Practice What You Preach

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. [Matthew 10:24-25 ESV]

Jesus has harsh words for hypocritical teachers. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice” [Matthew 23:2-3 ESV]. He tells those who listen to recognize the authority of God represented by their position and listen to the words of God taught through them, but to not do what they do. They are hypocrites, not doing what they say should be done and doing what should not be done. Having lied to themselves about their position before the people and assumed authority because they are teachers they believe they are more important than others.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! [Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29]

Seven times (and more) Jesus pronounces woe, condemnation, upon them, calling them hypocrites and blind. His words are for everyone so do not think or feel absolved because you do not have the position or consider yourself a teacher. We are all teachers and students.

A hypocrite is an actor, someone who puts on a show for those observing. They are one way when alone or with certain people but a completely different when before an audience. They might consider God their audience and try influencing His thinking about them through their actions and words. They may try to earn their way into His grace, cheapening grace and inviting His disdain. However, most hypocrites act godly and knowledgeable before people to impress them not God. People they can touch and manipulate. God they can neither touch nor manipulate.

Actors are hypocrites, taking upon themselves the characteristics and personality of a fictional person in order to fool or entertain. Trained and experienced actors are believable. So, too, training and experience helps the teacher who wishes to instruct and disciple their pupils. Many teachers have learned to put on a show to empress their students or give them something to remember. Mostly, actors, hypocrites, want their audience to remember them.

We want to believe those who are formal teachers impart instruction from knowledge and righteous motivations. They are teachers by profession or decision and carry the weight of authority behind the knowledge they have gathered, processed and retained. Teachers are smarter than we are, so many think, and their teaching should never be questioned, except by other teachers. Those who belong to a professional association may have academic freedom but are still encouraged to follow the guidelines of their associates. This is important to maintain their professional standing and recognition. So, the scribes and Pharisees belonged to their professional association and dare not think against the standards imposed for fear of being rejected. Nothing has changed.

Scripture places tremendous responsibility upon teachers. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” [James 3:1 ESV]. Those who are formal teachers will be judged by a greater standard than those who are not recognized as teachers. But God has made us all teachers and we are all held to a greater standard, God’s standard.

Sin makes us all hypocrites. We all try to show others we are something we are not, hoping they will not see our true selves. We all try to fool God and only fool ourselves, even believing the lie we tell ourselves. Those who think they can earn or buy righteousness have missed the first demand of God, poverty of spirit. God demands, never asks, the sinner recognize and own their sin. He demands, never asks, they realize the consequences of their sin, which is separation from Him. He demands, never asks, they submit to Him unconditionally. Doing these three things will drive a person toward God. They will hunger and thirst for righteousness and will love Him.

Every person, as they live and breathe and act and speak, leaves evidence for what they hunger and thirst. Do they hunger and thirst for righteousness or unrighteousness? Are they self-righteous or given righteousness by God? Those who have studied God and His Word who then refuse to listen to what He is saying and revealing, changing the Word’s meaning and message into something they control, are hypocrites, not students of His, and face His wrath. Conversely, those who submit to Him and listen to Him and obey Him are called His.

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