Daily Word

Advertising piety| Matthew 23:1-7

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. [ a ] 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. [ b ] 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi. ’[ c ]

Matthew 23:1-7 (NLT)

Pharisees silenced

In the past passages in chapter 22, Jesus silenced the religious leaders. Now Jesus turns to the crowds and His disciples to warn them about the religious leaders: they are in positions of authority but are hypocrites. 

Do as they say…

First He tells them to do as they say…but not as they do. Why would He tell them to listen to them at all? Well, they are fulfilling a God-ordained role as religious leaders and teachers of the Law of Moses (the 10 commandments, etc). So the laws they give to obey should be obeyed. However, He instructs them to not do as they do. Why? Because they are hypocrites. They don’t “practice what they preach.” Regarding verse 4, “The scribes and Pharisees were bad examples because they expected more of others than they did of themselves.” (enduringword.com)

The unbearable religious demands were loads and loads of laws and rules. For example, God commands to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. But how? The Jews need to describe what is considered work. So they came up with a list that is even used to this day! If anything, these added rules and prohibitions served to prove that no one can be saved by works of the law (Galatians 2:16).

Advertising piety

These guys were very religious and made every effort to let the general public (and other religious leaders) know it. What Jesus describes here seems like they are advertising their piety. They would display with their clothing how religious they were. They put giant prayer boxes (phylacteries) on their arms and heads. And put extra long tassels on their robes which made their piety obvious to others. And  of course they’d sit at the seat of honor and expect respectful greetings to build their pride.


  • As with any time we talk about the Pharisees and other religious leaders, we need to be careful not to be too quick to judge. Let’s use Jesus’ exposure of them to examine our own lives. Do the things we preach and teach, the things we understand from the Word, line up with our speech and behavior? For example, how do we handle this command: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Eph 4:29 NLT).
Phylacteries. Image from ahdictionary.com *

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