Original post March 2012
“Everything they do is for people to see….Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” Matthew 23 4b-5, 15
I have heard people in Christian institutions and in a church say, “But if we do that, what will people think?” I couldn’t believe my ears. Their words betrayed an overt concern with keeping up appearances rather than an overt concern with doing right. Being righteous can be costly; it can cost you friends, institutional or corporate money, maybe even a job/reputation. No doubt it can be a hard decision to do what is right should you stare unemployment in the face, but at least you have saved your soul.
Nevertheless, some in the church sell their souls in order to maintain their positions of power and good graces with donors and others. May it never be said about you and me. I was talking to a family friend. He said, “I don’t know if I’d want to be in those positions of power. Who knows what I’d do.” That’s true. Power is able to corrupt, but God can keep power from corrupting us if we are committed to following Jesus in word and in deed and to listening to the wise counselors around us.
These same people who seem to be concerned about keeping up appearances perhaps only coincidentally are some of the same ones who are hell-bent on being right. Meaning, if you don’t hold to what they hold to, every single jot and tittle, well then you are not on the straight and narrow–you are what’s wrong with the world and with Christianity. They cannot fathom the possibility of being wrong.
It is wise for you and me to remember and to remind ourselves that we do hold some wrong beliefs. What those are might be difficult to identify because if we knew what they were, we wouldn’t hold them. But we are fools if deceive ourselves into thinking that the way we view the world and even God corresponds perfectly to reality, to what actually is. There’s an arrogance that comes from thinking we have all the answers. Not that there aren’t some answers (we can’t know everything of course). When we think we are right about most everything, we start to act like we’re right about most everything and we start to see other believers as less than–start making it about our way or the highway. We start training others in arrogance and in wrong ways of being and then make them twice the sons and daughters of hell that we are.
Those are strong words Jesus had for the Pharisees who “knew” their Bibles. Again, let’s not kid ourselves, we could become just like them. The temptation is to make people and God into our own image.
So, two things.
First. Let’s care more about righteousness and justice instead of keeping up appearances (and money) in our Christian institutions, organizations, and churches. Secondly, let’s be careful about how we view and treat those who think differently than we do about matters of faith and practice (I am not talking about the central tenants of Christianity, but even if we run across those who clearly are acting as anti-Christs, Jesus tells us to love our enemies). We are to love our brothers and sisters, not lord it over them and not assert ourselves. Jesus tells us that the greatest among us will be servants and that those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord so that in due time, he’ll lift us up.
Matthew 23: 2-8,
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to 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, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteriesa]”>[a] 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 with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  b]”>[b] 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”