Don’t Be a Hypocrite

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Understanding the Word

Matthew 23:13–36 (ESV)

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Understanding and Applying the Word

After warning his disciples about the Pharisees and scribes in the first twelve verses, Jesus turned to the religious leaders and told them what he thought of their religion. Jesus pulled no punches and repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites.” Even today, no one would like to be labeled in this way. In Greek culture, the word hypocrite was used to speak of the actor who played many roles in stage performances. An actor would change roles by simply changing masks.

In calling the Pharisees and scribes hypocrites, Jesus condemned them for saying and teaching one thing, but living differently. Often, their external actions may have seemed holy and righteous, but their true inner identities were far from what their external actions indicated. All they did was for religious observance or to be noticed by others. They were not sincere followers of God who were motivated by love. The danger in their teaching and in their own lives was that it was easy to mistake external rule keeping with true devotion to the Lord.

We must be careful even today that we do not fall into the mistake and trap of these leaders. Religious observance for the sake of religion does not please God. Our Lord desires worshipers who follow and obey out of love and a sincere heart. This is only possible when we realize we cannot do that on our own and that we need the Lord to change us from the inside out. When we repent of our sin and call out to be saved, God pours out his Spirit into our lives and gives us new life as a new creation. Through our transformed life and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love the Lord and worship him in sincerity.

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Is Your Burden Great?

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Reading the Word

Matthew 23:1–12 (ESV)

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being 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 call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus warned his disciples about the scribes and Pharisees. These teachers of the law were known for putting great burdens on people. They taught rules and regulations that were difficult for the people to live under. However, these teachers often did not practice their own teachings. What they required of others, they did not require of themselves. The Pharisees were known for their extra rules and regulations that “put a fence around the Law.” They desired so much to protect the Law that they came up with extra regulations of their own to make sure people did not break the Mosaic Law.

In contrast to the Pharisees’ burdensome teaching, Jesus said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

The legalism of the Pharisees was a weight no one could bear, not even the Pharisees. It only discouraged and condemned those who tried. Jesus did not come to add to our burden by adding to the Law. He came to fulfill the Law for us and give us life through his name. In Christ, we are free from the Law and can serve our Lord from a motivation of love, thanksgiving, and praise. Praise Christ for the rest we find in him!

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What Is the Loving Thing To Do?

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Reading the Word

Luke 14:1–6 (ESV)

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus was dining at the house of a Pharisee. This is an important detail in this story because the Pharisees were known for their strong emphasis on keeping the law. They were so committed to keeping the law, that they even added additional rules of their own to make sure they kept the law. They were the legalists of Jesus’ day.

One of the laws that was central to Jewish life was the keeping of the Sabbath. No work was to be done. So, when a man with dropsy went to see Jesus on a Sabbath, what would Jesus do? Would he heal the man or would he refuse to work on the Sabbath? Jesus asked his hosts what they thought about the situation. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” he asked. They remained silent, so he asked them if they had a son or an ox that fell into a well on a Sabbath, would they pull the son or ox out. Of course they would! The welfare of a person, or even an animal, is too important. It was not the intent of the law to harm people. So, of course healing a person on the Sabbath is lawful!

Jesus’ questions that confronted the Pharisees legalistic mindset cut to the heart of the matter. In essence, Jesus asked, “What is the loving thing to do?” Would love help a son that fell into a well? Would love pull an ox out of a hole in the ground? Would love walk away from a man with dropsy when healing was possible? We must be careful that our rules and regulations do not become a hindrance to loving others. After all, Jesus said that to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves is a summary of the whole law (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).

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Love Is the Law

Love God, Love Others

Reading the Word

Luke 13:10–17 (ESV)

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The religious leaders had so perverted the law of God that they used it even to undermine acts of kindness, love, and mercy on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy by pointing out that they all untied their oxen or donkeys on the Sabbath to lead them to water. How much more appropriate to show compassion to a human being?

When our rules prevent us from showing love and compassion to others or become an excuse for us to avoid others, there is something wrong with our rules. God’s law was given to foster love for the Lord and for others, not prevent it. This is why Paul states in Romans 13:8 that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Over and over again, Christ showed love and compassion to sinners and we are called to do the same.

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Wash before You Eat

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Reading the Word

Luke 11:37–54 (ESV)

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees were devout Jews who emphasized the keeping of the law as well as other rules they had put in place to make sure the law was kept. An example of such extra rules concerned washing in a certain way before meals. When a Pharisee observed that Jesus did not wash before dinner, he questioned Jesus about it. Jesus’ response was pointed and showed the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees.

Jesus replied, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees might have lived according to their lists of external rules, but their hearts were far from God. The Pharisees looked great to the outside observer, but their hearts were full of sin.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day have much in common with those we would call “legalists” today. Legalists are those who make up lists of what is and is not allowed and base their spiritual maturity off of how well they can live by such lists. They also use the lists to judge the maturity of others. However, keeping a list of rules does not mean that a person’s heart is right, which is the main test of maturity and true devotion to God. May we ask the Lord to work in our hearts to desire what he desires so that he is glorified in both our actions and our passions.

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A Matter of the Heart

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Reading the Word

Mark 7:1–23 (ESV)

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Parallel Text: Matthew 15:1-20

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus’ followers were eating without washing their hands properly. This is an example of how the religious leaders had established their own rules about how things should be done that were not a part of God’s word. Jesus responded by quoting from Isaiah 29:13 and accusing the Pharisees with going through the outward motions of holiness while their hearts were not in the right place. Jesus then stressed that what goes into the body does not defile it. It is the things that come from the heart that defile a person. Sin is ultimately a heart issue.

With these words, we find a warning against religious activity and legalism. Both of these concern themselves with external actions and measure themselves by adhering to such actions: regular church attendance, financial gifts, not watching TV or going to the movies, not drinking alcohol, not working on Sunday, etc. While there may be good reasons for some of these actions listed, the religious person and the legalist uses lists of dos and don’ts to show they are spiritual and in a right relationship to God. They fail to see that their hearts are desperately wicked and that they are in need of grace and forgiveness.

Religious activity and the ability to keep rules will never save anyone. We must realize our sinfulness and call out to Christ for forgiveness. It is only by the righteousness that he gives to us and the penalty for sin that he pays for us that allows us to stand before a holy God. In this passage we are forced to ask ourselves what we are counting on to make us right with God. Only Christ will do.

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Following Christ Is Not a List of Rules

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Reading the Word

Matthew 11:25–30 (ESV)

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus calls on all with the words “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When a disciple followed a teacher, the disciple followed the teaching and rules laid down by the teacher. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had laid down extensive rules about what constituted acceptable religion. The path of those leaders was suffocating and a great burden and failed to give life (cf. Matthew 23:1-4). Jesus changes all of that. He promises rest from the heavy load of rules and restrictions. He promises a light load.

Perhaps you know someone or have attended a church where being a Christian is defined by a list of rules that tell what is and is not allowable. Scripture tells us that we are not accepted by God because of anything we can do (or not do), but we are accepted through our relationship with Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect, sinless life that none of us could and his righteousness is credited to us. Yes, our lives should be marked by growth in holiness and a desire to please the Lord, but not because we think that is what makes us acceptable to God. We are accepted by God because of Christ alone. Our desire to please the Lord is motivated by our love for him and because the Holy Spirit is at work within us to change our wills and desires. Are you frustrated and overburdened with trying to follow all of the rules? Run to Jesus. He kept them all for you.

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Doing Good on the Sabbath

The Man with the Withered Hand

The Man with the Withered Hand (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:9–14 (ESV)

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Parallel Texts: Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

Understanding and Applying the Word

Once again, the religious leaders are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. In this passage, they are waiting for him to heal someone on the Sabbath. In response to their question, Jesus asks if they would rescue their sheep from a well on the Sabbath if it fell in. Of course they would! Well, if a person is of more value than an animal, why would it be wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath? Then Jesus healed the man with a withered hand. The religious leaders were not happy with Jesus and they sought how to destroy him.

Legalism is a dangerous mindset towards God’s word. Those who live this way may follow the letter of the word, but they often fail at the weightier matters that the law intends to address. What good is it to obey the letter of the law and fail to exercise love and compassion towards others? This is why Jesus said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” in verse 7. Such “obedience” does not please God and can often become an excuse for selfishness and pride. Let us hear the words of Jesus and seek to love our neighbors by doing what is good and right.

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The Lord of the Sabbath

The Disciples Eat Wheat on the Sabbath

The Disciples Eat Wheat on the Sabbath (Public Domain)

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental materials on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ in 2019.

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:1–8 (ESV)

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5