In Matthew 23, Jesus made some unusual statements: “Do not call anyone on earth your father …” “… he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.” “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” In another passage, He said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged.”
So, are titles wrong? What about oaths? Should we strengthen our commitments by swearing by things bigger than ourselves? And what did Jesus mean when He said, “Do not judge …?”
And in our Old Testament reading, why would God lay out such an elaborate system of laws and regulations? Did those laws limit or enhance freedom? Do they have any connection to our laws today?
Exodus 21 & 22
Titles, Oaths, Judging & Pride
Titles & Authority
Sometimes verses must be studied in the light of other verses and passages in the Bible. If we take one or two verses and isolate them, we can easily read more into them or something different from what was intended.
Also, studying the texts in their original languages can help our understanding. That doesn’t mean that we must be Greek or Hebrew scholars. We are blessed to live in a time when there are many excellent and understandable references and commentaries written by people who have studied the texts carefully and prayerfully. And we have the combined wisdom of men and women of God who have come before us and whose works have stood the tests of time and scrutiny and have been found to be theologically sound.
Verses 8-10, for instance, where Jesus said:
“… 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.”
Jesus is not condemning titles. The Apostle Paul called himself a “father” to the Corinthians. And in Ephesians 4:11-12 where Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, he says:
“He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
Rather Jesus was condemning the religious leaders who set themselves up as the final authority on spiritual matters as if they were the source of the truth. God through His Word must always be our source of truth. No man or woman is infallible, only God.
Let me also say that commentaries and other works should not take the place of reading the Scriptures for ourselves. Instead, they should enhance our own Bible reading. Let me also note that while there is an abundance of good solid Bible study books and tools, some of them free, there is also a proliferation of doctrinally poor books and materials. Pray for God’s discernment and seek input from trustworthy sources.
With God’s help, I do my best in this space to only recommend or review good books. Those that are biblically sound and can help you in your walk with God. I know many people say, read whatever sounds interesting. You can swallow the meat and spit out the bones. First, many in the Christian world today are spiritual babes and you would never give meat with bones in it to a baby. He or she might choke on it.
I have, also, found that if you consume enough bad teaching, you will eventually come to believe at least some of it. You become like who you listen to and read. I have seen too many shipwrecked in their faith because God didn’t perform in their lives like they had mistakenly come to expect.
Let Your “Yes” be “Yes”
Going back to our reading, in Matthew 23.16-22 where Jesus is rebuking them for swearing by the gold in the temple or the sacrifices on the altar, the issue is truthfulness. They were in effect giving themselves loopholes to not keep their word.
In one of our earlier readings, Jesus said:
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:33-37).
We shouldn’t be swearing by anything, but if we do make a promise or take an oath, God takes it very seriously. As believers, we should be faithful keepers of our word.
Pride & Humility
In verses 11-12 it says, “… 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.”
Again and again, we are warned against pride. It’s such a tempting trap. We need to constantly remember that whatever God allows us to do, whatever talents or abilities we have, it all comes from Him. Not only are we to guard against pride, but we are to embrace its opposite, the humble attitude of a servant.
Let’s purpose in our hearts to ask God to show us where we might be prideful, self-righteous or judgmental, and where we are being less than honest.
Just a word about judging—not judging has more to do with our heart attitudes than anything else. There are times when it is biblically appropriate and, in fact, loving to judge someone’s behavior (Gal. 6:1-2; Matt. 18:15-20). And, as I said above, it is important that we judge the teaching that we hear and what we read and to warn others of false doctrine (Matt. 7:15-20). But we must constantly examine our attitudes as we do so.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Ps. 139:23-24 NLT)
Today’s Other Readings:
Exodus 21 & 22
A Framework for Living
Chapter 21:1 says, “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them.”
Moses was to give the people this combination of case-law and commands by which life was to be regulated. These were to be used as a framework for living and for resolving conflicts.
Even though there are cultural conditions addressed here, as you study it, you’ll see how much of our law is based on the principles it contains. Our nation’s founders understood that for a society to be truly free it had to be regulated by certain moral standards.
God’s instructions are not intended to limit our freedom. In fact, living by God’s standards actually frees us to live and worship as He intended and in ways that will ultimately bring us true freedom, along with peace, joy, and blessedness. Scripture provides that framework for Christian living.
The Lord Lives!
Verse 46, “The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted.”
What a cause for rejoicing! The Lord lives and because He lives and is the God of the living, we can live with Him forever!
These verses address the sin of adultery. Adultery, like many other sins, has the consequences built-in. For some momentary pleasure, a person’s reputation is reduced to the value of a crust of bread. Adulterers devalue their families and their covenant relationships and end up being devalued themselves.
Once again, it’s God’s standard, His framework for living that is best.
In the coming days, we’ll talk about religious pretenders, how to shine the light of Christ, how some of us might be trying to make minimum payments on sin when the debt has been paid, sheep and goats in the church, and what it really means to be a friend of God.
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Today’s Featured Resources:
Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Do you feel discouraged, even defeated, in your battle against habitual sin? Are you dismayed or surprised by the situations that bring out your fear, anger, or distress? Elyse Fitzpatrick delves into the heart of the problem: deep down, we’re all idol-worshippers who put our loves, desires, and expectations in God’s placeand then suffer the consequences of our misplaced affections. Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. Fitzpatrick shows us how to better search and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods. Includes questions for further thought. Revised edition.
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur
The Bible is the Word of life. As such, studying the Bible is crucial to the life and growth of every believer. In this revised work, John MacArthur examines various Scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to answer both the “why” and the “how” questions of Bible study.
How to Study the Bible can be used alongside or apart from the audio series available from Grace to You in either a personal or group study.
- Corresponds with the audio message series available from Grace to You
- Features revised content and study questions
- For personal or group study use