Monday, November 06, 2017

Woe to hypocrites!

Pharisees by James Tissot
Pharisees by James Tissot
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 23:13-39

TO CHEW ON: " 'But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.' " Matthew 23:13

In one of His most impassioned speeches, Jesus denounces seven examples of Pharisaic hypocrisy:

1. They were legalistic. The Pharisees' strict legalism kept them and everyone else out of the kingdom (Matthew 23:13).

2. They were unjust. The Pharisees' long prayers, meant to impress others with their righteousness, were contrary to the way they treated the poorest people, like widows - Matthew 23:14.

3. They were evangelists of evil - Matthew 23:15. One thinks of a missionary or evangelist as one doing a good thing. But these missionaries were converting others to become fanatics of a tarnished religion.

4. They were blind guides
- Matthew 23:16-22. If anyone should be able to see, it's a guide! Yet Jesus showed how blind these men were by poking holes in the reasoning by which they came to rules about which oaths were binding and which weren't. The IVP Commentary explains the custom:
"An oath involved invoking a deity as a witness to the veracity of one's claim. On the popular level people had begun using many surrogate phrases for God's name hoping to avoid judgment if they broke the oath. Pharisees endeavoured to distinguish which oath phrases were actually binding" - IVP Commentary, accessed via
Jesus' attack was not just against these oath standards, though, but also against the Pharisees' inconsistent standards of holiness and the profanity of using God's name in such frivolous ways.

5. Their standards were inconsistent and out of proportion - Matthew 23:23-24. The Pharisees emphasized tithing the tiniest of spices while ignoring big issues like practicing justice, mercy, and faith.

6. Their lives were superficial - Matthew 23:25-28. Their fine exteriors masked a polluted inner condition.

7. They were self-deceived - Matthew 23:29-36. They claimed that if they'd lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have treated God's servants the way their countrymen did. Jesus' response: " 'Serpents, brood of vipers!' " You will prove how deceived you are by the way you kill, crucify and scourge the prophets, wise men, and scribes that come to your generation (my paraphrase).

Before we look with too much disdain on this lot, we do well to examine our own lives for similar hypocritical behavior:

  • Have we developed legalistic standards of our own that are barriers to people entering God's kingdom?
  • Do we give lip service to a holiness we don't practice?
  • Do we have self-made, inconsistent-with-God's-word standards that, for example, rail against body sins like smoking and overeating, but are indulgent toward TV and movies that pollute the mind?
  • Do our priorities line up with Scripture's? Do our lives reflect the things that matter to God? Or do we break fellowship over sidebar matters like which version of the Bible to read and the order of prophesied end-time events?
  • Are our lives authentic—the same in private as public? Or do we practice secret sin?
  • Are we realistic about who we are? Or does our lifestyle contradict what comes out of our mouths?

Dear Jesus, Your denunciation of the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees shows me that my nature is not all that different. Please help me to detect hypocrisy in my life and to deal with it. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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