Sermon: The Common Traits of False Teachers Matthew 23:1-12

Truth Taught- Jesus teaches us how to detect false teachers

Why are False Teachers dangerous?

Jesus knows that the cross is really just hours away, probably less than two days now.  His desire is for the faithfulness of His followers.  He wants them to be true teachers the ones to replace the Pharisees and Scribes. 
Human nature tends toward the direction of the Scribes and Pharisee whom Jesus will repeatedly call hypocrites.  He doesn’t want the disciples nor anyone as far as that goes to be hypocritical like the Pharisees.
Jesus is still in the temple and had just won the battle of wits with the Pharisees.  Jesus answering all their questions with divine wisdom and they, collectively failed to answer just one question.  What do you think of the Messiah?  

Now, Jesus, as it were holds them up as the model false teacher.  He tells His disciples and us as well what a false teacher looks like and that we should avoid them like the plague.  So, for us, what do false teachers look like?  What may be some common traits most share?  How can we spot them?

Our Lord had chosen His first disciples knowing that with the proper training, namely three years with Jesus, they would become very powerful and effective spiritual leaders.  So, their training continues.  What’s amazing is that as Jesus speaks to His disciples in the Temple we too are instructed on the dangers of false teachers.  He does so with a bit of irony.

Pray

Matthew 23:1–12 (ESV) 

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 

1.  Traits of False Teachers

A.  Their Lives Do Not Support What They Teach

They preach and teach but do not practice what they say.

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 

Most scholars tell us that Jesus is here using irony.  It was a method of teaching in the ancient world when a teacher would use this kind of method.  We miss it because we don’t get to hear Jesus’ tone or see His gestures.

Remember they could not even answer a simple question about the Messiah.  They had no clue as to what God desired from His people.  Another reason they are confident its irony is the fact that Jesus spends the rest of the chapter speaking very harshly against their teaching and hypocrisy.

It’s irony like we often use.  Let’s say the weather channel has told us all week that Saturday is supposed to be sunny and 75.  So we plan a family picnic.  Then Saturday gets here and it is storming.  We look out the window and say, It’s a great day for a picnic.  That’s the use of irony.  Jesus would never want us to do what they teach because what they teach is the traditions of men. 
They sit on the seat of Moses but God had not placed them there.  They were self-appointed teachers who did not really know much of anything that God commanded. 

A teacher of truth will put into practice the truths they teach.  They will model the truths they proclaim. 
I remember when I was first introduced to the Doctrines of Grace.  At the very beginning and even then, as I learned God had placed very godly men in my life whom I greatly respect and it was their humility and concern that their lives brought glory to Christ that first caused me to consider what they taught.  It was new, but I thought that I want to follow Christ like they do so I’m going to listen to what they have to say.

 
Paul knew this to be true…

1 Corinthians 11 (ESV) 

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 

Until new Christians learn truth from Scriptures, they need an example to follow in the process. 
Do you believe the truths you speak about enough to actually allow those truths to determine how you behave and conduct yourself?
The Jews had no one to look to as an example of righteousness until Jesus came.

B.  They create heavy burdens through man-made rules

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

False teachers are out to use people and even abuse people.  The Pharisees would create heavy burdens by their unbiblical interpretations of the Mosaic Law and then in a figurative sense bind them up and strap them onto others and yet they would never carry those heavy burdens themselves.  Jesus tells us they don’t even lift a finger to help the people carry the heavy burdens that they created.  

They had made the Law of Moses much heavier and burdensome than it was intended to be.  One way they did this was to fence the Law.  They would take a certain command of the Law and build a man-made fence so to speak around it to keep the worshipper far away from breaking the command.  In doing this the command was often forgotten and the fence became the command of God.  Jesus called this the traditions of man.

They built many fences around the Sabbath Day, so many, in fact, that the Day of Sabbath rest became more of a day of burdens to keep than a Sabbath to enjoy.

Here’s an example from Scripture…

Mark 3:1–6 (ESV) 

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. 

What was the problem here?  The Pharisees had created this very long list of things forbidden on the Sabbath…the man stretching out his hand was work and no work shall be done on the Sabbath.  Healing was also considered work.  While God did desire them to take a day away from their normal work to rest and worship, God did not ever say that we should cease from exercising mercy, love, and care on the Sabbath.  This was their fencing the Law.  Their fence became a evil snare.

C.  They seek the approval of people, not God

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Jesus tells us that the false teacher does everything for men to see.  The false teacher is out for their own glory not the glory of God. 
Notice what Jesus tells us that they love…
They love to look impressive, broad phylacteries and long fringes.  The way they dress is meant to impress.     

Phylacteries, in the first century, were small, square, black leather boxes, containing passages of scripture “” which some strictly observant Jews still wear on the forehead, and on the left arm. This tradition arose because of what those biblical verses actually said, especially at Deuteronomy 6:6-8, Keep these words that I am commanding you in your heart, bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem, or frontlet, on your forehead “” or between your eyes.

So, does wearing a Bible verse on your forehead bring glory to God or glory to self?  Look how holy I am.  I don’t go anywhere without my box of bible verses strapped to my head.
Obeying the Bible verses not wearing them is what God desires.

and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagoguesand greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

They love the head of the table.  They love that people know them.  They love that when they walk around town people greet them with great pomp.   They love to be called rabbi.  These things are what the false teacher lives for. 
Here’s the danger of a false teacher…they adjust their teaching so that they benefit from whatever they teach.  That’s why Joel Olsten will not talk about sin or any punishment for sin.  He would rather build people up even by false teaching than tell them the truth.  He wants his best life now.  He likes the fame, the TV programs he gets invited to, the big church, big paycheck, he likes that so many people like him.  After listening to him, Ive had people tell me they feel better.  They had just been sold a bill of goods and didn’t even know it. 
Like other false teachers he likes to be exalted by the people.  The very people that are heading for hell and the very people the false teacher could care less about.

D.   False Teachers Love Impressive Titles

and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.

Titles in themselves are not evil.  It’s fine if you call me Pastor Brian.  I know its done with love and it’s fine.  But there is a danger even in that.  It’s possible that a pastor could get the big head and use his title as a way to get what he wants. 
It’s not to common any more but back a century or so many pastors were called reverend.  I think this may cross the line.  Then there is the title Most Reverend …

Jesus warns us about titles…
Don’t call people Rabbi which means master teacher.  Of course, we learn from each other and some are called to be teachers, teaching being a spiritual gift.  However, a teacher must be making disciples for Jesus not disciples for themselves.  


Don’t call anyone Father.  Taking this in context, Jesus is not telling us we can’t call our dads father.  Or that it’s wrong to say that Abraham is the father of Israel.  What He is speaking about is calling teachers Father and using that title to give them superior authority and honor.  The reason, He tells us is that there is only one Father with all authority and Power, namely, God the Father.  

1 Corinthians 4:15–16 (ESV) 

15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 


Don’t call anyone Teacher.  Here in the original it is Master.  Only Jesus Christ is Master.  Only Jesus is to be called teacher in that way.

There are certain leaders within the church who should be shown respect but not given titles that give to men what only God should have.  This also is a trait of a false teacher.  He desires to have for himself what only God should have.  There is no room for a leader within the Church who seeks to usurp God’s authority and loyalty that is due Him alone.

2.  Humility, the Defining Trait of God’s Teachers

11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 

Jesus now contrasts the false teachers and the traits they portray and compares them to those teachers God has appointed.

Now, I would remind everyone that humility is not just a good trait for teachers within the Church but a good trait for everyone who calls themselves Christian.  

The false teacher seeks greatness by exalting themselves.  Jesus tells us the true greatness which is greatness in God’s eyes is to be found as we serve others. 

A false teacher, being out for self-exaltation does not serve others, he expects them to serve him.
Rather than exalting ourselves we must seek to humble ourselves.  One very important goal for all who call themselves Christians is to humble yourself.  This is really in many ways a reality check.  How foolish is the person who thinks they should be served by others.  Who are you that others should serve you?  We must serve one another.  In that way, God is pleased.

Are you serving others?  It blesses my heart when I hear about the little things you all do for each other.  That’s the church functioning in the right way.  Rather than always thinking about ourselves like the false teachers do because we love Jesus, we serve those whom He loves.  God is pleased.  What’s God’s will for your life?  Serve others.

James 4:10 (ESV) 

10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 

How do we humble ourselves before God?  Serve one another.
How do we initially separate false teachers from true teachers?  Look for humility.  How are we to be pleasing to God as Christians?  Service to one another…

Resources Used:

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by MacArthur

Matthew by France

Matthew by Morris

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