“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.” — Luke 11.43This week, we are continuing our study of Jesus’ woes to the religious leadership of His day and the religious environment they had created. We are going to be looking at Verse 43 of Chapter 11 of Luke’s gospel. However, in order to fully understand the full impact of Jesus’ rebuke, we need to understand another statement by Jesus said elsewhere about the nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish.
“And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22.24-27)
As followers of Jesus and this new kingdom, we are called not to a position of feeling superior to others, but rather of coming under, loving, serving and blessing all with whom we come in contact.
A sign of a healthy “kingdom” environment is first and foremost humility, or a sense of “all ye are brethren” (or sisters) spirit. No one is better than another. If anything, others are considered greater than oneself. There is a spirit of equality and humility and simply a desire to help and bless each other. The ground at the foot of the cross is level—perfectly level. Furthermore, no one has any right to be a “lord” over anyone else. Again, we are all called to come under each other and to serve and to love one another.
This may not be very apparent, but this is so central to the kingdom Jesus came to establish. No one is supposed to feel superior to anyone else. Sadly, this is the single greatest criticism against Christians in our culture today. The term or title given us is hypocritical, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that it’s more than simply holding high a standard that no one is actually practicing (the common cultural definition of hypocrisy.) What is meant by most by the term “hypocrisy” in our culture is that someone possesses a feeling of moral superiority to others, especially those outside the church, which is a fundamental violation of the basic principles of love and acceptance that Christ’s kingdom is to espouse. This lack of humility, this feeling of moral superiority—as if we are better than others, even those who are not Christians—indicates we truly are not walking in harmony with the basic principles of the very kingdom of which we claim to be a part.
In this passage specifically, Jesus is addressing a religious environment where things were very unhealthy, even toxic. Listen closely to what Jesus is actually saying here.
You love being a leader. You love everyone knowing you’re a leader. You love obtaining those privileged positions when you go to church. Or, you need everyone to know that you are a leader. Whatever you position of leadership is, you are not using that position to serve, but to feed something inside yourself. You love recognition and the prestige of your position. You feed off of the congregation rather than feeding, serving, and giving of yourself TO the congregation. You place inordinate stress on your position. You tend to demand rather than earn others’ respect. You also demand compliance with your own opinions, rather than giving freedom to people to grow or simply to disagree. It’s sick, sick, sick. Again, look closely:
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.” (Luke 20.46)
“They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues.” (Matthew 23.6)
Jesus is saying here, “Don’t go sitting in the privileged seats of honor. Serve instead of being served.” Jesus turns dysfunctional religious environments on their heads. He is saying, “I don’t what anyone being put up on a pedestal in My kingdom. That’s NOT what My kingdom is about.” Respect is one thing, and respect is fine, but there are to be no celebrities in the kingdom of God. Leaders in the kingdom established by Jesus are to take measures to make sure that other people don’t put them up on a pedestal.
Because all of this presupposes and communicates to others a completely inaccurate picture of God and the kind of being He really is. God is god, not because He is the most powerful entity in the sense of might and “power over” strength. God is god because out of everyone in the universe, He serves all. He is the most powerful in His ability to come under all and serve all. His might is in His ability to love, bless and care for everyone. His strength is in His complete other-centeredness.
Secondly, God bestows value and worth to people NOT based on their labels, titles, positions, race, color, or gender. He loves all individuals equally, unconditionally, and esteems each one, as being of enough worth to risk heaven and even His own existence on. He died for all. Yes, some may be more talented than others, or more gifted, but all talents, gifts and abilities—whether used for good or bad—are talents given by God. (I wish we had time to discuss how this affects our view of the arts, as well as what I call the Hollywood syndrome in our culture today, but I believe first we must address this same attitude in our religious communities before we can change the world around us).
A central element of any environment that truly embraces the kingdom is humility, rather than superiority. Again, if anything, we must go even beyond equality and consider others as being better than ourselves. Notice how the Apostle Paul applied what Christ’s kingdom is all about in the following passage:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2.1-4)
Again, note Paul’s complete lack of any feeling of superiority in his letter to Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”f (1 Timothy 1.15 )
This is not hypocrisy. It’s honesty, and it’s humility.
Again, Jesus’s own words to those who felt morally superior to others in His day.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.” (Luke 6.41-42)
Jesus is calling each of us to be a part of a kingdom where we ALL serve in different roles, but we are ALL serving and, as the ones God came and died for, we are ALL equal, regardless of gender, race, position, or belief.
Let me close this week with the words of the Apostle John.
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3.14)
If you have ever been offended by someone who claims to follow Jesus because of an air of superiority he or she possessed, let me apologize. This is not what Jesus is all about, and I’m deeply sorry.
May each of you not covet position, title, recognition or privilege, but rather, in light of God’s love for us all, begin ascribing to others the infinite worth that Calvary gives them. May we, as followers of Jesus, be known not as hypocrites, but as those whose chief desire is to help, bless, serve and simply love others.
Keep living in love, my friends, and loving like Christ. Thank you for reading this and for your support of Renewed Heart Ministries.
I love you guys—keep building the Kingdom.