The Seeking Church, Part 25

The modern professing Church in America is in dire straights. The Lord has turned His face and is giving it over to the plans and activities of men. There are conferences and methods galore and yet He is not coming to His people in power. For several weeks we have been looking at how the professing Church is to return to the Lord. It must seek the face of the Lord rather than the things the Lord gives. It must not settle for religious activity and be deceived by that activity. It must not be deceived by busyness and by external successes. It must not settle for anything but God Himself. Our hearts are so deceitful that we can believe that virtually anything is a sign of the Lord’s hand upon us. Instead of looking to ourselves trusting in our own hearts, we must seek the Lord to give us hearts that desire Him above all things. We must begin to look at the nature of true conversion instead of receiving mere outward professions. We must examine what justification is and what true faith is. We must search the Scriptures on what the Bible teaches about justification by faith alone. We must also look and ask ourselves how much like the Pharisees we really are. This might be something we have deceived ourselves about too.

In Matthew 23 we see several teachings of Jesus about the Pharisees. It is easy for us to read over these quickly as things no relevant to us. However, there are principles here that we must be aware of. Could it be that the spirit of the Pharisees is not just something that we read about that happened in the past but is also descriptive of something that is present now? “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

Let us pray that we will be very honest with our own hearts as we read passages like this. We usually read this and don’t give it much thought as we don’t see people doing this today. However, if we think through this there may be some application to our day. We have people in our day that are seated in the chair of Moses. What we must be careful to do is distinguish between those with the true gift of teaching and the right heart and those who do not. There are some in the academic circles and there are those who are leaders in the churches who are teachers and use the position for something other than the honor of Christ. There are leaders who indeed lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of others by teaching stringent things about duties. There are heavy burdens placed upon men and women by placing all the stress of life on their shoulders. Women are told that they should have many children and they must school all the children at home while they must keep the house clean and at all costs they should wait on their husbands to make sure he is pleased each moment. This is dangerous territory but we must enter it.

Husbands are told that they are to rule the house and all things that go on. They are told by some that they are the only ones that are to teach the children. Some will tell the husband that if there is a problem in the marriage or home regardless of what it is that the problem is with him. What a burden these things are to some people (and there are others). Are these specific duties that the Bible sets out for people or are they deductions that people have made from a few verses? People are being greatly burdened today by things that the Bible does not set out with a great deal of clarity. Jesus also said that His burden was easy and His yoke was light (Mat 11:30). It is not that the Christian life is to be easy, but it is not to be an overwhelming burden on people. However, many men and women are burdened by all of the rules that are being placed upon them by those with big names and those in the local church. We must examine everything by Scripture and not just because another says it is a law of the Bible.

Is the Church free from those who do what they do to receive honor and be noticed by others? Without denying an appropriate place for academic success, is there a better way to do this than to heap accolades on people? How do people broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels on their garments today? Perhaps they write books and have radio programs where they tell people of their successes. One man used to have a television show where he and his wife would (seemingly) brag about how many verses he had memorized. What does it mean to love the places of honor today? It could be as simple as wanting to be noticed at meetings or to receive honors from the denomination. These things can be done under the guise of helping others in the kingdom. Who is it that desires to be known and to wield power? Can it be that people love to receive respectful greetings and to be called “rabbi” or teacher under the name of professor or pastor? It is one thing to seek to please God from the heart to teach and it is quite another to teach about God and His Word while desiring honor from others.

There are multitudes of books on leadership of stores that sell “Christian” books. But the clear words of Jesus as given in Matthew 23:10 and quoted above is that no one is to be called a leader. The word for “leader” in this verse is translated by some as “teacher.” It is also used in more modern times as the Greek word for professor. This is looked at in various ways, but we must be very careful if we want to be thoroughly biblical. Regardless of how this word is used, because of the context it cuts into several areas. A teacher was and is a leader in some way. Jesus was a teacher and a leader. One leads in some way by teaching and one teaches in some way by leading. But if we look at this verse in its context what we must see is that a true leader and true teacher is one that points to the one Leader and one Teacher who is Christ. It is Christ alone that is to be pointed to rather than self. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of Himself rather than disciples of any human being. It does not matter how great a scholar or author a man or woman is, that person is to point to Jesus Christ alone. True teachers desire to point people to the true Teacher to be taught. True leaders are those that lead people to the true Leader to be led.

It is one thing to speak of the spirit of what the Bible teaches and it is another to place laws on people. It is my belief that if one looks at the text of Matthew 23:1-12 very closely at all s/he will see that the spirit of the scribes and Pharisees is alive today. Let us not forget the words of Jesus, but also let us examine our own hearts by them: “But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mat 23:11-12). The scribes and Pharisees were marked by interpreting the Bible and making rules and then by their desire for the honor and attention of others. Can we say that these things are anything less than rampant today? The mark of true greatness is true humility which is seen in being a servant. It must also be the attitude of the heart. One can do many outward things in an effort to deceive him or herself. What Jesus does is to set out a contrast of attitudes of the heart for us. The contrast is between seeking honor for self, even in outwardly good things, or in pointing others to Christ as the true teacher as a true servant will do.

In academic and denominational circles and in the local churches what we must be willing to see is that everyone must point others to Christ and for that to be the intent of the heart. All believers and unbelievers alike must be pointed to Christ Himself. We can teach with great honor and distinction out of nothing but love for self. We can evangelize in order to make a name for ourselves or in an attempt to fill the churches with numbers. We can do each and everything required by external standards in academic circles, in denominational leadership, and in the local church and yet do it without an ounce of true humility and love. How can we expect the living and true God who will do nothing but what is for the glory of His name to come down and give Himself to us in power when all we do is for the honor and glory of ourselves? How can we expect God to do anything but continue to withdraw Himself from us when we are not concerned first and foremost to humble ourselves before Him? If we are not truly humble before God regardless of our station in life, then we are nothing but men and women who seek the interests of self rather than the interests of God (Phil 2:21). In light of Philippians 2:21 and its context, would Paul have anyone to send in our day to a seminary to teach or to a church to pastor if he required the person to only be concerned about the interests of Christ so as to be one that was concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people?

Denominations and local churches must begin to study Scripture with new eyes and to look at their own hearts apart from self-love and self-esteem. We must look to the Word of God rather than standards brought in by the world and imposed upon the Bible and then the people in the churches. We must beware of the leaven (teachings) of the Pharisees (Mat 16:6). It matters not how big or small a person may have, we are to beware of his or her teachings if they have the spirit of the Pharisees in them. It does not matter the academic or denominational position a person may have, Jesus tells us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. It does not matter if the person is a favorite conservative or not, Jesus tells us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. The Church, a church, and all individuals need to know that not only is there a danger from liberalism, but there is also a great danger from the spirit of the Pharisees that is very much alive in our day. The “beware” of Jesus is part of the inerrant and infallible Word of God that sets out and describes the truth for all ages. That part is inerrant as well.

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