You have heard the terms hypocrisy and superstition. Both these concepts are often found in religion, especially that which is found in the Bible. Take this passage:
Mt 23:1 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 obey them and 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 loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries 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 in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master 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 ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
There are three matter relating to the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees” that could easily apply to people within the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in our day … especially leaders.
The Need for Titles
When on the West Coast, the people lived in fear of not honouring their pastor and his wife sufficiently as if this would gain merit for heaven or count against them should they be disrespectful. The pastor was referred to as Dominee (Predikant … Reverend) and his wife was addressed as Mevrou Dominee (Mrs. Reverend). In a church overseas where I preached, the people called the pastor “pastor” or “doctor” and everyone else was referred to as “brother” or “sister”. Because I am an Anglican clergyman, I have often been called “father”. In some cultures, the emphasis on calling the pastor by various titles according to the language is equally amazing.
The problem is that all too often clergy and Christian people thrive on titles because titles elevate. In elevation, titles actually separate people into classes. Often we have grouped the term “Rabbi” with “teacher”, yet here Jesus includes “master”. In our text, Jesus speaks against using titles for those in spiritual authority.
Were Peter, James, John, Paul and others called pastor, apostle, father or rabbi? And nowhere do I find Paul being referred to as–or requiring to be called–pastor or apostle. He was a brother in Christ. He was a servant of the King. Jesus was His Master as He is our Master. We are His servants … in a church we all serve the Lord. Our portfolios might differ … but we all serve. It is not singer Mpho, pastor David, musician Justice … it is Mpho, David or Justice. You can honour people in office without giving false humility by using titles. Respect does not require titles, but rather Gospel love.
The Perpetual Use of Hypocrisy
So often we can pull the wool over each other’s eyes, but we cannot pull the wool over God’s eyes! Again speaking to the men who “sat in Moses’ seat” (the seat of authority), ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees’, Jesus says … “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long”.
It’s difficult to know whether the commands of Exodus 13:9 and 16, as well as Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18, are to be interpreted figuratively or literally … but most Jews attached a literal meaning to it. They would take parchments and write Bible verses on them and attached this either as a parchment or in a small box to their arm or head. Attaching to the arm would mean a position between the elbow and the shoulder close to the heart. Straps used were wrapped from the “phylactery” down to and around the middle three fingers on the left hand. The one on the forehead was placed between the eyes, near the hair roots and tied with a leather strap. The intent was that the Word of God would be close to the mind … as the one on the arm was close to the heart.
Jesus does not speak against phylacteries, but against the way it was used … including “the tassels on their garments long”. These became badges of vanity and hypocrisy. People looked at these leaders and assumed they were so holy because of the use of phylacteries and long tassels … almost like clerical garments. However, what was the condition of their hearts like? Where it came to the hand, heart and mind … God wants His Word to control the heart and mind, and in turn these will affect the hand as in what is done.
The Ongoing Use of “Holy Items” as in Superstition
This is exactly what these “spiritual leaders” were doing. It was like a “lucky charm” just in case! Today we use the term “amulet”. An amulet is an ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease. It is similar to a Saint Christopher pendant that is supposed to protect the user on his or her travels. An unhelpful suggestion in the film industry is to use the “cross” to ward off evil. The same could be said of “holy oil or holy water”. Protection against evil, demon oppression (not possession) and danger is only found and secured in being Born Again and the application of spiritual armory.
Eph 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Then from verses 14 through 17a, Paul explains how to use the armory of God, climaxing in verses 17b to 18a as an application … “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit …” True protection is found in the faithful use of Scripture and diligent prayer.
As God’s people, we honour God as His submissive, humble servants through the correct use of the Bible and Prayer … seeking to serve Him, piling all glory onto Him and never seeking to be hypocrites and superstitious.
Dear God, again and again … thank You for Your Word. Help us to understand and use it correctly so that we don’t fall into the trap of giving the impression that we are someone that we are not. For Christ’s sake, amen.