Ever come across a verse you’ve read dozens of times and yet it feels like you’re reading it for the first time?
That happened to me last week when I read the first part of Matthew 23. Jesus, while speaking to the crowds and his disciples, talks to his listeners about the Pharisees.
“So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (v. 3)
The Pharisees are the religious elite of the day – the ones Jesus lambasts most frequently in the Gospels. Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious overachievers. With how regularly and severely Jesus rips the leaders of this religious sect, readers can be easily led to believe that everything they teach should be disregarded. Case and point: the remainder of Matthew 23 is the seven woes of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees where Jesus does not mince words.
But that’s the opposite of what Jesus says. One of Jesus instructions to his followers is to be careful to do what the Pharisees teach. What Jesus reminds his followers is that what the Pharisees are teaching is right. Truthfully, this is difficult for me to accept.
But Jesus gives an important second point. Don’t do what they do. It is the manner in which they live their lives we should not emulate. Their attitudes, affections and motivations were what diverged significantly from the heart of Jesus’ Father – and the thing that made Jesus so angry. Discipleship is the emulation of the life of your teacher. It is following a way of life – through being and doing – to become like them. Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees is not their doctrine, but their way of life. Do everything the Pharisees tell you, but don’t live the way they live.
It’s worth asking:
- How many religious leaders today have the right doctrine – but their lives are not worthy of emulation?
- What areas of your life do you need to be more careful to do everything the Pharisees teach?
- What areas of your life do you need to stop living like the Pharisees lived?
- Would Jesus make this statement about our leaders today?
- Would Jesus say that about us?
- Would Jesus say that about you?
- Would Jesus say this about me?
- How would you/I/we know?