Summary: Jesus teaches three ways NOT to go after self-worth, and then concludes with the only truly lasting and meaningful way to find one's worth. Not only that, but he models that true way for us.
The Source of Self-worth
Do you ever wonder why some people are such jerks? Sometimes people can be so cruel to others! And yet, behind the facade of the bully lies a deep insecurity, a fear of rejection.
Our bookstores are full of books about self-worth. I did a quick search on Amazon and came up with over 7,000 titles. There’s even a coloring book for adults to improve confidence and self-worth. I’m thinking of buying it. No, not really. Maybe the Bible has something to say about where we get our self-worth.
In today’s scripture, Jesus addresses the crowd, along with his 12 disciples, and he says where NOT to get your self-worth, and then where to GET your self-worth. He begins with three sources that will not work in the long run. First, he says ...
1. Don’t live hypocritically.
He says, in verses 2 and 3, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But DO NOT DO WHAT THEY DO, for they do not practice what they preach.” In other words, “Do what I say, not what I do.” If only that worked in parenting! But it doesn’t. Kids see right through it, and Jesus saw right through these religious leaders’ hypocritical lifestyles. When he says, “They sit in Moses’ seat,” he is referring to the seat of honor in the Synagogue, right up next to the sacred scrolls. It conveys authority, as they carry on the teachings of the great prophet Moses. It’s kind of like a university professor in an endowed chair. Jesus says, “These guys TEACH accurately; they just don’t LIVE accurately.”
James 1:22-25 talks about this when it says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. DO WHAT IT SAYS. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
I just finished a John Grisham novel where three drop-out law students pretended to be licensed lawyers. For a while all went well, but eventually the truth caught up to them. You can pretend to be somebody you’re not, but someone at some point will see through it. Don’t act. It’s not worth it. You may puff up your pride temporarily, but when you’re found out, it will hurt in the end. So don’t live hypocritically, and ...
2. Don’t put others down.
Jesus talks more about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in verse 4. He says, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Jesus is not talking about physical loads here. He’s talking about the mental, emotional, and spiritual load of legalism, of expecting someone to be perfect, to always get it right, and then publicly condemning them when they don’t. The Pharisees pretended to be perfect and they loaded up their followers with unrealistic expectations. There was no room for failure. People were busy following rules that they never had time for a relationship with God. And their religious leaders showed them no compassion.
Now we all do this to some degree. Each of us has our own set of unspoken rules, what God approves of and what God disapproves of, and we forget that Christianity is about relationship more than rules. We think, “If you act this way and do this, then God will love you more.” When the truth is, God already loves you completely! Nothing will add to or take away from that already perfect love he has for you. As a “recovering Baptist,” I was raised with the unofficial creed: “I will never smoke, drink, or chew, or kiss the girls who do.” That’s pretty good advice ... but not really. It misses out on grace. Do you know why Baptists are against pre-marital sex? Because it might lead to dancing! I told you before, we couldn’t dance, growing up. It was never written down anywhere. It was just an unspoken rule, that Baptists don’t dance. You might wiggle just a little, but only in worship. That’s called the “Baptist bump.” In my small town growing up, if the teens wanted to dance, we had to walk down the block to the Methodist church, because they had all the fun. And so we did. Rules, rules, rules. We all have them.
And we like to impose our rules on others. Have you noticed that the things you judge others on sometimes trace back to your own insecurities? We think that putting others down will make us feel better about ourselves. Don’t do it! That is NOT healthy self-esteem.