Matthew 23:1-12 Self-Serving Religion

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Self-Serving Religion

Moses’ seat was a seat in the synagogue that the Pharisees would teach from.  A person’s position is to be respected.  Jesus says that the lifestyle that the Pharisees taught was to be encouraged.  The problem was that the Pharisees themselves were not able to carry out the rules they demanded.  They were so focused on using religion to gain status that they missed the importance of sincere obedience themselves.  They would police the people and not look to themselves.

In contrast, disciples were to be equals within the church.  No-one was able to tell the others what to do from an elevated position of personal perfection.  I see this as a precursor for what we would call the priesthood of believers.  The ‘priesthood of all believers’ means that each person has a responsibility to be active in the church.  We must disclose our failings and admonish each other to change.

Today there are those who use religion to develop a following.  There are those who use religion to destroy people who don’t follow every detail of the rules they lay down.  The question for us is whether we use religion to control our churches or our families.  Jesus is the one who is the master, the teacher, and Messiah.  No-one takes his place as the one who lays down the character of the Kingdom of God.  We just encourage each other to see God as revealed through his Son Jesus.  It is in pursuing Jesus that we are humbled and encourage each other to change.


  1. What should disciples do with the teaching of the Pharisees?
  2. What is wrong with the Pharisees approach?
  3. What should disciples never become?
  4. Can a disciple be a professor?
  5. How should the heart of a disciple differ from a Pharisee?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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2 Responses to Matthew 23:1-12 Self-Serving Religion

  1. Carrie says:

    1. They should listen but with caution.
    2. They are to concerned about the rules that they 1. Don’t follow their own rules 2. Don’t form a relationship with God because they are so focused on the rules.
    3. Disciples should never put themselves in an elevated position but be equal to all.
    4. Yes, they are teaching with the knowledge they know/have learned. This is not being “better” than anyone just using the gifts that God gave them.
    5. We as disciples should focus on the relationships we have with Christ not the rules. We shouldn’t be hung up on how many times we prayed or read our bible but instead if we have an intimate relationship with Christ. Does He know your name?

  2. Kelli says:

    This passage leaves me asking the questions: Where has pride crept in? Where am I seeking to exhalt myself? What does humility need to look like in my life? In what new ways do I need to humble myself right now? These are big questions. I don’t have all of the answers yet. But I will be praying about these things.

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