30 Days in the Bible, Day 27: Matthew 23:1-7
Jesus’ warning here Matthew 23 would been shocking to most of the Jews of His day. The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were held in high regard by the common people. They were seen as the ones who knew and understood the Law, and whose lives reflected the highest standards of holiness. Most Jews would have considered attaining the righteousness of a Pharisee to be an insurmountable task.
Jesus looked beyond their surface. He pointed out how they used the letter of the Law to avoid acting in the spirit of the Law. Jesus also looked at their motivations for their teaching and their behavior. In this passage Jesus accuses the Pharisees and teachers of the Law of hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, and ambition. His appraisal of their hearts and their actions found them to be unworthy of the honor they craved.
When we seek teachers to guide us in understanding God’s Word, we should look at their character as well as their teaching. Many prominent teachers are using their gifts and skills as teachers for their own benefit. They seek fame, success, money, and influence more than they seek to share the Word. This can lead them to focus only on passages that their listeners find comforting while ignoring the hard lessons of Scripture. In some cases, this can lead to teachers even rejecting what the Bible says in favor of ideas and positions that can get them a larger audience.
Note that in Matthew 23:1-7 Jesus doesn’t criticize the teaching of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. While he warns their students not to follow their examples, He still sees that they are teaching what the Word said. A teacher may be faithful to the Word in his or her teaching but still be using their position for the wrong reasons.
This doesn’t mean that pastors and teachers should never receive their living from proclaiming the Word, nor that it isn’t right to look up to godly teachers. The Bible teaches that those who labor in teaching are worthy of honor and of compensation for their work. (See for example Luke 10:17 and 1 Timothy 5:17.) If that compensation and honor become their prime motivation to continue their work, however, they have moved away from what the Lord desires into human selfishness and sin.
In finding a teacher worthy of your honor and of your time, make sure you look not only at what they teach (although you want someone who is committed the Bible), but at what motivates them to teach. That may be hard to determine, but, as with the teachers of Jesus’ time, the heart of a teacher will be exposed. A godly man or woman who seeks to lead students toward Jesus and to a Christlike life is one worth following.