Matthew Message #65 “Hypocrisy” Ed Miller

(Listen to the message above while following along below reading the transcript also available for download in Word document at

“We will be looking at what will be true in our lives if we look to Jesus in reality.  We’re in the process of showing nine things that will be true if we look to Jesus.  We’re on the eighth now, the eighth outworking of reality is truth, honesty.  If I’m really looking to the Lord, I don’t have to fake it.  If you’re really looking to the Lord, you don’t have to play games, there’s no sham, there’s no faking.  I’ll be simple and true through and through, and genuine.

This section that we’re dealing with is the Holy Spirit’s full mention of hypocrisy in the Bible.  Here He deals with it in its fullest form and in all of its subtle forms.  Let me get before you once again the simple outline we’re following from this section.  I won’t develop it; I’ll just mention it.  This whole section deals with hypocrisy.  Chapter 21:18-22, He gives the chief illustration of hypocrisy, the fig tree.  The fig tree is the greatest illustration of hypocrisy in the entire Bible.  Then in chapter 21:28-22:14 He gives three parables that give us the heart and core of hypocrisy: the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the marriage feast.  We’ve already looked at that.  That gives us the heart and core of hypocrisy. 

Then, we looked at this last time, verses 15-46 in chapter 22, the chief expression of hypocrisy, illustrated by the dishonest questions that were asked to the Lord Jesus.  That brings us to the last thing, the seven or eight woes, depending on how you look at them.  I think when I gave it before I called them seven woes, but I’m going to change it to eight, because there is one that is very close to another, but they are really a different emphasis, so we’ll call them the eight woes.  This section in chapter 23 is the climax on the truth of hypocrisy.  In order to make it practical, we’re just calling it the subtle forms of hypocrisy, the subtle forms of unreality.

Let’s begin, and even though it’s a little lengthy, 39 verses, it’s helpful to get the facts before our mind’s eye, let’s read this chapter together. 

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples saying, ‘The scribes and the pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.  Therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe, and do not do according to their deeds, for they say things and do not do them.  They tie heavy loads and lay them upon men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger, but they do all their deeds to be noticed by men, for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments and they love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the marketplaces, and being called by men “Rabbi”.  But do not be called “Rabbi”, for One is your teacher, and you are all brothers.  Do not called anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  And do not be called “leaders; for One is your leader, that is, Christ.  But the greatest among you shall be your servant, and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.  But woe to you, scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men.  You do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows” houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers.  Therefore, you shall receive greater condemnation.  Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.”  You fools and blind men, which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?  And whoever swears by the altar, that’s nothing, but whoever swears by offering upon it, he is obligated.  You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?  Therefore, he who swears, swears both by the altar and everything on it.  He who swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.  He who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness, but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.  You blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean, also.  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they’re full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness.  Even so, you, too, appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you build the tombs of the prophets, and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”  Consequently, you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up the measure of the guilt of your fathers.  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?  Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some them you will kill and crucify, and some them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chick under her wings, and you were unwilling.  Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!  For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”’”

Let me try to get the scene of this marvelous chapter before your eyes.  We’ll look at it as a whole, first, and then we’ll look at it in its parts.  Let me give you three observations about the chapter as a whole, and that will set the scene, and then when we get into its parts, I trust that the Spirit of God will make it intensely practical to your heart.  Let me try to make three observations of this chapter as a whole.

The first is this; the public ministry of the Lord Jesus is now at an end.  The Lord Jesus in this chapter is on Tuesday of Passion Week.  In other words, He has two days, and then He’ll be hanging on a cross.  When He was on the earth, He had a 3 ½ year public ministry.  With this chapter His public ministry ends.  It’s all over.  He still has many things to say to His disciples, but His ministry to the world at large is finished.  Matthew chapter 23 closes the book.  It’s the last chapter, it’s finished, it’s done.  I call attention to this so that you don’t read this thing, “La, la, la, oh yes, it’s just another chapter in the Bible, another chapter in Matthew.”  The public ministry of Christ, 3 ½ years He was on the earth, and look how He has to end His ministry, with eight woes, “Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe.”  It’s not an accident that the ministry of the Lord Jesus on the earth began with eight blessings.  Remember the Sermon on the Mount?  That was His first time He opened His mouth, as far as the record is concerned.  He had done miracles before that, but He never talked, and His first teaching when He started His ministry, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are the meek, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed,” eight blessings, and that’s how He began

The way He began, He wanted to show the everlasting attitude of God toward men.  God’s attitude in blessing.  He wants to bless us, but then they rejected Him, and so now He has to curse them.  So, He ends up His ministry, the ministry that began in benediction, now closes in woe.  I believe if we’re going to appreciate chapter 23, we’ve got to see it as a climax to His public ministry.  This is the last thing that He said to the world when He was on the earth.

The second thing I see about this chapter as a whole is that it blends bold authority with tender love.  This is an amazing thing.  Just glance at these verses.  We won’t read them again.  Watch the bold authority here.  Verse 13, “Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites,” and the same thing in verse 14, “Hypocrites,” verse 15, “Hypocrites,” verse 16 He calls them, “Blind guides,” verse 17 He calls them, “Fools and blind men,” verse 23, “Hypocrites,” verse 24, “Blind guides,” verse 25, “Hypocrites,” verse 27, “Hypocrites, whitewashed tombs,” verse 28, “Full of hypocrisy and lawlessness,” verse 31, “Sons of murderers,” verse 33, “Serpents, brood of vipers.”  That’s strong language!  That’s bold authority!  You don’t see the Lord Jesus hemming and hawing and clearing His throat, or see Him beating around the bush, weighing His words so He won’t step on toes or hurt people’s feelings, or something like that.  You talk about somebody saying it like it is, the Lord Jesus was like that.  That’s the first thirty-six verses.  But glance at verses 37-39.  You talk about tender love.  The Lord Jesus is longing for these people.  In verse 37 we read these two expressions, “I wanted…,” “You were unwilling…”  Isn’t that a tremendous two phrases?  In one of them you have the revelation of the heart of God, “I wanted,” but in the other you have the revelation of the heart of man, “But you were unwilling.” 

I used to think that His public ministry closed on the note of anger, “Woe, woe, woe,” but it didn’t close on the note of anger.  It closed on the note of love.  You see, it’s true that Matthew 23 is one of the most severe chapters in your entire Bible, but it’s also true that it’s one of the most tender chapters in your entire Bible.  It closes in tears.  You talk about condescension, if the Holy Spirit hadn’t done this, I never would.  The Lord Jesus compares Himself to a hen.  You wouldn’t expect that.  If you said, “Give me a picture of God,” you wouldn’t say, “God is like a hen.”  Yet, the Holy Spirit does that.  He compares Himself to a hen, and He looks at these religious leaders as chickens that refuse to nestle under His wings.  It’s just a very tender scene.  It’s a blending of bold authority and tender love.

I call attention to this because many times our view of love is unlike God’s.  We have a weak, sentimental view of love, and we say that we feel good feelings toward everybody.  Real love, according to the Bible, is filled with bold authority.  Bold authority is filled with real love, and God alone can blend those two things together.  Real love is severe.  Real love has burning indignation against unreality and hypocrisy.  Let me word it this way, the way God words it in Revelation 2, real love hates.  If it doesn’t hate, it isn’t real love.  “You’ve lost your first love, but this you do have; you hate the deed of the Nicolaitans,” which he adds, “Which I also hate.”  Real love hates.  Hate is not a sin, if it’s in righteous indignation against sin.  Only the Lord is able blend bold authority and this tender love.  We need bold authority.

On the level of earth, it seems easy to have bold authority with down and outers.  In other words, it’s not hard to use strong language like Jesus used with drunkards, with adulterers, with perverts, with thieves.  The reason why it’s not hard to use strong language is because most people will readily agree with your strong language.  When you say something about a drunkard or a harlot or a homosexual, then you’ll get a lot of Amens.  People will agree with you. Even those you rebuke will probably agree with you.  Don’t hate the drunkard.  He hates himself.  Don’t despise the pervert.  He can’t sink in your opinion any lower than he is in his own opinion; already he’s there.  But it doesn’t take too much courage to say strong things to down and outers, but the record shows that the Lord Jesus said strong things to up and outers, not the down and outers.  These were refined, religious leaders.  These were the scribes and the pharisees, the religious leaders. 

When you speak with bold authority to respectable sinners, it’s not as easy, and people are going to look at you, and they’re going to get critical.  Not a lot of people will say Amen.  If you speak against a drunkard, they will.  They’ll say Amen; let him have it; he deserves it.  But if you speak against a legalist, a religious leader, then they’re going to accuse you of being critical and judgmental and having a spirit that’s legalistic, or something like that. 

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we ought to be nasty, and just find as strong words as we can, and just throw them out.  That’s a misapplication of the truth.  My natural heart is nasty, and so is yours, and snappish and cruel and sour and uncongenial.  That’s our natural hearts.  Very often we’ll find ourselves rebuking in someone else what we’ll tolerate or cherish in our own selves.  We’ll find in our lives it’s not bad, but if you have it in your life, well then, I’m going to have to step on that. 

The bold authority that Jesus has here, though, is tempered with that tender love.  He’s not a respecter of persons.  He’s not afraid to speak out against down and outers or up and outers.  Do you realize this, if you don’t speak with bold authority, the devil doesn’t care too much what you say, if you don’t say it with bold authority?  Because unless you have bold authority, you don’t have the anointing of the Spirit of God.  There are many messages you could agree with, but they don’t seem to have any fire; they don’t seem to have any punch.  There’s no authority with it.  Strong words, we’re afraid of them and we water them down.  I read this statement by A.W. Tozer that he made about modern preaching, “If it were food, it would not nourish.  If it were poison, it would not kill, and if it were medicine, it would not cure.”  It’s too watered down.  We’re afraid today to use strong language.  I don’t think we ought to be any more Biblical than the Bible, but we ought to be willing to use the language that the Lord Jesus used, but it’s got to be mixed with love, and not just negatives.  Sometimes we say, “I’m going to speak with bold authority,” and we just become negative and abrasive, hell fire and brimstone.  Well, Jesus had tears and love and compassion, as well.

Do you realize this?  You’re not ready to rebuke a drunkard unless you’re ready to weep for him in your closet before God.  If you have no tears for him, you should have no rebuke for him.  Bold authority, yes, but a tender heart of compassion.  Jesus had both, and that takes a miracle.  Notice these two verses together, verse 33&37, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”  Can you say those two sentences together, and mean both of them?  The answer is yes, by a mighty miracle of God, and that’s all, only by God.  I hear people say, “I love to hear hell fire and brimstone messages.”  Well, I do, too, if there’s one word added to it: hell fire, brimstone and tears.  Then, I’d like to hear it.  If it’s preached with a loving heart of compassion, and only God can put that together.  Jesus always preached on hell from a broken heart. 

Some preachers preach on hell in such a way that you almost think they are happy people are going there, and that’s wrong.  Bold authority, yes, but mixed with tender love.  That’s how the Lord Jesus preached it.  Listen to this verse in Isaiah 28:21, it’ s a verse on God’s judgment, “The Lord will rise up to do His task, His unusual task.  He will do His work, His extraordinary work.”  He’s talking about His work of judgment. KJV and the margin of the NAS translates it this way, says literally, “He will rise up to do His work, His strange work.”  Judgment is God’s strange work.  He doesn’t want to do it.  He hates to do it.  He doesn’t like it, and it breaks His heart, and makes Him weep.  Judgment is a stern necessity of God’s holy character.  He has to do it, but He doesn’t like it, and He never does it without a broken heart and without weeping.  That’s the second observation; I see that blending of bold authority and tender love.

The third can be summarized in these words, and now we’re going to get into the passage itself, “Christ and His ministry with a passionate outbreak against all unreality in all of its subtle forms.”  That’s how He ends His ministry.  All this chapter, this whole passionate outbreak, this expression, “Woe, hypocrites, blend guides, vipers, snakes,” the whole purpose of that is against unreality.  Sometimes we say about human counselors, whether they’re parents or elders or pastors or teachers or close friends, “They just don’t understand.  If they only knew the circumstances.”  Well, of course, that could never be said of the Lord Jesus.  There’s the gospel song, “No one understands like Jesus.”  He understands everything.  He knows your motives, He knows your circumstances, He knows all of the complications.  “If somebody understood, they’d know why I said that, or why I did that.”  He understands.  He knows your personality, He knows your temperament, He knows your moods, He knows your feelings, He knows all about you, and He understands, and He’s patient, and He’s long suffering, and He’s understanding, and He remembers that we’re dust, and He’s not hard on us.  He understands, but there’s one thing He will not spare.  He will not spare your life, and He won’t spare my life, and He didn’t spare His.  He understands everything you’re going through and all your problems, and He’ll be patient with you, and He’ll be long suffering with you, but He will not spare unreality.  He will not.  Every time there is unreality in your life, God will deal with it, and He’ll deal with it severely.  He has made every provision in Christ that we can be real through and through, and He will not tolerate unreality.

As I go on in the Lord, as you go on in the Lord, not only will God not spare unreality in my life, but I will not spare unreality in my life.  As you go on, you will not tolerate unreality in your own life.  That’s one of the things I trust God will accomplish in our hearts as we deal with this section together.  Unreality, whether I find it in others, or whether I find it in me, it must be dealt with.  It cannot be spared.  This section, then, closes the ministry of the Lord Jesus with a passionate outburst against unreality, against hypocrisy.  That’s the section as a whole.  It’s the end of His public ministry, and it’s a blending together of bold authority and tender love, and it reveals the Lord’s passion against unreality in all of its subtle forms.

Let me show you how I’d like to examine in more detail chapter 23.  You notice that verses 1-12 are sort of an introduction to the eight woes.  I like to call verses 1-12 a summary of all hypocrisy.  God summarizes all hypocrisy in those first twelve verses, and then in verses 13-36 He breaks it down and gives you the eight subtleties of hypocrisy.  And I’ll tell you, may the Spirit of God do in your heart what He’s begun to do in my heart as I’ve gone through some of these things.  This is a penetrating section of scripture.  If you read this with an open heart before God, He will exercise your spirit.  It takes a miracle of God to be honest before Him, and this just shows some of the subtleties.

Glance at 1-12 again and let me show you how these verses are a summary of all hypocrisy.  In this section the Holy Spirit by many illustrations lays down the very essence of unreality and hypocrisy.  Notice these expressions, verse 2, “the chair of Moses,” verse 5, “broaden their phylacteries, lengthen the tassels of their garments,” verse 6, “love the places of honor, the chief seats,” verse 7, “love respectful greetings.”  What is He calling attention to?  I believe the key to this passage is verse 5, “They do all their deeds to be noticed by men.”  At least in your mind, in your heart, underscore that, “They do all of their deeds to be noticed by men.”

Let me give a little bypass, and then come back to this passage.  Let me present a Bible teaching, and then come back and show you how it fits in this particular passage.  Life is wonderfully simple.  We like to think it’s complicated.  We like to make it complicated and think it’s intricate, but according to the Bible all of life is really as simple as pie, and here is what I mean.  Do realize this, that the Bible teaches that there are only two choices anyone ever makes in life, never more than two?  Every time from the time you get up in the morning until the time you go to bed at night you have never made more than two choices.  All of life is divided up into these two choices.  They are ultimate choices, and every other choice you make has to do with fulfilling that ultimate choice. 

Let me give you those two choices.  The first, you may choose to gratify yourself.  That’s an ultimate choice, to satisfy yourself.  Every person on the earth that does not know the Lord through Jesus Christ, every person that is unsaved, has made self his ultimate choice.  He lives for himself; he lives to please himself.  He lives to gratify himself.  Every day, all day, every year of his life, he makes decisions to fulfill that ultimate choice, just for himself.  That’s why the Bible calls men selfish, because all of his activity is for himself.  An unsaved person cannot think, cannot act, cannot do, cannot be, cannot speak, cannot do anything unless it promotes self.  Every unsaved person just lives for himself.  He’s the only person in his own universe.

Now, sometimes it doesn’t look like selfishness because it takes a positive form, instead of a negative form.  For example, sometimes it might take the love of knowledge, and so someone goes after the love of knowledge, and he becomes a student or a philosopher.  Well, that’s just selfish.  That’s unto himself, in order that he might know, and he might learn, and he might be somebody.  Sometimes it’s compassion.  And you say, “Well, that’s virtue.  When a man is compassionate, and he gives to the poor, and that kind of thing, and becomes a philanthropist or reformer, maybe, and maybe not.  Sometimes he does it in order that he might feel good.  He has compassion, and he wants to satisfy his own feelings, and so he gives, so that he feels good.  That’s selfish.  God considers that just as selfish as if he had slapped the poor across the face.  It’s just unto himself.  Sometimes he loves country, and so he becomes a statesman, or a soldier, or a patriot, or something like that, but it’s still to satisfy himself.  If it’s negative, there’s no problem.  You know that’s selfish: lying or stealing or bragging or impressing.  But whether it’s positive or negative, man’s ultimate choice is to satisfy himself.  That’s why.

The other side is, the other choice is the glory of God, and that’s the only other choice you can make.  Instead of your gratification and your satisfaction, you make choices for Him.  “I love for His pleasure and for His glory and for His satisfaction and for His pleasure, because of what it means to Him.”  Those are the only two choices that the Bible presents in all of life, and every other choice you make is just choosing the means to fulfill the ultimate choice, either to satisfy yourself or to satisfy the Lord.

Now, these two choices can never agree.  They are as opposite as opposite can be.  Those two choices are at was with one another.  They are the two antagonistic principles of the universe.  Never was anything more apart than the choice of yourself or the choice of God.  These are essential and eternal opposites.  They can never for any moment have a truce between them.  They are constantly at war, each choice lives to exterminate and annihilate the other choice.  They hate each other.  So, Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.  He’ll love one and hate the other, or he’ll hate the one and love the other. You can’t serve God and manna.  You can’t; it’s not possible.”  There’s no compromise.  They are mutually exclusive. 

Alright, that’s the simplicity of life.  It’s not complicated.  There are only two choices in all of the universe, self or God.  Sometimes we talk about sins, as if it were plural, and that complicates things.  You say, “Oh, there’s a whole list of sins.”  There is no such thing as sins.  Sin is a unit.  There is only sin.  It’s a body; it’s a whole.  Choosing yourself is the only sin, and it takes an infinite number of forms.  That’s what we call sins, the different forms of choosing yourself, but that is the only sin, the choice that you make to gratify yourself, and it has an infinite number of expressions.  Sins are not outward acts.  In form sin is one, and in essence sin is one; it’s indivisible.  Man is the one that divides it up into lists.  Man talks about original sin and actual sin, sins of omission and sins of commission, sins of the mind and mental attitude sins, and sins of the mouth.  The Bible doesn’t talk about those kinds of things.  The Bible deals with you; you’ve chosen yourself, to live for yourself, or you’ve chosen God to live for God.

Okay, back to chapter 23, with that as background, watch what the Holy Spirit is dealing with here, and notice verse 5 again, the key, “They do their deeds to be noticed by men.”  That’s self and self-gratification.  These Pharisees existed for self-praise and self-worship and self-flattery and self-adulation.  They just loved the praise of men, self-importance.  They loved the chief seats.  They loved the respectful greetings.  Pride is just another form of self.  It’s not a special sin.  It’s just self-exalting, congratulating itself. 

Why did the scribes and Pharisees love the chair of Moses, and why did they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels and sit in the chief seats, and all of that?  Why do they love the greetings, teacher and father and leader?  The answer is that they made the ultimate choice, self.  They chose themselves.  That’s why the Lord is so hot and why He’s so intense.  Now, pay attention.  What was their sin?  What was He pointing out, what was the problem?  Why is Jesus speaking in white heat?  It’s that they made their choice, and they chose self.  They pretended that they chose God, and that’s what He was after.  The whole thing deals with the ultimate; these are the two ultimate choices in the whole universe; you choose yourself or God.  The pharisees become God’s illustration because they chose themselves, but they pretended that they chose God.  So, they put on a mask, they put on a hypocrite’s garb, and they used God in order to promote their own self-interest and to gratify themselves.

He was so angry because it’s true they claimed God.  They put on the mask of humility, not in order to be humble and please God, but in order to gain the approval of men and to gratify their proud hearts.  They claimed to choose God, so men would be impressed.  They did it for men.  He comes right out and tells you that.  It’s very, very subtle.

Do you realize this, that once you make the ultimate choice in your heart, every choice you make in life is designed to bring you toward that end?  It’s almost automatic.  When my heart chooses, my will is committed, and once my heart makes the ultimate choice, then my will is committed, and it begins, then, to move almost automatically and subconsciously toward the end that my heart chooses.  My will can’t follow all the propensities of my heart at once, because if I choose this, if I choose self, there’s a thousand different propensities to gratify myself, but I’m going to go according to the circumstances and condition of my life, if I’m really choosing myself, I will be as selfish as I can be without being detected.  You’ll be as selfish as you can be without being detected.  If there were no restraints, I’d just go out and rob the poor, but I might have to lay that aside because of the circumstances with everybody watching and that kind of thing, and I will rob at that moment my reputation more than I will love things.  So, I’ll lay down one propensity to satisfy myself, and I’ll pick up another one, the love of reputation, and what will people think, and how will they view me, but it’s all self.  Everything is right here, and it just comes right out of that.

That’s why Jesus was so angry with these scribes and Pharisees, because they claimed that they wanted God and His glory, but in reality, they chose self-gratification, and the will went to work for self.  You’ve seen in your own life, praying for humility, so man will be impressed, pretending to live by faith, so that people will admire you and say, “Oh, I wish I had faith like that.”  It sounds religious and spiritual, giving testimonies of what God does through us in order that men will pay attention to our Christian service, and all that kind of thing.  That’s why Jesus called them hypocrites.  Verse 3, “They say things and do not do them.”

Before I leave these twelve verses, let me give you the double warning that the Lord lays down in these twelve verses.  The first warning that He stated in these words, “Don’t exalt yourself.”  Notice verse 11&12, “The greatest among you shall be servant.  Whoever exalts himself shall be humble, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”  Notice verses 8&10, “Do not be called Rabbi, and do not be called leader.  Don’t put yourself in the way of self-exaltation.”  In other words, not only don’t praise yourself, but don’t lay yourself out so others can praise you.  People praise us for what they’ve heard from our own lips.  The will wants to talk about ourselves all the time.  We talk about our relationship with God and our warm hearts or our love for the Lord, and how wonderfully He has spoken to us through the Word and talk about our burdens and our privileges and our responsibilities and our opportunities and talk about our zeal and our prayer time with the Lord, and our study time and our hunger after Christ.  So, then they start to exalt us for those things.  Maybe sometimes when we talk about ourselves, we should tell both sides.  We should talk about the coldness we have toward God and the callousness that we feel toward God and the distance and the fears that we have, and the many doubts that fill our minds, the bitterness that we harbor in our own hearts sometimes, our heart’s attraction to beautiful things and pretty furniture and all that kind of thing.

What we do sometimes is that we lure people into a false admiration of us, and it’s not their fault.  They just heard what we said, and then they go, and they praise us because it’s a little bit embarrassing to be too transparent.  I want somebody to think that maybe we have something on the ball.  I wonder if we could go a day and never mention anything about ourselves.  I wonder if that’s possible, never make any comment or any reference at all to ourselves.  Why do we need to talk about ourselves?  Why do we need to say, “I did this for God’s glory,” or we try to identify our motive, “The only reason I did it was….”  There is never an action you ever take in the world for only one reason.  It’s so complicated.  In that sense, our motives are all mixed up.  That’s what the Pharisees were doing.  They dragged God in to make them look better.  It sounds less selfish if I say, “God told me to buy this,” or, “God told me to buy that.”  It’s just hypocrisy, anyway.

That’s the first part of it.  Here is the second part of the warning.  Notice verse 9, “Do not call anyone…”  You see, one part says, “Don’t be called,” and the other part says, “Don’t call….”  Some people think that if I use the word “father” for any human being, I’ve violated the scripture.  God said, “Don’t call any man father,” so what are my children supposed to call me?  “You aren’t supposed to do that,” and many that name themselves religious leaders who are called “father” violate the scripture.  That’s not the point.  There ARE earthly fathers and there are spiritual fathers.  Matter of fact, Paul called himself, “the spiritual father of Timothy.”  He’s not saying, “Don’t say that.”  Here’s what He’s saying.  He’s saying, “Don’t receive praise from men, and don’t give praise to men.”  That’s His point.  “Don’t give praise to men.”  Don’t receive it from them, and don’t let them give it to you, but don’t give it to them, either.  Choose God and His glory.  The praise goes to Him. Sure, there are Rabbis on the earth and fathers on the earth and leaders on the earth, but praise God; don’t praise the rabbis and the leaders and the fathers.  That’s His point.  Don’t receive praise, that’s the first one, and don’t give praise to men; that’s the second part of the warning.

Let me suggest a simple outline of these eight woes, and then we’ll look at them one at a time.  We won’t finish this evening, but let’s at least introduce it.  All of the subtleties of these eight woes are really just different forms of self, different forms of unreality, of hypocrisy.  Let me suggest this outline.  First woe, Matthew 23:13, self substituting the letter for the Spirit.  That’s the first woe, the first subtlety, when I substitute the letter for the Spirit.  Verse 14 is the second Woe, using God for worldly gain.  The third woe, verse 15, substituting zeal for party for zeal for the Lord.  The fourth woe, verse 16-22, substituting pictures for realities.  Verses 23&24, substituting conduct for character.  Verses 25&26, substituting the external for the internal.  Verse 27&28, substituting death for life.  Verse 29-36, substituting identification with reality for reality itself.   Let’s begin with a couple of these, and then we’ll finish it up next time.

The first woe, the first subtle form of hypocrisy is substituting the letter for the spirit.  Notice in verse 2, “They seated themselves in the chair of Moses,” and then Jesus says, “Therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe.”  Why would Jesus tell us to listen to these Pharisees?  “All they tell you, do and observe.”  You see, they had the right words.  That’s the subtlety of it.  They had the doctrine.  They had the creed.  They had the scripture.  They had the right words, but notice verse 13, what sad words these are, “You do not enter in yourselves.”  Listen to how the Holy Spirit words this same verse in Luke 11:52, “You’ve taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves.”  Do you realize this, every time you hold a doctrine, but you don’t enter into it, you throw away the key of knowledge?  Every time I hold a doctrine and I don’t enter in in my life, I throw away the key of knowledge.  This is the subtlety of it, to be sound, to be evangelical, to be scriptural, to be orthodox, to have doctrine, good, sound, fundamental, Bible-based doctrine, and not enter into it in my own life, that’s a form of hypocrisy; to have the truth in my hand and in my head, but not have it in my life, to read about victory, and read about abundance in Christ, and read all about being crucified with Christ and dying to self, having it so you can memorize it and so that you can quote it and so that you can chart it and so that you can expound it, so that you can teach it, and not having it real in your life, not entering in, that’s the subtle form. 

The question is always, is my experience equal to my doctrine. The Pharisees had the doctrine and had the right words and they had the letter, but they didn’t have the spirit; they didn’t enter into it.  They had no experience with God.  What good is singing about living in the heavenlies, what good is testifying or hearing others testify about deliverance from sin or expounding on mystical theology or talking about great times with the Lord and deep fellowship with Him, what good is that if we’re not experiencing it?  The Bible teaches that any kind of Bible study, any knowledge you get that’s not real in your life, leads to pride.  Knowledge puffs up.  Any time you study the Bible and you don’t enter into it, it just makes you prouder than you were before your Bible study.  Some people get upset when I encourage them not to read the Bible, and not to get up early for quiet time, unless their heart is set on knowing God, because unless you want to study the Bible to know the Lord, you’re just building yourself up in pride.  There’s no legitimate reason to study your Bible except to know God.  That’s why He gave it.

Do you notice why this is so serious, to have the letter and not the spirit?  According to verse 13, if you’re not entering in, you’re not only hurting yourself, but you’ve become a positive obstruction for anyone else who wants to enter in.  If you only have the credal statements and only have the letter and only have the doctrine and the charts, and you don’t have the corresponding reality in your own heart, you’re not only hurting yourself, but you are positively obstructing other seekers.  You are standing between the hungry and the Lord.  So, the responsibility becomes even greater.

The Apostle John said in his epistle, “That which we’ve seen and heard and handled, that we declare unto you.”  In other words, “That which we’ve experienced, that we can share.”  If you try to give out in ministry to others what is not really your own by the revelation of God, you’re hindering others, and you’re not helping others, because unless you have it by the revelation of the Spirit of God, then there is going to be no anointing when you share it with anyone else, and God can’t use it anymore.  That’s the first subtle form, having doctrine and not life, feeling secure because you have a church creed, or something like that.

We’ll take one more and then we’ll close.  Verse 14, “Woe to you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widow’s houses, even while for pretense you make long prayers.  Therefore, you shall receive greater condemnation.”  I’ll state the form of hypocrisy again, using God for worldly gain.  Those words sound so strong, you might think, “Well, who in the world would ever do that?  Who in the world would ever use God for worldly gain?”  Remember, self is the backdrop of everything we call sin.  There is only one sin; that’s sin right there, self, and there are many expressions of it and many forms of it and many modifications of it, but there’s only one, living unto myself; that’s the only sin.  That’s the backdrop of all of these subtleties. 

Now watch. The illustration that God gives, He always gives extreme illustrations, and in the aggravated case in order to include all lesser illustrations, and He gives the illustration here, “Devouring widow’s houses.”  It’s a picture of greed and covetousness, using the Lord for worldly profit.  Let me mention a few ways we can devour widow’s houses using God.  Worldly gain can include more than physical/material things, money, gold.  It may also include other things that gratify self, such as achievement and position and praise and that kind of thing.  Let me mention three.  One subtle way of using God is by making your needs known before the ears of men.  The subtlety is this.  You might be making your needs known to God in prayer, but in the audience is someone who can meet your need, and they’re listening, too.  As you pray to God, they’re also listening.  Matter of fact, notice verse 14, “You devour widow’s houses even while for a pretense you make long prayers.” 

What is he saying?  Well, I’m reading in between the lines, but I think it’s something like this.  The widow lost her husband, and either the Pharisees came to her house to visit or the widow showed up at church, and he begins to pray, and he prays a prayer like this, “Dear Lord, you know we’ve needed that building for a long time.  We’ve needed a new church, or we need land for a boys’ camp, or we need some money for missions, or something like that, and a widow is listening in on this prayer, and she’s thinking to herself, “Now my husband is dead and I really want to live for the Lord, and I don’t really need a big house like this, and I don’t need this money anymore, so I’m just going to give it to the Lord.”  Then later he comes and claps his hands and says, “Praise God, you really were the answer to prayer, and God is the One that used you.”    

Be careful when you pray before the ears of men, because it’s very easy to pray to men, and not to pray to God.  Our natural hearts stick like glue to a fat pocketbook.  No matter how we like to cover it up, we like to sound spiritual, “Lord, we pray to please give us gravel in our driveway,” and we know a businessman is there who is in the gravel industry, or we say, “Lord, I need oil for my gas tank, or groceries,” or something like that, and you know someone is listening who can provide it for you.  That’s using God for personal gain.  Sometimes you don’t say it by praying it, but we give prayer requests.  That’s exactly the same thing.  We make our needs known in prayer requests, because it sounds spiritual.

Some of the missionary letters that I get are almost unbelievable, “Please pray that God will give us _____ and ____.  The work of God will not go on without it.  We trusted God and came all the way out here, and now we want you to pray that God will give us this and this and this and this and this.”  Maybe their hearts are right, but maybe it’s this very subtle thing that’s right here.  You’ve heard the radio appeals and the TV appeals, “God led us into this ministry, and now it’s up to you to support us, and if you don’t support us, we’re going to go down the drain, and God’s work is going to suffer because of it.”  That’s using God for personal gain.  It sounds so spiritual.

I heard one person on the radio say, “God has called me to be a Christian beggar,” he used that expression Christian beggar, “and I’m begging you, and it’s not for myself, but it’s for the glory of God, and for the needy children,” and all of that kind of thing.  Some people don’t pray or give prayer requests or advertise their needs, but they give testimonies.  I heard one testimony come out something like this, “I quit my job today and I want you all to know that I’m going out on faith.”  So, they begin to announce that they’re living by faith, “I know God will provide.  It doesn’t matter that I have 72 children, and I know I don’t have a place to live, and my wife is going to have surgery in two weeks, but I’m trusting God.”  They make that public to men, in the hearing of men.  They’re using God in order to gain personally.  Talk about putting your brother in bondage and obligation.  See, that’s not faith; that’s presumption.  It’s another subtle way of doing the same thing, using God for personal gain, tying God into all of your own plans, tying God into all of my own plans.

We have many expressions that we use, “God led me,” or, “God told me,” or, “God spoke to me,” or, “God laid it upon my heart.”  It makes it a lot easier if God tells you to buy the motorcycle or the boat or the new house or God tells you to go on a vacation, because then you can gratify yourself and give God the blame.  It’s not wrong to go on a vacation or to buy a boat or anything like that; just leave God out of it.  “God laid this on my heart.”  That’s using God in order to gratify self.  It’s very subtle, because everything sounds so spiritual.  It’s sounds so nice to say, “God came to me in a dream, and God came to me in a vision, and God said this, and God said that.”  Now, I could be wrong, but as I understand the scripture, that’s not how God communicates in these days, and you need to be very careful, because there are only two choices in life, and if you choose this and use this as a cover-up for this, God must slay it; He’s got to bring you down.  That’s exactly what was happening in chapter 23.  There’s no end to the application.

Here’s another way we can use God for personal gain, by identifying ourselves with the people and the works that God seems to be blessing.  It’s amazing how we love to hobnob with spiritual bigwigs.  We try to get their endorsements and try to hang around and look for their approval, because if we can get into their circles, then we can be thrust forward ourselves.  We’ll have platform privileges, and we’ll have new opportunities to share, or something like that.  We’ll be made more public.  This is using the Lord for our own advancement, following in with a movement, in order that we might be examples. 

May God deliver us from hypocrisy in all of its subtle forms, and they are subtle.  As we get into the others that we’ve going to be discussing, it’s so amazing, these subtle, subtle forms of hypocrisy, substituting the letter for the spirit.  May God deliver of just having these things in words.  We’re to have it in our lives.  May God deliver us from using God in order to gratify our own self, and all of these other ones that we’re going to look in to.  They’re all the same thing, but they’re different expressions of the same thing.

Our Father, we again want to praise You for what You know this passage means and not what we think it means, but for everything You know this passage means.  Work that into our hearts.  You’ve said that the heart is wicked and deceitful, wicked beyond all things.  We aren’t to search ourselves and get into this self-analysis.  We pray, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart, and see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.  Deliver us from all unreality in all of its subtle forms.  We ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”