Sabbath, November 23, 2013

“Those in positions of responsibility who follow their own way are held responsible for the mistakes of those who are led astray by their example.” –(Review and Herald, September 14, 1905) Christian Leadership, p. 10.

“No one is compelled to copy the errors of professed Christians. If he sees the mistakes and faults of others, he will be responsible before God and before his fellow men if he does not set a better example. But some make the faults of others an excuse for their own defects of character, and even copy the very objectionable traits which they condemn. Such persons strengthen those of whom they complain as pursuing an unchristian course. With their eyes open they walk into the enemy’s snare.” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 650.

Saying and doing

1. How did the Lord begin His warning message regarding Israel’s religious leaders? Of all their teachings, what was correct to observe?

Matthew 23:2, 3 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

“ ‘The scribes and the Pharisees,’ He said, ‘sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.’ The scribes and Pharisees claimed to be invested with divine authority similar to that of Moses. They assumed to take his place as expounders of the law and judges of the people. As such they claimed from the people the utmost deference and obedience. Jesus bade His hearers do that which the rabbis taught according to the law, but not to follow their example. They themselves did not practice their own teaching.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 612.

Double standard

2. What serious discrepancy could be seen in their actions? Are we not tempted sometimes to have a double standard, especially when our reputations or personal interests are at stake?

Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

“And they taught much that was contrary to the Scriptures. Jesus said, ‘They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.’ The Pharisees enjoined a multitude of regulations, having their foundation in tradition, and unreasonably restricting personal liberty. And certain portions of the law they so explained as to impose upon the people observances which they themselves secretly ignored, and from which, when it served their purpose, they actually claimed exemption.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 612.

Going astray

3. How had an old teaching, which had been given to help people remember God’s will, been altered? How can this same danger threaten us today?

Deuteronomy 6:6, 8 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart… Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

Matthew 23:5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.

“To make a show of their piety was their constant aim. Nothing was held too sacred to serve this end…. These words

[of Deuteronomy 6:8] have a deep meaning. As the word of God is meditated upon and practiced, the whole man will be ennobled. In righteous and merciful dealing, the hands will reveal, as a signet, the principles of God’s law. They will be kept clean from bribes, and from all that is corrupt and deceptive. They will be active in works of love and compassion. The eyes, directed toward a noble purpose, will be clear and true. The expressive countenance, the speaking eye, will testify to the blameless character of him who loves and honors the word of God. But by the Jews of Christ’s day all this was undiscerned. The command given to Moses was construed into a direction that the precepts of Scripture should be worn upon the person. They were accordingly written upon strips of parchment, and bound in a conspicuous manner about the head and wrists. But this did not cause the law of God to take a firmer hold of the mind and heart. These parchments were worn merely as badges, to attract attention. They were thought to give the wearers an air of devotion which would command the reverence of the people.” –The Desire of Ages, pp. 612, 613.

Ambition for position

4. Instead of cultivating modesty and humility, what distinguished these leaders? How can self-righteousness become a similar problem for us?

Matthew 23:6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues.

“In such plain words the Saviour revealed the selfish ambition that was ever reaching for place and power, displaying a mock humility, while the heart was filled with avarice and envy. When persons were invited to a feast, the guests were seated according to their rank, and those who were given the most honorable place received the first attention and special favors. The Pharisees were ever scheming to secure these honors. This practice Jesus rebuked.

“He also reproved the vanity shown in coveting the title of rabbi, or master. Such a title, He declared, belonged not to men, but to Christ. Priests, scribes, and rulers, expounders and administrators of the law, were all brethren, children of one Father. Jesus impressed upon the people that they were to give no man a title of honor indicating his control of their conscience or their faith.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 613.

5. Was the ambition for titles and positions confined to the leaders of Jesus’ time? Although we do not use those exact terms, what may we be guilty of promoting?

Matthew 23:7-10 And greetings in the Markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

“If Christ were on earth today, surrounded by those who bear the title of ‘Reverend’ or ‘Right Reverend,’ would He not repeat His saying, ‘Neither be ye called masters: for One is your Master, even Christ’? The Scripture declares of God, ‘Holy and reverend is His name.’ Psalm 111:9. To what human being is such a title befitting? How little does man reveal of the wisdom and righteousness it indicates! How many of those who assume this title are misrepresenting the name and character of God! Alas, how often have worldly ambition, despotism, and the basest sins been hidden under the broidered garments of a high and holy office!” –The Desire of Ages, p. 613.

Applying the proper antidote

6. What will be the end of pride? What is the result of humility?

Proverbs 18:12, first part Before destruction the heart of man is haughty.

Proverbs 15:33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.

Matthew 23:11, 12 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Matthew 20:26, 27 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.

“Again and again Christ had taught that true greatness is measured by moral worth. In the estimation of heaven, greatness of character consists in living for the welfare of our fellow men, in doing works of love and mercy. Christ the King of glory was a servant to fallen man.” –The Desire of Ages, pp. 613, 614.

Thought question: How is it possible to be meek in thought, feeling, and action, thus receiving God’s blessing?

“The more one sees of the character of God, the more humble he becomes, and the lower his estimation is of himself. This indeed is the evidence that he beholds God, that he is in union with Jesus Christ. Unless we are meek and lowly, we cannot in truth claim that we have any conception of the character of God. Men may think that they possess superior qualifications. Their splendid talents, great learning, eloquence, activity, and zeal, may dazzle the eye, delight the fancy, and awaken the admiration of those who cannot read beneath the surface; but unless humility and modesty is linked with these other gifts, self-glorification and self-exaltation will be seen. Unless each qualification is consecrated to the Lord, unless those to whom the Lord has entrusted gifts seek that grace which alone can make their qualifications acceptable to God, they are looked upon by the Lord … as unprofitable servants.” –Sons and Daughters of God, p. 68.

7. What makes us a stumbling block to the spiritual life of others, instead of being a help? How can such a danger be avoided?

Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

“By perverting the Scriptures, the priests and lawyers blinded the minds of those who would otherwise have received a knowledge of Christ’s kingdom, and that inward, divine life which is essential to true holiness.” –The Desire of Ages, p. 614; see also The Story of Redemption, p. 361.

For meditation

“The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. When fastings and prayers are practiced in a self-justifying spirit, they are abominable to God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposed sacrifice, all proclaim to the world the testimony that the doer of these things considers himself as righteous. These things call attention to the observer of rigorous duties, saying, This man is entitled to heaven. But it is all a deception. Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe.” –(MS 154, 1897) Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1098.