Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3so practice and observe whatever they tell you— but not what 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, 6and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7and 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. 10Neither 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.
It is really amazing that Jesus, who had such contempt for the Pharisees, advises the crowds and even his disciples that they should “practice and observe whatever they tell you.” Beginning at verse 13 Jesus is going to call down seven “woes” on the very Pharisees he just told his disciples to follow. Even in describing the Pharisees in the passage we have at hand, his indictment against them is scalding. According to Jesus,
They require things of people they won’t do themselves (vs. 4)
They are vain to the max, both in their actions and even the way they dress (vs. 5)
They jockey for political position continually (vs. 6)
They use their religious position for personal gain (vs. 7)
So what was Jesus trying to say here? On one level he’s saying the same thing Martin Luther did, that if Satan himself were to deliver the elements of Communion, that would not make it any less Communion. And while that is hard for us to hear, it is comforting that our salvation is not dependent on the spirituality of our priest.
He is also setting up what should be an absolute understanding that there is no hierarchy in the church. We are to be instructed and discipled by only one teacher – the Christ. On this point nearly every pastor, elder, and teacher I have met falls down. If the Scriptures are how we learn Christ, and if John 1 really meant what it says (in the beginning was the Word), then the only source of instruction must be Scripture itself – more properly, must be Jesus himself.
I have been guilty throughout my ministry of thinking I have advice to give that sets me up as the wise counselor. There is only one Wonderful Counselor. At any and all points, you and I should stand ready, armed with the Word of God to share it with all who will listen. It is when we go beyond Scripture and become pseudo-therapists or place requirements on those we are called to serve that we become Pharisees.
May God grant me a humble heart that asks nothing of another other than the privilege of sharing the Christ of the Scriptures with them. The greatest gift I have received this year has been the time to learn what it means to be quiet before the Lord.