Summary: Be humble Be a servant

“Be Humble or Stumble”

(Borrowed from a quote by Rick Warren)

Matthew 23:1-12

Three more quotes and we’ll move on:

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“Swallow your pride occasionally, it’s non-fattening” ~ Anonymous

: There are two circumstances that lead to arrogance: one is when you’re wrong and you can’t face it; the other is when you’re right and nobody else can face it.” ~ Criss Jami, Diotima, Battery, Electric Personality.


As we read and contemplate this passage, it is best to understand that this is nearing the very end of Christ’s ministry here on earth. It seems to me that He is being very straight forward and even blunt so as to leave little doubt in his words. Jesus is speaking to whom? The multitudes and His disciples! (Shall we just add right here – You and Me).

Jesus starts out by drawing attention to the custom of the scribes and Pharisees of “sitting in Moses’ seat” v-2. In other words, they sought the best seats in the house so as to be seen as “the greatest or most important”. (I call that the Muhammed Ali Syndrome). Next Jesus says to observe and do what these leaders are telling you to. He followed by saying, do not do what they do because they practice that well known attitude of “Do as I say, not as I do.” They teach and say according to the law, but they do according to what they doggone well please. Whatever they do is to seek praise and admiration from others, not to serve God. They want to be seen doing or taking the credit for good works but not so much for the actual deeds.

Wanting to be seen! That always reminds me of my good friend Pastor Steve McCoy formerly senior pastor of Beaches Chapel Church in Neptune Beach, Florida. Steve shared in a Sunday message about being on a retreat somewhere and everyone was assigned work tasks. Steve wound up cleaning the bathrooms. He went at it with gusto, scrubbing, cleaning and polishing. He said, “I kept right on working but I was also looking around, waiting for someone to come by and see me working so hard.” No one ever did. I was so impressed that he shared that experience because it required of him some humility to publicly profess that to his church.

They make their phylacteries broad. Do you know what a phylactery is? The phylactery is a little leather box that notes, and copies of Scripture are carried in to safeguard them. The little box is tied to the forehead or to the arm. The first instance of this that I find is in Exodus 13:9-10 where the purpose is to be a constant reminder of coming out of Egypt from slavery and reminder of the ordinance prohibiting leavening. We find more in Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18. The instruction is to guard the words in heart and soul and bind them as frontlets between the eyes. It was and in some very Orthodox Judaism traditions is today a practice to guard certain important Scripture.

We talk about memorizing Scripture and guarding Scripture in our hearts in modern days which is not a far cry from the practice of using a “safe or guard box” to keep certain Scripture at hand. The BIG difference is that we should keep the Scripture in our heart and soul or even in some notes that we might carry with us for reference but NOT for display or an effort to impress anyone.

These leaders among the Pharisees can be viewed as enforcers of the law but not as of the law. That’s kind of like what I mean when you hear me say, I prefer participators in the church more than spectators.

I don’t know very many leaders who don’t have a little bit of that ego that cries out to be recognized. I know that when I was called to a church up in Vermont, I had just recently earned my doctorate and had cards printed with that title, quickly added it to my resume, etc. You’ll find degrees, certificates, medals, etc. on the walls of my office. When I arrived in Vermont, I was immediately addressed by my first name and that never changed. No titles at all and not just me but when I went to the doctor, dentist veterinarian and so on that is the culture where I was. At first, I was a bit set back and quickly humbled. It didn’t take long before I began to feel very comfortable being Howard and maybe occasionally Pastor Howard.

During our years in the Dominican Republic, it was very much the same. I was “Leo” to everyone, in the church and in the streets. They couldn’t pronounce Howard, so they adopted my middle name Lee and used the Spanish equivalent. I did not escape the “big head” however because I became known by so many. Whether in the small barrios (poor villages), in town, at the hospital, pharmacy, government offices, etc. from out of nowhere, “Hola Leo, dios te bendiga!” – Hey Leo, God bless you. Many times, I didn’t even get to see who greeted me in passing and other times had no idea at all who it was that was right in front of me with those words. I guess that’s why part of my heart lingers yet down there after all of these years.

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