Matthew 23:1-12 = Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 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. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries (boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm) wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Background for Matthew 23:1-12:
Jesus returned to the Temple and taught. Then, that same day, some Sadducees stepped forward. Next:
- Jesus’ Triumphal entry
- Cursing of the fig tree
- Jesus returned to the Temple and drove out the merchants
- Religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority
- Parable of the 2 sons → know correctly but do other
- Story of the landowner, Pharisees offended
- Story of the wedding feast (Kingdom of Heaven)
- Jesus talks about whether or not we should pay taxes
- Sadducees misunderstanding of the Scriptures
- What is the most important commandment?
- Jesus turns around and counters: Son/Lord of David?
So now, in Chapter 23, Jesus explains to the crowds and His disciples about how the Pharisees were the official interpreters of the Scriptures, yet hypocrites of what they were preaching. He was being sarcastic when He addressed the Pharisees’ teachings and position, for they teach people to do as they say, but not as they do.
They demand much but never lift a finger to help (lack of demonstration), and everything they do is for show: They tried and liked looking especially important and special, they wore fancy clothes and decorations, they insisted on their credentials and status, they made it a point to always sit at the heads of the tables when attending important banquets, they took pride in their prominent seats, and enjoyed recognition to their jobs and titles.
But in response to such, Jesus says not to let anyone call you Rabbi, for Jesus is and is to be your teacher. ‘All of you are at the same level: Brothers and sisters’ (in Christ).
“Don’t address anyone here on earth as “Father” (as in a Spiritual Father), for only God in Heaven is your Spiritual Father.” In the Old Testament, prophets were often called “Father”, thus recognizing them as spiritual fathers. But now, God is to be our only spiritual father, through Jesus Christ.
The Greek actually says, “But y’all should not be called “Rabbi”, for only one is Rabbi of y’all. But y’all are brothers (fellow believers); and y’all should not call anyone on earth “Father”, for only one is your Father in Heaven. Nor should you call anyone Master, for Christ is your only Master.”
Only one = Adjective, Masculine, Singular, Nominative.
Rabbi = Noun, Masculine, Singular, Nominative.
y’all and Brothers = Nominative (together)
Don’t let anyone call you Master, for you have only one Master, and that is the Messiah.
Unfortunately, all this is also a common behavior, even today among many leaders in churches. I’m not just talking about Roman Catholic (which I’m sure many who read this were thinking), but even in our Protestant churches. For example, I once served with a Sr. Pastor who demanded that people honor him as their spiritual leader and raise him up because he had one of the bigger churches in the area. But his leadership resembled dried out fruit. I also remember attending a church on Chicago’s south side where the Pastor demanded that instead of kids looking at drug dealers as something to model after, they should look at him, because he wore fancy clothes and jewelry, he had a nice car, big house, made a good amount of money, etc. In fact, I’m sure you could think of some other examples of leaders (not just in the church) who behaved like the Pharisees.
Jesus says that if you wish to lead, then you must do so by example:
- The greatest among you must be your servant.
- Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
- Those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Bring it back now to 23:1-7, where the Pharisees were exalting themselves and leading, but not serving. Therefore, in the Kingdom of Heaven, they are not as leaders.
- If you wish to lead, you must serve
- A good leader leads by example
In martial arts classes, during the warm-up exercises, I would often see instructors or assistant-teachers telling the students what to do, but not doing it themselves. My philosophy about teaching (especially during the warm ups) was always that if I can’t do it, then I shouldn’t be telling others to do it. In other words, if I tell you to drop and give me 100 pushups, then I should do them with you. That way, we’re both struggling and feeling the pain together. Because if I’m sitting down on the side, then what right do I have to demand you to work harder? What, because I’m the teacher? No. Only if I’m down there with you do I have any right as your leader. And that’s what Jesus is saying here, too, for a true leader challenges you by demonstration.
Jesus stood for Truth, trusted the Father, never backed down, kept His faith in trials, endured great suffering, loved unconditionally, held to the resurrection, knew the difference (and practiced) between forgiveness and condemnation, He didn’t demand honor, He set the standard, lived on the land, had compassion for the lost, weak, sick, and possessed, and He demonstrated all this and more by enduring the cross and by being raised.
If you wish to lead, then you must serve and lead by example.