Session #136 Do Not Do
Scripture Matthew 23:1-12
Summary Jesus has many things to say about kingdom leadership; as well as to those who lead His kingdom people. For leaders, Matthew 23 must be the least favourite chapter and the hardest to stomach. That said, in Matthew 23:1-12, there is much to learn from the mistakes of the scribes and Pharisees so we know what to do – or as we will see from this teaching – what to do not do.
Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:1-12
Matthew is structured around five major discourses, with narratives in between. In this teaching, we will begin to consider Jesus’ fifth and final discourse (Matthew 23-25) that speaks of kingdom readiness. Kingdom readiness is entirely premised upon kingdom ways, kingdom assignments, kingdom wisdom and kingdom relationships which were covered in previous sessions on the first four discourses.
Matthew 23 begins the fifth discourse with a public teaching in the temple which sets the context for Jesus’ private teaching of His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24-25). It also serves as a conclusion of Matthew 21 and 22, closing the narrative that describes the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders.
Five Common Pitfalls of Kingdom Leadership
After the Pharisees and scribes left following the confrontation with Jesus, Jesus presented the key issues to the remaining listeners at the temple. In affirming their position of spiritual authority, He upheld God’s Word as the ultimate authority but questioned their behaviour. It is not that we are not to obey God’s Word but we are not to follow the wrong examples of the leaders and hence ‘do as they say’ but ‘do not do as they do’ (Matthew 23:2-3). Jesus went on to present the five common pitfalls of kingdom leadership that we ‘do not do’ these same mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly.
Picture of Glaring Inconsistency (Matthew 23:3c)
Leaders at any level, including parents, are to lead by example, doing what we tell or instruct others to do. Do not be inconsistent in what we say and how we live.
Pressure of Religious Performance (Matthew 23:4)
There is nothing wrong with obeying God’s Word but do not miss the spirit of the Law in trying to keep to the letter of the Law, bringing death instead of life through His precepts. Do not place religious and legalistic demands on others – teach rightly, serve rightly (Matthew 11:28, 1 John 5:3)
Parade of Ostentatious Piety (Matthew 23:5)
By the nature of their position, leaders are already upfront and seen and there is no need to draw attention to self. In our age of social media where we often parade our lives openly for all to see, we need discernment when we are updating and sharing. Do not do things to be seen by men, to try to impress them.
Pursuit of Positional Prominence (Matthew 23:6)
This is related to the previous point about being seen, acknowledged and esteemed by others, seeking to be accorded the most prominent places. In Christ we are already seated at the right hand of the Father, we do not need to seek attention and recognition for ourselves.
Prestige of Honorific Titles (Matthew 23:7-10)
Jesus is not saying that titles are wrong and bad or that honour and respect should not be given to someone in such positions. He was warning against self glorification and self promotion through such titles. If our heart is not rightly postured in the Lord, even addressing one another as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ becomes a title of sorts. Do not rely on titles for identity, status and importance. Our identity is in Christ alone.
Pride of Insecure Hearts
We notice that each of the five pitfalls are rooted in pride and insecurity. Proud and insecure leaders are dangerous and disastrous. Do not be such leaders or follow such leaders in being proud and insecure.
Posture of Humble Confidence (Matthew 23:11-12)
In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus summarises what He had already taught before about greatness in the kingdom – whoever humbles himself is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4, Matthew 20:25-27). Instead of pride and insecurity, kingdom leaders are to lead with and from a posture of humble confidence. We are to be secure in our identity in Christ, confident in His ways and empowerment, confident in His promise to exalt those who are humble as well as deal justly with those who are proud. After this discourse, Jesus goes on to set the perfect example of kingdom leadership when He humbles Himself to serve as the ultimate sacrifice, giving His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). For His service, He is exalted to the highest place, with the greatest name above all names, with all power and authority (Philippians 2:9-11)
Kingdom leadership is not merely about positions of power, but of spiritual authority. They represent Jesus, the King and His kingdom and must be carried out in kingdom ways with kingdom hearts, in humility and with full confidence in Christ.
The five pitfalls of kingdom leadership are not unique but common to all. Instead of laughing at the scribes and Pharisees, we should learn from them that we do not do what we are not to do.
Please do not use this teaching as material to judge and condemn leadership. Instead pray for your leaders and for yourself too so that you may rightly discern to not do what you are to ‘do not do’.