Spiritual pride is deadly. One reason for this is that it disguises itself as virtue and deceives and blinds people to themselves and the saving truth about God. This is the judgment that Jesus brought against the religious leadership:
· “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13; ESV)
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus charged:
· “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)
How did they take away this “key of knowledge” that would open the door to God? By giving the people a false portrait of what it means to please God! Most of the people, even Jesus’ disciples, had been convinced that the spiritual pride of the scribes and Pharisees represented the pinnacle of piety. However, Jesus saw through them:
· “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
According to Jesus, they were masters at image management, at presenting a false face, but they were no better than whitewashed tombs. However, on the outside, they looked faultless:
· “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:5-7)
Jesus’ condemnation was damning. It was not that they occasionally lapsed into deception. Instead, “all their deeds” are performed to deceive, perhaps even themselves. No wonder Jesus proclaimed:
· “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
Jesus called them “blind” Pharisees, perhaps because they were barely conscious of their willful self-deception. But what could they do about it? They could submit to the light of the Savior. Therefore, Jesus instructed His disciples to not engage in Pharisaical practices:
· “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
Why these severe restrictions? Because we are all Pharisees! We are all susceptible. We too all want the acclaim, the recognition, the honor, the influence, and the power. That’s why Paul had warned us:
· Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Cor. 3:5; Gal. 6:3)
None of us has what it takes to stand. If we think we do, then we are deluding ourselves. The Apostles all proclaimed that they would never abandon Jesus. However, their spiritual failure proved to be a painful lesson that we all need to learn. Jesus had warned them, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), but we need to experience painful reinforcements of this lesson.
Well, how do Jesus’ teachings against taking honorific titles prevent us from becoming like the Pharisees? These teachings are humbling. We find that it is very hard to resist pursuing the acclaim and honor, and we come to see the Pharisee prowling within. This should humble us and cause us to confess our sins.
Elsewhere, Jesus taught us to seek to serve as He had. In contrast, His disciples had been seeking their own honor. Two of them came to Jesus requesting that, once He had received His kingdom, they would be elevated to reign alongside of Him.
When the others heard about this, they became indignant. Jesus then corrected them all:
· “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26)
This teaching continues to humble me, showing me how unworthy I am of anything good from the Lord. It continues to put to death the Pharisee within. Yes, this self-realization, that I do not want to be the servant, humbles me, but it also nurtures gratefulness that God loves this unworthy person.
When Jesus’ 72 disciples had returned from their evangelistic outreach, they boasted that the demons were subject to them. However human this celebration over their spiritual accomplishment might have been, they were celebrating the wrong thing. Accomplishments come and go. However, what we have of supreme value is an eternal relationship with our Savior. Therefore, Jesus corrected them:
· “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
My prayer is that He would always correct me.