1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition (Matthew 15:1–3, NKJV)?”
In an earlier Sword Tips (#2307), we noted how human traditions nullify mercy and truth (Matt. 12:1-8). Today’s text exposes this deficiency even more. Wedding oneself to religious traditions (that originate with men) leads to one defining faithfulness to God by whether one keeps the traditions. The scribes and Pharisees demanded people keep “the tradition of the elders.” In their sight, it was a transgression to violate their interpretation of purification practices (Mark 7:1-5, 8). Jesus exposed their hypocrisy of transgressing God’s commandment with their traditions. Their use of “Corban” was a prime example of rationalizing disobedience to God (not honoring their parents) by their appeal to an exception they had devised (Matt. 15:4-7; Mark 7:9-13). Instead of relying on religious tradition and binding it on others, we must let God’s word establish and settle our moral and religious responsibilities (Matt. 28:20). We are assured of Christ’s approval when we follow what His apostles have handed down to us. Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). Following apostolic tradition avoids binding man-made moral and religious requirements (Gal. 1:6-10).
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” 12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:10–14, NKJV)
The truth of the gospel offends certain people. Not because it is a harmful message, but because they do not approve of it. Gospel truth exposes sin, and we don’t like to look at ourselves the way God sees us. The Pharisees were spiritual hypocrites, and Jesus called them out, exposing their sin against the commandments of God (Matt. 15:1-10). The disciples reacted to the confrontational nature of truth by trying to moderate Jesus and His message. But, Jesus would have none of that. He explained there are “plants” (like the Pharisees and their teachings) that are 1) Not from the Father, 2) Blind guides of the blind, and 3) Headed for the ditch. When the truth offends us, we are the ones who need correction (not the truth). Like the multitude Jesus taught, we must “hear and understand” that sin’s defilement starts in the heart. That is what we must change first (Matt. 15:15-20).
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. (Luke 20:20, NKJV)
Honor, honesty, and integrity of faith did not move the enemies of Jesus. Far from it. Their agenda was the destruction of Jesus, and they would use whatever means they come to undermine him (Lk. 19:47). Just days before his crucifixion, their faithlessness was on full display as Jesus taught in the temple. Like vultures descending upon carrion, they circled about Jesus looking for their opportunity. They hypocritically asked Jesus about his authority, yet their only interest was in securing their authority by handing him over to the power of Rome (Lk. 20:2-8). They flattered Jesus while trying to drive the dagger through him (Lk. 20:21-22). But Jesus knew their evil intent and condemned their faithless rejection of the Son (“the stone which the builders rejected,” Lk. 20:17-19). Pretending righteousness always ends badly (Rev. 21:8). Unlike the enemies of Jesus, let us listen to the truth Jesus teaches with open, ready hearts to receive and do the will of God (Acts 17:11-12).
1 In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Luke 12:1–3, NKJV)
Jesus warned His disciples of the permeating effect of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. Their religious pretense brought them reputation, renown, and respect from the populace (Matt. 23:2-7). Couple this with the heavy burden of their teachings, which bound traditions as if they were the will of God, and you have a powerful force that made their converts children of hell (Matt. 15:1-9; 16:6, 12; 23:15). Leaven is unseen in the dough, but the risen bread exposes its presence and effect. The gospel of Christ would spread from small beginnings to fill the world, exposing hypocrisy and error with the light of truth (Matt. 28:19-20). The gospel will not bring you reputation, renown, or the respect of men. But it will convert you into a child of God (Jno. 1:12-13; Gal. 3:26-27). May the gospel of Jesus influence you to walk in the light of His truth (Jno. 8:12, 31-32).
1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1–2, NKJV)
This is not an unqualified indictment and prohibition of all judgment. Jesus would later expose those who judged Him by appearance by urging them to use “righteous judgment” instead (John 7:24). On another occasion Jesus rebuked as hypocrites those who judged weather signs but would not discern that the Messiah was among them. He said, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, you do not judge what is right?” (Lk. 12:56-57). Today’s passage warns us not to be hypocritical in our judgments of others. Too easily we succumb to the temptation to condemn others while failing (refusing) to see similar (and other) sins in ourselves (Rom. 2:1-2, 21-24). “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). By first removing our “plank” (sin) we are able to empathetically and more precisely help our brother remove the speck (sin) from his life. By this we become better adept at avoiding harsh, hurtful, and harmful judgments of one who struggles with or have been overtaken by sin. Truth, wisdom, impartiality, mercy, and gentleness are among the qualities that enable us to judge righteously (Jas. 3:17-18; Gal. 6:1). And, surely these are the qualities by which we want to be judged (aren’t they)?
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.
1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves.” (Luke 17:1–3a, NKJV)
There is a clear connection between the last two chapters (Luke 15-16) and the warning Christ now gives against spiritual offenses. Jesus had exposed the duplicity of the Pharisees and scribes who complained against His compassion toward sinners (Lk. 15), and then scoffed at His call to serve God instead of riches (Lk. 16). These lovers of money were in positions of religious power, but their teachings and practices were offenses to others. The word “offenses” (v. 1) is the Greek word skandolon, and means “the stick in the trap that springs and closes the trap when the animal touches it” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures on Matt. 5:29). We set traps for animals, but these people set spiritual traps that capture souls. Such offenses can take the form of religious leaders (like the Pharisees) whose doctrines and practices are false, yet who hide their hypocrisy at the expense of others. They are sheep in wolves’ clothing. (Jesus previously warned of their leaven in Luke 12:1.) Leading others into sin is itself a sin that does not go unseen and unpunished by God (Lk. 17:2). Disciples must heed Christ’s warning and not set snares by which others sin (v. 3).
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matthew 23:1–3, NKJV)
Emphasizing the need to live what we preach, it has been said, “Seeing a sermon is better than hearing one.” Certainly, those who teach God’s word need to live God’s word. Otherwise, a stumbling block of hypocrisy is laid that is not easily removed. So it was with the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus confronted and confounded with His truth. Since they taught God’s law to Israel (“sit in Moses’ seat”), the Lord expected people to observe God’s law when they taught it. Yet, Jesus warned against following the example of these hypocrites because they did not follow the law they taught. We must see that God holds us accountable for our own spiritual responsibilities. We cannot blame hypocrites for our sin. We must also learn to distinguish between a teacher of God’s word who may sin and corrects it, and the hypocrite who pretends to be what he is not. A Christian’s sin does not automatically make that person a hypocrite. That happens when we pretend to be something we are not. Genuine faith prevents hypocrisy while fueling faithfulness to do the will of God.
16 Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:16–18, NKJV)
Spiritual pretenders do not prosper. The law of Moses required fasting only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27). The Jews also fasted at other memorable anniversaries (Zechariah 8:18-19). The temptation to show this deprivation of food in the devoted service to God was too great for some. They let everyone know when they were afflicting their souls with a fast. How we portray ourselves to others as we do the Lord’s work is the lesson we must take from this. Do we make sure others know how much we have “suffered” for the Lord? Or, do we simply do the work the Lord gives us to do, unassumingly and diligently? The Lord sees your service and He will not forget it (Hebrews 6:10). That’s all that really matters to the faithful citizen of the kingdom (not how many “likes” you get on social media).
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (Matthew 6:1–2, NKJV)
Giving to those in need is nullified before our heavenly Father if our motive for giving is impure. Charity given from a desire to be seen and praised by others will not be rewarded by God. When recognition from men is one’s motive for giving, that is the only reward the giver will receive. The trumpet of the hypocrite is sometimes heard on social media, where it has become rather routine to “share” the charitable deeds one does. The trumpet is heard in boastful announcements of what one has done or how much one has given to a worthy cause (see the contrast in Matthew 6:3-4). We must have pure motives when we give, for even “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,” if I “have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Pride warps our motives for doing good. Yes, it is possible to pretend righteous motives when we give, but God knows our hearts and He will reward or withhold His blessing accordingly. Let us purify our hearts and do good to others so they will be blessed and so God will bless us, too.