Hypocrites: The Principle of Service

Matthew 23:1-12

A key element in understanding God’s will for His people is found in the role of service. The man or woman who belongs to God is a servant. Jesus repeatedly stressed this in numerous situations. Consider some examples.

In Matthew 20:20-28 James and John’s mother asked Jesus to enthrone her sons on his right and left hand in his kingdom. Jesus responded to her by saying, “You do not understand what you are asking,” and to James and John by asking, “Can you drink the cup I soon will drink?”

James and John, without understanding, assured Jesus they could drink the cup. The other ten disciples were indignant because James and John sought an advantage in receiving what each wanted. Jesus used the occasion to stress the spiritual priority of service.

He said to them, “My kingdom will be distinctly different to the kingdoms of this world. In this world rulers cherish their position and love to exercise their authority. In my kingdom importance is not determined by position or authority. In my kingdom greatness will be achieved through service. I, myself, am the example. I came to serve, not to control through position and authority. I came to be a ransom for many, not for many to serve me.”

He had the same emphasis in Matthew 18:1-6 when the twelve asked him who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 23:11 he had the same emphasis in denouncing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. He had the same emphasis when speaking to the guests of a Pharisee in Luke 14:7-11. He had the same emphasis when speaking to those who trusted in their own righteousness and held others in contempt (Luke 18:9-14). He had the same emphasis when the twelve were arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24-30). He had the same emphasis in speaking to an ashamed twelve after their private discussion of who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). This emphasis was the point of Jesus’ washing the twelve’s feet the last night of his earthly life (John 13:1-30).

The common theme through all these incidents is humility. Humility and service are hand-holding companions. Arrogance and service are strangers. Service manifests another’s importance. Arrogance declares my importance.

God the Father was humble enough to send Jesus, His son, in order that God the Father might address failures that He did not produce. Jesus was humble enough to come and serve knowing it would cost him physical life. He or she who belongs to the humble God and the humble Christ must be an humble person. An humble person serves other people, just as does the humble God and humble Savior. It is impossible to be Jesus Christ’s disciple when a person, man or woman, is too arrogant to serve other people.

It was the Pharisee’s arrogance that led to the Pharisee’s hypocrisy. They enjoyed recognition. They enjoyed superiority. They enjoyed calling attention to themselves. They enjoyed the benefits of position. The humble God cannot be represented by arrogant people. The immediate result of being in God’s presence is humility [see Isaiah 6]. The Pharisees were horrible spiritual examples because they confused arrogance and humility. Their joys were rooted in arrogance, not humility.

Please note Jesus did not censor the Pharisees for lacking knowledge of scripture. He censored them for allowing their knowledge of scripture to result in examples of arrogance. Carefully note the Pharisee’s spiritual failures.

The purpose of knowledge was passing judgment on others.
The purpose of spiritual deeds was to gain human attention.
A benefit of their religious position was places of honor.
Another benefit of their religious position was greetings of honor.

They failed to understand that spiritual greatness is found in humbly serving others. Without nervousness, they cherished titles that belong to Jesus and God alone.

They made following God’s will as demanding as possible for others. However, they did not live by the same demands they imposed on others.

They called attention to themselves with their enlarged phylacteries [small boxes containing copies of some verses from scripture which were worn on some religious occasions – see Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which the Pharisees took literally] and tassels [see Matthew 9:20 and Numbers 15:38].

They loved attention! They enjoyed honor! It did not concern them that people gave them honors that only should be given to God and His son. [It always has been difficult to trust the fact that God sees in secret (Matthew 6:4,6,18). It is hard to trust the fact that people do not have to see for God to notice!]

The highest calling a Christian has is to reflect God in his or her life (Matthew 5:16,43-48; 1 Peter 2:11,12; 1 Peter 3:13-16; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Philippians 2:15). The humility of God and Jesus Christ is not reflected in expressions of human arrogance. Serving God is about God, not us.

Thought Questions:

  1. Where is a key element to be found in understanding God’s will?
  2. Discuss the incident of Matthew 20:20-28 & the problems the incident created.
  3. What is the relationship between humility, service, and the kingdom of God?
  4. Comment on this statement: “arrogance cannot be the servant of a humble God & a humble Savior.”
  5. In the Pharisees, how did arrogance lead to hypocrisy?
  6. What four Pharisaic failures did Jesus condemn in Matthew 23:1-12?
  7. What is the highest calling in a Christian’s life?

Interaction Question:

When one is proud of his/her humility, is that an expression of arrogance or humility? Explain.