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BBC News: Pistorius given five years in jail
Tuesday 21st October 2014

Practise what you preach

Scripture Union

Text: Prepare


Be honest: where in your life are you not quite practising what you're preaching?


Bible passage: Bible passage: Matthew 23:1-12


Matthew 23


Jesus Judges the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law

 1  Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. 2  "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," he said. 3  "So you must obey them. Do everything they tell you. But don't do what they do. They don't practice what they preach. 4  They tie up heavy loads and put them on other people's shoulders. But they themselves aren't willing to lift a finger to move them.

 5  "Everything they do is done for others to see. On their foreheads and arms they wear little boxes that hold Scripture verses. They make the boxes very wide. And they make the tassels on their coats very long.

 6  "They love to sit down in the place of honor at dinners. They also love to have the most important seats in the synagogues. 7  They love to be greeted in the market places. They love it when people call them 'Rabbi.'

 8  "But you shouldn't be called 'Rabbi.' You have only one Master, and you are all brothers. 9  Do not call anyone on earth 'father.' You have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10  You shouldn't be called 'teacher.' You have one Teacher, and he is the Christ. 11  The most important person among you will be your servant. 12  Anyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up.


Text: Explore the Bible

Revolutionary leader  At times Jesus is extraordinarily provocative. Preaching in a culture where religious leaders are powerful and important, he is never afraid to be publicly critical of the establishment. When we find him here in the later stages of his own ministry, he is every inch the revolutionary leader, his sermons evocative of a political rally.  Jesus' main critique of the Pharisees here isn't over lapses of morality; it's about their overriding hypocrisy. They preach one thing, but practise another. Notice that Jesus doesn't therefore tell the crowds to ignore their teachers; he isn't calling for religious anarchy. Far from it: they 'sit in Moses' seat,' he says (v 2), and should be listened to. Instead, then, he is warning them (and us) against the kind of hypocrisy that the Pharisees displayed.  Submissive and servant-hearted  Jesus finds hypocrisy offensive. So do we - many of us find it difficult to show much grace to modern religious leaders who end up being exposed for similar crimes. Yet the antidote to hypocrisy isn't anger but humility.   In verse 11 Jesus repeats the 'first-shall-be-last' theme that permeates his teachings. Christian maturity isn't about looking increasingly righteous, but becoming increasingly submissive and servant-hearted. Jesus raged against the Pharisees because they'd only mastered the former.


Text: Respond


Look for an opportunity today to practise the discipline of submission; putting the needs and priorities of others before your own. 

Martin Saunders


Text: Introduction to Matthew 23-25

For sure, the gospel is good news. It speaks of forgiveness, new life and the security of belonging to God's new society. And while fully certain of our secure hope in Christ, we are reminded in the New Testament of another theme: 'we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ' (2 Corinthians 5:10). If we are committed believers, this is not a judgement concerning our eternal destiny but a judgement concerning our stewardship. The future is a key motivator for living wisely in the present, and Jesus says the same. In his words in Matthew 23-25 we confront some penetrating teaching that will highlight how important this theme is for all who wish to follow him.  First, we will hear Jesus' judgement on the religious, and we will need to be careful not to dismiss his teaching as for Pharisees alone. He calls for authentic discipleship, not the artificial, superficial, self-serving religion upon which he pronounces his woes of judgement. We will need to listen carefully and not distance ourselves from this teaching, because we can so easily drift towards an institutionalised, predictable and formal religion. His words of judgement expose the dangers that lurk in the hearts of even the finest believer.  But more is to follow, as Jesus' teaching about the future sharpens our sense of accountability. He explains the judgement that attends his return. Again, we will need to ensure we are not diverted from its force and personal application: these chapters have been the focus of debate and division among Christians, sometimes deflecting us from their contemporary significance. So we must listen carefully. The king and judge will return, and the simple but penetrating stories we will read in these chapters will call us to true discipleship: to work wholeheartedly, to watch with patience and perseverance, to be ready for that day. As we are reminded elsewhere: 'The Judge is standing at the door' (James 5:9).  Jonathan Lamb


Text: Deeper Bible study

If the first major discourse by Jesus recorded by Matthew opens with promises of God's blessing (Matthew 5-7), today's passage introduces the final discourse - not of blessing but of judgement. It is a devastating piece of writing, introducing the strongest language we hear from Jesus' lips. Such words of judgement are not directed at the pagan but at the outwardly religious, for here Jesus exposes the perversion of true religion.  He begins by condemning the hypocrisy of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. If we are to hear the Lord's word to us, we should recognise what Jesus is exposing, because we might find it all too evident in ourselves. First, they 'do not practise what they preach' (v 3). This matters because of their authoritative role in interpreting the Law of Moses (v 2). The entire chapter is a devastating critique of lives which do not match up to a profession of loyalty to God and his purposes. Too often our lives are out of sync, with so little consistency of word, character and behaviour. Hypocrisy is most obviously seen in self-interest, the desire to impress and to win honour. 'Everything they do is done for people to see' (v 5). The passage smells of personal advancement and status anxiety. In the church we can point to ecclesiastical titles, to the fawning deference to academic position and to status-ridden denominational hierarchies. 'What about our hearts?', we may then ask. The insidious influence of pride, often hard to spot, can contaminate our Christian service every day.   That is why we need to live by Jesus' value system (vs 11,12), which he both preached and practised. Not position, or prestige, or self-serving religious humbug, but the humble service of others. It is God's business to exalt or to humble (v 12; Isaiah 2:11,12; 5:15,16).  Jonathan Lamb


Text: Background: Pharisees

Historical background


The Pharisees were one of a number of groups in first century Judaism who were zealous for the Law. Jewish texts speak highly of them. They were the spiritual descendants of the hasidim of the Maccabean period - the 'faithful ones' who opposed Greek influence on Jewish society, put their trust in God and looked for the coming of the Messiah.


Later they became disillusioned with the Maccabean rulers and developed into a nonconformist party within Israel, without withdrawing to the wilderness as the Essenes did.




It is likely that the name Pharisee derives from the Hebrew parush, 'separated one'. Probably the Pharisees wanted to apply the priestly rituals to the people generally, and to themselves in particular. Their concern for ritual purity dominated their thinking and living (see Mark 7:1-8).


The Pharisees were closely allied with the 'teachers of the law' (traditionally called 'the scribes') and were supremely concerned with the 'traditions of the elders', the oral Torah handed down through many generations of rabbis. In this they differed from the Sadducees, who regarded only the written Torah as authoritative.


Criticism by Jesus


In Luke 11:37-54, the woes which Jesus, acting as a prophet, pours on the Pharisees and the teachers of the law reflect his deep concerns with their example. Their concern with the minutiae of the law as interpreted by different rabbis compromised the authority of God's clear revelation.


Their scrupulosity and hypocrisy tended to discourage them from realising how much they needed God's grace. Before we criticise them too fiercely we should ask ourselves how far we may resemble them without even realising it!


Text: Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year. Today's readings are:


Jeremiah 34,35


John 13



Text: Poem for reflection

Boy Scout Pharisee



Boy Scout Pharisee

You wear your faith on your sleeve

A display of spirituality for all to see.


Boy Scout Pharisee

You hold the cup of triumph up high

A reputation for good deeds, known far and wide.


Boy Scout Pharisee

You wear the uniform to perfection,

A sign to others of your exclusive affiliation.


Boy Scout Pharisee

Where does your bob-a-job money go?

Sanitised you stay away, not really wanting to know.


Boy Scout Pharisee

Your spiritual vision is out of line,

The boundaries you've drawn are not mine.


Boy Scout Pharisee

Look beyond the outward appearance,

See, it is the open heart I hold dearest.


Boy Scout Pharisee

Who is it you think you're pleasing?

Come back with empty cup, torn clothes and ears for hearing.


Text: podcast



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