READ: Matthew 23:1-39
THINK: Do you ever catch yourself doing things simply to please or impress other people? While it's appropriate to follow reasonable rules and submit to proper authorities, Jesus strictly warns His followers not to seek popularity and positions. People who are more concerned about appearances than character are easily deceived and end up missing what's really important (see 23:28 note). In this passage, Jesus may come across as harsh on those who are not what they appear to be. Yet He is motivated by sincere compassion (vv. 37-38) for those who may be influenced by insincere and hypocritical people.
RESPOND: What kind of problems can come on a person who constantly seeks recognition or affirmation from others? In what ways can exalting yourself lead to humiliation (v. 12)? How can being humble lead to honor? Why is it so important for those who claim to know God and follow Christ to "practice what they preach" (v. 3) and to live what they believe? Why is Jesus so blunt with people--particularly leaders whose behavior is inconsistent with their beliefs and who make it difficult for others to follow God? What is a hypocrite, and what harm can such a person do the cause of Christ? (See 23:13 note.)
PRAY: Ask God to help you live in a way that is consistent with your faith in Christ. Pray for discernment to recognize and avoid hypocrisy. Ask God to help you resist the temptation to seek popularity or recognition and to eliminate any inconsistency in your life that could distract others from accepting and following Christ.
ACT: Examine your life to determine if there is any way in which you are being hypocritical and are at risk of misleading others spiritually by your example. Ask God to forgive you, then determine to make a distinct change so that your behavior matches your belief.
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