things we should be on the lookout for. The first thing we should be wary of is hypocrisy. That these people will practice different than they preach. That sometimes what we hear may be correct but that we must go beyond that to see if their behavior matches what they profess to believe. The notion of "do what I say and not what I do" is not a Christian principle.
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me . And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' - Matthew 15: 7-9 (NKJV)
Not surprisingly, Jesus is referring to the scribes and Pharisees here as well. Notice the differentiation of honoring God with our lips and our hearts. With our words and with our deeds. Jesus constantly taught against hypocrisy. I watched a pastor once tell a congregation that if someone had an issue with someone else in the church that they needed to leave. As bad as that comment was, two weeks later he preached on the parable of the 99 and 1! When preaching becomes an academic exercise and not driven by the Holy Spirit we remove the conviction we so desperately need. Notice also here that doctrine gets twisted. This is a key sign that we need to get out. When the commandments created by man become the doctrines taught from the pulpit - it is time to leave. Beloved, there is no scriptural support for seeker friendly doctrine. There is no scriptural support for purpose driven doctrine. There is no scriptural support for cheap grace or earthly prosperity. There simply isn't. Sure, you can take a verse here or there and rip it out of context to suit the point you want to make but that does not make it doctrine. You can lie and claim some fanciful nonsense like money is the number one subject in the Bible but at the end of the day you are merely speaking out of both sides of your mouth. These things are not new beloved. We see them active today and Jesus spoke to us about them 2000 years ago:
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. - Luke 16: 14-15 (NKJV)
You can take out the word Pharisee and insert "mega church pastors" or TBN Televangelists" and the statement remains accurate. Lovers of money, preaching money, seeking money, valuing money - loving money. Highly esteemed. They have the best time slots for their television shows. They drive the best cars and apologize to no one. They have their own private planes to "better spread the gospel." They preach crassness and vulgarity from the pulpit and have no respect for the altar of God. They measure success horizontally and with earthly metrics instead of vertically with Godly understanding. They preach what they do not adhere to themselves. They preach kindness but treat people who disagree with them on the slightest minutia as being somehow outside the Body of Christ. They preach forgiveness but use a sledge hammer to swat a mosquito. They preach the supremacy of Christ but they are the hero of every story. Something just does not quite add up because we see the hypocrisy and we know deep down we should come out from among them.