By David Faust
They looked sharp. They dressed well. Crowds greeted them with respect. Their names appeared on the guest lists for swanky gatherings where fussy hosts seated them at the head table. They were known as men of prayer. But Jesus considered them dangerous.
“Beware of the teachers of the law,” the Lord said (Luke 20:46). Also known as Scribes, these teachers copied God’s Word by hand, in the process becoming well versed in the Scriptures. Ezra, for example, was a good Scribe who “had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). By Jesus’ day, however, the Scribes had devolved into smug, sanctimonious protectors of manmade traditions, collaborating with the Pharisees to impose religious rules on God’s people.
A skilled chef can show you how to prepare a meal; but you also can learn from a bad cook because he exemplifies what not to do. You can become a better public speaker by listening to great orators; but a terrible speaker can be your teacher too because he illustrates the mistakes to avoid. You will gain wisdom by rubbing shoulders with mature, godly people; but you also will grow wiser by learning to recognize character flaws and religious hypocrisy.
The Scribes were spiritual abusers. They teach us what to avoid in our personal lives, and they demonstrate qualities we should recognize and guard against when choosing a partner to marry or a spiritual leader to follow.
They were overly concerned about outward appearances. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” Jesus observed (Luke 20:46). Common laborers wore simple garments, so the Scribes’ robes marked them as men of leisure and distinction. There’s nothing wrong with dressing neatly and attractively, but outward appearance can’t measure the true condition of a person’s heart.
They were preoccupied with status symbols. Jesus said they “love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets” (v. 46). Special greetings and seatings stroked their fragile egos.
They took advantage of the weak. Jesus unmasked their cutthroat practices. “They devour widows’ houses” (v. 47), misusing their influence and exploiting widows they should have assisted and protected. To gauge a person’s character, watch how he treats the poor, the defenseless, and the vulnerable. Watch how he treats children and the elderly. Note how he interacts with servers in restaurants or others he perceives as lower than he is on the social totem pole. God’s Word admonishes, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16).
They engaged in false piety. It’s good to pray, but these men offered “lengthy prayers”—not because they were pouring their hearts out to God, but “for a show” (Luke 20:47). Fancy public prayers sound hollow when they mask private sins.
Christ calls us not only to believe, but also to beware. A faithful disciple is a discerning disciple.
Avoid spiritual abusers who masquerade as righteous while they are inwardly corrupt. Beware of religious authorities who manipulate, shame, control, and dominate others for personal gain. Watch out for leaders who betray trust, distort grace, and weigh their followers down with religious rules nowhere found in the Word of God. “These men will be punished most severely,” Jesus warned (v. 47).
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for September 1, 2013
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Esther 5, 6
Esther 7, 8
Esther 9, 10
Isaiah 1, 2