The title of this has probably raised some eyebrows, but relax, it’s more of a Bible study than anything, and it had a much more refined title when it appeared last week at C201. Still, a couple of times in my life I have found myself in a position of being under the leadership of a pastor who in many different degrees I did not respect, and I know some of you have as well. Believing him to be placed there in the sovereignty of God, I have made a statement like, “I don’t respect the decision he made [or direction he is taking] but I will support him [it] because I respect the office” that is to say, the position he holds. In other words, I didn’t want to undermine the general support I think a pastor should have once they occupy that position.
Some of you have been in the position of knowing a Christian leader or author or pastor intimately enough that you are aware of some severe flaws in their character, and yet their preaching or writing was solid; their teaching of God’s word was able to penetrate your heart or move people to a place of repentance.
Ideally of course, this type of situation — or character double standard — shouldn’t exist. It’s really at the heart of hypocrisy.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus addresses this issue. In Matthew 21: 1-3 we read:
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.”
In Matthew Henry’s commentary he looks at this. The language is older English than we speak today, so read slowly and unlike at C201, where you can read the original I’ll try to paraphrase some of this:
Christ allows them their office as expositors of the law; The scribes and Pharisees (that is, the whole Sanhedrim, who sat at the helm of church government, who were all called scribes, and were some of them Pharisees), they sit in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), as public teachers and interpreters of the law…
First: Many a good place is filled with bad men; this is nothing new; sometimes the vilest men are promoted even to, in this verse, Moses’s seat (Ps. 12:8) When that happens the men are not so much honored by the job as the job is dishonored by the men…
Second: Good and useful positions and responsibilities are not automatically to be condemned and abolished, just because they fall sometimes into the hands of bad men, who abuse them. We must not overreact and pull down Moses’s seat, because scribes and Pharisees have are in control of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, Matt. 13:30…
…As far as they sit in Moses’s seat, that is, read and preach the law that was given by Moses” (which, as yet, continued in full force, power, and virtue), “and judge according to that law, so far you must listen to them, as conveyers to you of the written word.”
The scribes and Pharisees made it their business to study the scripture, and were well acquainted with the language, history, and customs of it, and its style and phraseology. Now Christ desires the people to make use of the helps they gave them for the understanding of the scripture, and do accordingly. As long as their comments illustrate the text and don’t pervert it; as long as they make plain, and don’t make void, the commandment of God; to that extent they must be observed and obeyed, but all the while exercising caution and a judgment of discretion. Note, We must not think the worse of good truths for their being preached by bad ministers; nor of good laws for their being executed by bad magistrates. Though it is best to have our food brought by angels, yet, if God sends it to us by ravens, if it is good and wholesome, we must take it, and thank God for it.
Our Lord Jesus promises this, to prevent the nitpicking which some would want to make in this situation; as if, by condemning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus intended to bring the law of Moses into contempt, and to dismiss it; whereas actually he came not to destroy, but to fulfil… Sometimes, we need to carefully fine tune the difference between the office-holder and their offices, so that the ministry isn’t blamed when the ministers are.
I looked at Matthew 23: 1-3 after reading a chapter in a recently released book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (Zondervan). In Chapter 6, he looks at this from the point of view of our behavior and reminds us of our responsibility not to be jerks, and thereby hypocrites.
It’s deceptively easy to believe a lot of good things about God but fail to live out those good things. It’s been said what we do is actually what we believe. It’s easier than we think to have the spiritual exteriors without the spiritual heart. It’s easy to mistake the packaging for authentic living, to confuse the décor of religion with genuinely loving our neighbor.
Think of James 4:17, where we are reminded of this truth: “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Or Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold the good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Sometimes trying not to do the wrong thing is the surest way to do the wrong thing.
[This type of sin*] is subtle. We’re often one step away from becoming the Pharisee. And the minute we care more about avoiding the bad than doing the good is the moment we’re in deep trouble. Our spiritual pride blinds us to our own imperfections, causing us to become “lukewarm” from a Biblical standpoint — good only to be spit out.
True morality — true righteousness and justice and love — can never lead to external legalism because we cannot be fully righteous and just and loving. For that we need God’s grace, every moment of every day, and grace is the stake through the heart of legalism.
pp. 93-94 [* eusebeigenic sin, term coined by Eugene Peterson; a sin picked up in a place of righteousness; a type of sin only available to those within the church]
So it may be at times in our lives we are called to follow less-than-perfect leaders; times our food will be brought by ravens and not by angels. Nonetheless, we are to follow genuine teaching from God’s word, and also to look in the mirror to make sure that our leadership or place of influence in someone else’s life is free of anything that would be hypocritical.