TWO MODES OF LEADERSHIP
Mighty and Loving Lord, as I receive your Word today I want to live it in faith, and hope, and love.
Read MATTHEW 23:1–12
A Warning Against Hypocrisy
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 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. 4 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.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
- Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Praise the one ‘who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing’.1
This passage addresses the perennial problems of hypocrisy and seeking honor. Jesus tears apart any notion that Christians should fall prey to either problem. Their first issue is that the Jewish leaders do not practice what they preach: they are hypocrites. This is a terrible problem for the clergy and all Christians (so we must listen closely!). Jesus does not criticize the content of the leaders’ teaching. Their problem is that they fail to distinguish what really matters in the Law; instead, they burden people with its minutiae.
Their second problem is their love of honor. Ancient cultures were honor-shame cultures. What mattered was status, rank, and reputation. These leaders are not working to please God, but to gain honor. Hence, they do their good deeds publicly, rather than on the quiet. They wear large prayer boxes on their foreheads (phylacteries, tefillin) and have long flowing tassels (tsitzit) to demonstrate their piety. At banquets and in synagogues, they sit in the seats of prominence. They delight in being honored in public and called ‘Rabbi’ or ‘teacher’ (Reverend? Doctor? Professor?).
It should not be so for us. We recognize human instructors and parental figures, but we know that Jesus is our ultimate teacher and that God is our Father, so we are wary of self-importance. Our posture is that of a servant. We dwell deeply in the story of Jesus. He is God. He came as the Servant, washed feet, and died a criminal’s death. He shows us how we are to live in every situation, no matter how lofty our position. The greatest leaders are humble servants.
Dig deep into your heart. What motivates you? Renounce all claims to earthly honor. Resolve to honor God. Let us wash the feet of others – and do so joyfully.
Lord God, I know it is so easy to put adherence to a system before the will of God. Help me to be willing to serve others before being served myself.
1 Phil 2:6,7
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