This Week's Focus Passage

Luke 20:46 ‘Beware of the scribes.’

Luke 20:46 ‘Beware of the scribes.’

And in the hearing of all the people he said unto his disciples, Beware of the scribes, who desire to walk in long robes, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and chief seats in the synagogues, and chief places at feasts; who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: these shall receive greater condemnation.

The above passage has its parallel in Matthew 23, a chapter that famously is the depository of the seven woes pronounced by Christ upon these scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. This ‘Beware’ is a conspicuous warning; that is the meaning of the word, ‘be aware,’ ‘I’m warning you,’ ‘look out.’ There are these scribes—men of letters, teachers of the law—that may be known by the following behavior; they desire to walk in long robes, they love salutations in the market place, they love chief places at feasts, they may for a pretense make long prayers. These are some of the ways by which they may be recognized. This is the warning of our Savior to His followers concerning the scribes; what they are and how they may be known.

Seven times in one chapter (Matt. xxiii) we find Jesus saying, “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” Hypocrites, hypocrites, blind guides, hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites. Six of these seven times Jesus made use of the word ‘hypocrites.’ The word ‘hypocrite’ is found only in the Synoptics, and used always by our Lord; fifteen times in Matthew alone. It is synonymous with dissembler [concealing the truth under a false appearance]; to wear a mask is a very apt illustration; hiding the truth, giving a false appearance. While there are many things that do not readily appear as what they indeed are, hypocrites are those who do appear, at least, to be something that they may not be.

Before proceeding any further, a caveat should be made. And it is the simple reminder that we do not have the ability to read the mind nor the heart of any other. Therefore, caution is essential. Judge not lest ye be judged. Not everything that glitters is gold. And there are such as glitter not at all that are worth more than gold. Simply put, don’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, Christ Jesus does know the minds and hearts of all men. In Matthew 9, and elsewhere, we may read of this in the Word of God, And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? This demonstrates that the God-man knows the mind (their thoughts) and the (evil in) hearts. And the case of Nathanael (John 1:47) Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! The point being made, of course, is that we—unlike Jesus—are not omniscient. We must not behave as though we are.

What is the common denominator of the descriptive features to be found in these men of whom Christ has warned His disciples? It may be that the parallel account in Matthew’s gospel, 23:5-7 would offer some help in this:

But all their works they do to be seen of men; for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi.

Indeed, Matthew does enlarge somewhat upon those features of such men. He rather sums them all up under the rubric, ‘all their works they do to be seen of men.’ We see the importance of this teaching in that Matthew does tell us that Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to his disciples. Luke has uttered the same in different words, And in the hearing of all the people he said unto his disciples. Christ did not speak these things in a corner; He spoke them before the multitude of all the people. This underscores the seriousness of these allegations against such persons as the scribes. They made broad their phylacteries, Jesus said. Phylacteries were small leather cases holding Scripture texts, worn in prayer on the forehead and arm by the orthodox. They had the law of God on their forehead and arm, but not in their hearts. They made this external show of piety ‘to be seen of men.’ Jesus spoke of these sort of men when He said, ‘They have their reward.’ They were all show and no substance.

Matthew also reports that they enlarge the borders of their garments. This is largely—no pun intended—more of the same as the phylactery. John Gill tells us that ‘These were the fringes which they put upon the borders of their garments, and on them a riband of blue, to put them in mind of the commandments….they ascribe the like virtue to these fringes, as to their phylacteries, and think themselves much the better for the wearing them.’ More outer show ‘to be seen of men.’ And to better be seen of men they loved the chief place at feast and the chief seats in synagogues.

And to be called of men, Rabbi. It may well be that we can relate in our day to this feature more than the others. How men love titles. It is not limited to Europe where it is obvious among the many dukes and barons, kings and princes. It is not limited to the ‘great’ churches where the names of ‘reverend,’ ‘most reverend,’ and ‘holy father’ are given to men. It seems to be completely forgotten that the Word of God itself declares soundly, from Psalm 111:9;

He hath sent redemption unto His people;

He hath commanded His covenant for ever:

Holy and reverend is His Name.

Among many of our self-proclaimed reformed denominations in this country, and throughout much of the church at large, the title of Reverend has been hijacked by ‘men of the cloth.’ May they be forgiven for they know not what they do? They most certainly should know what they are doing. One has well said, ‘Whatever else we are in religion, let us be true.’ And added, ‘It is perfectly possible for a baptized Englishman to be in spirit a thorough Pharisee.’ Must it not be equally, and sadly confessed along with that, ‘It is perfectly possible for a Reformed Baptist to be in spirit a thorough Pharisee.’?

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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