If there are words Jesus spoke that we have ignored more in Western Christianity than Matthew 23, I would have no idea what they would be. Every day in almost every Christian institution we live as if he never said these words or at least didn’t mean them.
Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates.
Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. (Matthew 23:4-12 The Message)
Can you imagine what the church of Jesus Christ would like like in the world today if we had just followed these incredibly simple instructions? But we didn’t and instead created another religious system that exists as if Jesus was never here and if he didn’t die on a cross to change the entire relationship between shame-based humanity and the Father who loves us. Our institutions today and those who seek to lead them still violate all that Jesus warned the leaders about in his day not to do.
We still package the life of Jesus as a set of rules and expectations and demand people conform. Our so-called religious leaders still fight for celebrity, take the place of priority among the family, and encourage other people to be dependent on them rather than God himself. We create an endless set of titles to maintain the illusion that those who want to lead us are not simply brothers and sisters in a growing family. And our failure to heed Jesus’s words not only horribly disfigures the bride of Christ but it also keeps people from finding the courage and freedom to find their life in him and to follow him as he leads them!
And it isn’t just the fault of those who set themselves up as experts in the life of Jesus, but those who seek out such experts to tell them what to do, rather than to learn to listen to and follow Jesus as he makes himself known to them.
And your expert doesn’t have to be a pastor, it can also be a popular speaker, author, or podcaster. There are no experts, only brothers and sisters who serve you well only to the degree that they encourage your own relationship with the Father, rather than make you increasingly dependent on themselves. And those who seek the spotlight don’t really have a clue who he is.
Do you realize all that has been twisted in our Christian institutions would unravel if we only followed the simple things Jesus told us to do?
Why don’t we?