Posted in Worldview Analysis

Respecting the Office and Not the Madman Who Sits Upon the Throne

“…so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matt 23.3; ESV).

What is Jesus saying here? In verse 2 he says that “the scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” (Matt 23.2). What does that mean? Jesus is highlighting the fact that the positions that they hold are positions of authority. The seat of Moses was founded upon the Law-Word of God. Moses’ authority, like all other spheres of authority, was not personally established, but divinely ordained. God instituted the authority that Moses had as a prophet and a judge. As a prophet, Moses spoke the truth to the people as God had revealed it. As a judge, Moses discerned the rightness or wrongness of an action committed by (or to) a person in light of that revealed truth. The people were to listen to Moses’ word and judgment because He spoke in the place of God. In other words, Moses was God’s representative to the people.

A Similar Position…

This being the case, Jesus says of the Pharisees and scribes—those who had the Law-Word of God and were established as teachers in Israel—that they share the same role of authority. They represented God to the people. They like Moses were to speak the truth of God and to make life decisions (judgments based on right and wrong) in light of God’s Word. Therefore, Jesus says to the people gathered before them to “do and observe whatever they tell you…” (Matt 23.3).

Pay Attention…

Now this is where things get a bit tricky. Jesus tells the people to listen to them, to do what they say. Whatever they say? No, whatever they say in light of God’s Word insofar as it is consistent with biblical thought. For Jesus adds a little caveat at the end of his statement to “do and observe whatever they tell you [to do], but not the works they do” (Matt 23.3; italics mine). Why add this? If their authority was similar to that of Moses, then why would Jesus add an exception? The short answer is that the Pharisees and scribes were hypocrites. They were double-minded.

Derived not Innate…

This is normally where the conversation goes and stays. However, I want to highlight something else. Their authority is a derived authority, not an innate authority. That is to say, their authority does not come from themselves, but is vested to them by someone else. This is true of all authorities and governing spheres of influence. They have authority granted, but not authority in and of themselves.

Conditional Authority…

This is of paramount importance. Why? Because the moment that an authority tries to deviate from the source that grants (gives) it authority, that authority is lost. An authority without a standard or foundation is in essence no authority at all.

The people are to “do and observe whatever they tell you” in light of Scripture, but not just because they told you to do so. Such authorities are not granted divine fiat. Only God has that sort of authority. He has that authority because He alone is the true standard of right and wrong. He does not command that which is arbitrary, but He commands that which reflects His holiness. God is righteous because He never deviates from His holy standard.

Conditional Obedience…

All other standards therefore are derived from God and not the whims of any creature (created thing). When the Pharisees and scribes spoke truly in light of God’s Law-Word, then they were to be obeyed. When they went beyond what was written—either by adding to or taking from the instruction that the Lord had given—they were no longer to be obeyed. To obey them at that point would be to violate God’s rule. If He is the one that establishes every authority (cf. Rom 13.1-2; 1Pet 2.13-15), then an authority that seeks to establish its own rule of law in opposition to what God has spoken (what is written) is acting as rebel tyrant.

**It is the office that one is called to respect, not the whims of every madman that sits upon the throne.**

Such truths are sorely needed in our day. For there is a great number of those who bear the Name of the Lord, who seek to bow to every governing authority on the mere premise that they are a governing authority. But we must first realize to whom they owe their exercise of power before we follow their various edicts. Secondly, we must allow prudence to guide our hearts. We need to discern not only the source of the law being touted, but also the motivations behind it (or them).

We must ask who is being elevated by this command, and who is being brought low. Ultimately, if a law is to have any merit it must satisfy the demands of the Law-giver: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength; also, love your neighbor as yourself” (ref to: Luke 10.27). This holds true even if the true reasoning behind the law is forgotten by the person who establishes and seeks to enforce it.

More on this topic in upcoming posts…

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