An Indictment of Hypocrisy

MEMORY SELECTION: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” —Matthew 23:23

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Matthew 22:15 through 23:39

OUR text and the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew is concerned with Jesus’ reproval of the scribes and Pharisees. Our Lord condemned the hypocrisy of these guardians and teachers of the Law. The Pharisees, whose name signifies “a separated people,” were the orthodox body of Jews, yet they were denounced for their wrong-doing. There is an important lesson for us in all of this.

Hypocrisy is a strong term, but Jesus had the ability to read the heart, and in doing so he took the opportunity (vss. 1-12) to set forth several points that should characterize the lives of his disciples. He does this by stating what they were not to be; that is, they were not to be like the scribes and the Pharisees, who were hypocrites. Instead, he pointed out, they were to be humble, not caring to be called Rabbi, or Master, or doing works to be seen of men. Jesus also said, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (vs. 12) And there is a lesson in this admonition that is pertinent to all the Lord’s people who are attempting to walk as new creatures in Christ Jesus in the present closing years of the Gospel Age harvest.

Outwardly the scribes and Pharisees appeared holy and clean, while inwardly they did not possess the proper heart condition that would have been pleasing to God. They practiced the Jewish ceremonies and kept the outward formality of their religion, while harboring spiritual wickedness in their hearts. Therefore Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (vss. 25,26) Our Lord’s admonition may be applied to all those who come into heart harmony with his message and spirit, for they are made clean by it to the degree that they are obedient to it. Those who are pure in heart will, according to their intentions, attempt to be clean in everything they do in their lives.

The name Pharisee has come to be synonymous in meaning and in use with the word hypocrite, and for good reason. We do not, of course, have authority to judge these people, or any others, at the present time; however, the words of our Lord Jesus stand as the basis of our lesson in this important matter. We, as the Lord’s people, do not want to harbor secret faults but want to use our opportunities to cleanse ourselves from all unrighteousness. We remember our Lord’s admonition in verses 27 and 28.

It is suggested that the cause of the Pharisees’ failure to keep their hearts pure was a high degree of overconfidence. Confidence is a virtue when it is based on a reliance upon God and his Word. But when it is based on pride and self-assurance it is not good, and that was the downfall of the Pharisees. They had pride in themselves and in their own ability and wisdom, and in their own power and righteousness. They were of those, as the scripture points out (Luke 18:9), who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” They had pride also in their relationship with Abraham, saying, “We be of Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man.” (John 8:33) And they trusted in their knowledge of religious matters, saying, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” (John 7:15) Over-confidence and pride are an abomination in the eyes of God, and Jesus did not hesitate to tell the Pharisees about it.

The woe to the Pharisees was that they missed the great blessing and invitation to become a part of Christ’s future millennial kingdom. The promises were that Israel could occupy the dominant position in that spiritual kingdom; but because of hypocrisy and hardness of heart, it was taken from them as a nation and opened up to the Gentiles. Had they been Israelites indeed, the complete seed of Christ could have come from them. The Pharisees, among the most favored of the Jews, lost a place in that spiritual kingdom, not appreciating what they had lost.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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