Woe or Wow #3
I would not blame you if you didn’t remember last year’s Golden Globe award show. After all, there seems to be an endless amount of these awards and the tiresome opportunities they provide for these Hollywood hypocrites to congratulate one another and to show off their worldly success.
However, something noteworthy did happen at the January 6, 2020 Golden Globe awards. Host Ricky Gervais cautioned the celebrities present to avoid making political speeches. He said, “No one cares about movies anymore. If you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world.”
Unfortunately, some of the award recipients reused to heed Gervais. Some of the award recipients used their moment in the spotlight to advocate for their pet causes.
This case in point is evidence for the fact that hypocrisy is practiced in all places and times, not just in religious circles. These celebrities advocate for climate change on TV, but after the cameras stop rolling, step into their expensive gas-guzzling vehicles or fly away in their private jets. I pray that very soon popular culture will get over making idols of entertainers and athletes, hanging on the opinions of people whose achievements do not qualify them to inflict their views on the rest of us.
Hypocrisy exists wherever people say one thing but do one thing another. As we will see in the fourth and fifth woes from Matthew 23, a tendency to obsess over trivia but neglect more serious matters is a way that hypocrisy may be detected. Hypocrites choose trivia because it easier to achieve and still gives the appearance of being good.
There are at least two problems with obsessing over trivia. One, appearances are not the same as substance. Substance beats style each and every time. Two, salvation is not achieved by good works anyway. This means legalists are twice condemned.
Salvation is by faith, not by works.
1. Matthew 23:23-26 = Woe to the Legalists.
Woe #4 is pronounced on hypocrites who are mindful of trivia while ignoring the essentials. (23-24) Among the experts on the Jewish law at that time, there was a lively debate about how far one was to take the practice of tithing. The very legalistic folks - like the Teachers of the Law and Pharisees -believed everything of value had to be tithed. This is why they gave a tenth of herbs and spices to the temple.
Jesus did not condemn the practice of tithing nor does the New Covenant relieve believers of the responsibility of tithing. What He condemned here was the mistaken belief that super-scrupulous attention to trivia like SPICES somehow made up for completely ignoring the virtues of JUSTICE, MERCY, AND FAITHFULNESS.
The Pharisees’ practice went way beyond the command given in Deuteronomy 14:22-23, which simply states, BE SURE TO SET ASIDE A TENTH OF ALL THAT YOUR FIELDS PRODUCE EACH YEAR. EAT THE TITHE OF YOUR GRAIN, NEW WINE AND OIL, AND THE FIRSTBORN OF YOUR HERDS AND FLOCKS IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD YOUR GOD AT THE PLACE HE WILL CHOOSE, SO THAT YOU WILL LEARN TO REVERE THE LORD YOUR GOD ALWAYS. The primary purpose of the tithe was to show reverence for God. All other purposes are secondary, at best. The most scriptural approach to tithing is to pick a percentage and stick with it.
Though they appeared, on the surface, to be very pious, the hypocrites were guilty of making up their own standards, picking and choosing when they would be obedient. To their detriment and danger, they thought they were really scoring “brownie points” with God.
A similarly picky practice was to strain GNATS out of their water to avoid eating an “unclean” insect. Jesus made a play on words here as the words for GNAT and CAMEL sound similar and they are both “unclean;” unfit for food.
In verse 24 He called them BLIND GUIDES, another word picture. In Luke 6:39 Jesus spoke of the danger of being guided by a blind person. He charged them with spiritual blindness four times in this chapter.
Woe #5 was pronounced on hypocrites who are mindful of status while ignoring character. (25-26) The obvious aspect of hypocrisy is attention to appearances, effort put into superficiality with little or no attention paid to one’s character oir inner life.
Pious Jews were especially clean people; the Law called for hand washings at various times and cleanliness in all aspects of daily life. They had developed rituals for all of it. This emphasis on cleanliness is so thorough that when one was spiritually out of sorts or physically ill, they were said to be “unclean.”
The fifth woe came out of the fourth as Jesus used their insistence on cleanliness to illustrate how they’d become experts at trivial matters while remaining novices at what was really important. Logically, the inside of a cup or bowl is what most needs to be the clean as this is where the drink and food will be. If there is any chance of contamination, it will come from the inside or the rim.
As this metaphor illustrated, their hypocrisy was illogical; they cleaned the outside of the cup but left the inside dirty. Of the two, the least important surface is the outside one.
The outside of a person is the easiest to be made to appear “clean” (righteous), but the Lord is not deceived by appearances, so we are to give more attention and do the hard work of cleaning our “insides.” On the outside, the Pharisees and teachers of the law looked like all kinds of righteous, but Jesus knew their hearts and He exposed them as being full of GREED AND SELF-INDULGENCE (see also James 5:1-6). The verse could be translated as FULL from GREED AND SELF-INDULGENCE, meaning they’d taken goo care of themselves to the detriment of others. Jesus advised them to “FIRST CLEAN THE INSIDE OF THE CUP AND DISH, AND THEN THE OUTSIDE WILL BE CLEAN.”
Our priority must be on having an authentic inner life. If we truly love God and people as commanded, then the rest of the life of faith will more or less take care of itself. This priority is reflected in Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:33, “SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND ALL THESE THINGS WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU.”
2. Galatians 3:19-25 = Blessed are Those who are Saved by Faith.
Galatians is all about the relation of the Law to every Christian. The Law has a function, but it is not salvation. (19-22) “The LAW” refers to the legal code given to Moses in the Pentateuch.
The LAW does not oppose God’s promises of salvation, but neither does it fulfill them. It was never meant to be anything more than a limited, temporary measure until the Mediator arrived. According to verses. 19-20, God’s PURPOSE in giving the LAW was to serve as a MEDIATOR between sinful human beings and our holy God.
The LAW WAS ADDED BECAUSE OF TRANSGRESSIONS. Because Adam sinned, immediate relationship between God and man was no longer possible. Our holy God will not compromise His holiness to allow the presence of sinful man.
Here’s what the Law added:
- Definition of sin (3:20; 4:5).
- Just penalty for sin (RMS 6:23).
- Means of obtaining forgiveness for sin (2:20).
The Law was to be in force UNTIL THE SEED TO WHOM THE PROMISE REFERRED HAD COME. THE SEED is Jesus Christ. The means by which the LAW was given was THROUGH ANGELS BY A MEDIATOR. That was Moses, the subsequent Mediator was Jesus Christ.
Paul contrasted the Law with the PROMISES OF GOD. The PROMISES were given to restore what Adam lost; fellowship with God and eternal life; to IMPART LIFE (21). Had the LAW been given to IMPART LIFE, then a person could achieve RIGHTEOUSNESS by keeping it.
All of this is NOT Paul’s way of saying the Law is bad; it was sufficient for the day but never intended to be the final solution. The truth is that all people are prisoners of sin (22), only set free THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
Paul wants to answer critics that his theology sets the life-imparting PROMISES against the LAW. That’s ridiculous; God gave both the PROMISES and the LAW and He will not contradict Himself.
God started making PROMISES in Genesis 3 when He kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. He immediately started creating a people for Himself when he singled out Abram and told him to leave town to pursue a second career.
Then He called His people out of slavery in Egypt, He gave them a charter, the LAW. His ultimate PURPOSE was not achieved in that people, so the LAW was meant to last only until the Son of Promise came into His own. Jesus fulfilled all God’s promises and imparted LIFE to people of all nations; anyone who will receive Him as Lord and Savior. The one promise that remains to be filled is His promise to come again. Any day now, that one will be completed too.
FAITH is not something we earn or create; it is God’s gift to us. In verse 22 Paul wrote WHAT WAS PROMISED was GIVEN THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST…GIVEN TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE. We can add a fourth purpose to the Law; to put us in our place. We are to stop the foolishness of thinking we can make ourselves worthy. The LAW shows us exactly how far we have FALLEN SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD (Romans 3:23).
Salvation is by faith which relieves us of our obligation to the Law. (23-25) SIN made prisoners of all people; the LAW made PRISONERS of those who tried to keep it.
Verse 22 makes it plain that FAITH has set us free from SIN. By faith we gain the knowledge and spiritual power to overcome sin.
Verse 23 makes it plain that FAITH has set us free from the LAW. We are no longer bound to keeping the letter of the LAW.
The LAW was given to LEAD US TO CHRIST so that in Him WE MIGHT BE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH. Here is a fifth purpose of the LAW; TO LEAD US TO CHRIST. We have to learn that our own power to do good is doomed to failure. As Jesus observed, only sinners need a Savior (Matthew 9:12). As we cannot justify ourselves, we need FAITH in Jesus to be JUSTIFIED in God’s eyes.
The word translated IN CHARGE literally means “child-custodian” or “child-attendant.” It pictures a nanny hired by a wealthy family. This person had charge of the child and was responsible for its behavior until the child turned sixteen. To be relieved of the LAW is pictured as coming of age; no longer needing a nanny.
By FAITH we no longer need to be supervised by the LAW (25). We need to show some discernment here, acknowledging the difference between the letter and the spirit of the LAW. The letter of the LAW includes the civil, religious, and cultural regulations of the Old Testament. Behind the letters is the spirit of the LAW, the moral principles summed up in the Greatest Commandments and the Golden Rule. The New Testament develops the virtues created by the spirit of the Law, all of them reflections of the character and spirit of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is by faith, not by works.
In my filing cabinet, this message is number 1776. With that number, the message should be about freedom. In a way, it is. Jesus became the Mediator to set us free from slavery to sin and to relieve us of the burden of keeping the LAW. He is the ultimate Emancipator. True freedom is something only He can give.
The first question about freedom is do I have it or not? Do I truly and completely rely on God or do I act as if I can in any way earn my place in Christ? Have I in any way submitted to human rules that have no origin in the mind of God?
The second question about freedom is what am I doing with it? One of the things you have to do with freedom is protect it. To use you for their own gains, people will try to take your freedom or fool you into giving it up. Be vigilant.
The other thing we have to do is exercise our freedom responsibly. For believers, this means that freedom is not liberty to do whatever we please. Freedom is doing all God wants you to do and all that love requires of you.
Interpretation, Matthew, Douglas R.A. Hare
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 10, Galatians, James Montgomery Boice