Expository Sermon on Matthew 23:1-12 | Beware of Hypocrites


Beware of Hypocrites (Matthew 23:1-12)

If we see a “Beware of Dog” sign in front of a home, we know to stay away.

Here, in this morning’s text, Jesus gives us a “Beware of False Teachers” sign.

Jesus had just silenced the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 22:34-46). A lawyer had just asked Jesus about the most important commandment—Our Lord responded appropriately. Then, Jesus had asked the Pharisees how the Messiah could be both David’s Son and Lord—No one dared to ask Jesus a question again.

While a crowd was around, Jesus began to warn against the Pharisees.

They Talk the Talk, vv 1-4

Jesus spoke to the multitudes. This occurred the Tuesday before the Lord was crucified. Jesus, knowing his earthly minister was near its end, wanted to warn the people against these evil teachers.

The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. When the scribes and Pharisees would read from the Law in the synagogue, they would stand. However, when they explained the Law, they would sit. Sitting in Moses’ seat would mean they were teaching the Law.

The disciples were to practice what the scribes and Pharisees told them. The problem with the scribes and pharisees didn’t concern what they taught; they were actively teaching the truth. The problem was that the scribes and Pharisees did not practice what they taught.

Just because these teachers did not practice what they taught did not excuse the disciples from following their teaching. Even if we have teachers who don’t practice what they teach, we still need to obey truth. Truth is truth regardless of where we learned it.

The scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites; they did not do what they taught. Those who teach must practice what they teach.

Individual Christians need to practice what they know is the truth. They can’t point fingers at those who do wrong if they themselves are doing wrong. Some Jews were teaching one thing and doing another (Rom 2:21-22). We need to have the plank out of our own eye before we help get the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-4).

The scribes and Pharisees bound heavy burdens for men to bear. This refers to the traditions they placed upon the Law. The image of laying on heavy burdens come from loading camels. Burdens were packed in bundles and then placed upon the camels. Just as some put burdens on camels, these teachers were putting burdens on their students.

The scribes and Pharisees weren’t concerned with keeping these traditions themselves—they would not lift the burden.

We need teachers who practice what they teach. “The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1)—Jesus did before he taught. “He preaches well that lives well” (Cervantes, Don Quixote).

Are you living in according with the truth?

They Act the Part, vv 5-7

The scribes and Pharisees did their works to be seen by men. These folks were more concerned with how they looked to man instead of God. Jesus told us to do our works before men that God might be glorified (Matt 5:16).

They wore clothing to be seen by men.

  • They wore broad phylacteries. These were small leather boxes which contained Scripture. They wanted everyone to think they were really religious.
  • They enlarged the borders of their garments. They added tassels to their clothing to remind them to keep the Law (Deut 22:12). They made their tassels extra long so that people would notice them.

They loved honor.

  • They loved the best places at feasts. The place on the right hand of the hosts was reserved for the guest of honor. The Pharisees wanted to be the guest of honor.
  • They loved the best seats in the synagogue. These seats were in the prominent places—they were in front where everyone could see them. The scribes and Pharisees wanted these seats so that they would be seen by others.

They wanted titles of honor. They loved to be greeted in the marketplace. They loved to be called “Rabbi.” “Rabbi” was a title of honor given to the doctors of the Jewish law. The term comes from a Semitic root meaning “great” or “head” and means “my great one.” Rabbis were considered the elite.

We should not be folks who love honor—“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit” (Phil 2:3).

Are you serving your own interests?

They Wear the Title, vv 8-12

These scribes and Pharisees loved receiving honor from men, but Jesus said

  • We should call no man “Rabbi,” for he is our teacher. Calling a man “Rabbi” would take honor from Christ and give it to man. We must see that we never give God’s glory to man.
  • We are all brethren. There isn’t a hierarchy where certain men are more important than others.
  • We must call no man “Father”. God is the universal Father.
  • We must call no man “Teacher”. Christ is our teacher.

These scribes and Pharisees pointed to themselves instead of to Christ.

We can be guilty of doing exactly the same thing. “No one can teach VBS as well as I.” “No one can lead singing quite like I.” “No one can pray as nice prayer as I.”

We need to concern ourselves with glorifying the Lord and not ourselves.


The scribes and Pharisees strove for greatness.

Yet, greatness does not come in being seen by men—Greatness comes from serving.

God will bring low those who exalt themselves, but he will honor those who humble themselves.

Are you in the kingdom? Are you serving?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Owingsville church of Christ in Owingsville, Kentucky.

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