Scripture Reading:

Matthew 23:1-15

“You must be careful to do everything [the teachers of the law] tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

Matthew 23:3

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were the leading citizens among the Jews. They knew what God’s law said, and they could tell people how to apply it. But they were hypocrites. They added their own laws on top of God’s laws, thinking that would “protect” the law of God from being disobeyed. But in doing so, they violated the spirit of the law, which is love.

Christians can do the same as the Pharisees if they add their own social standards to God’s law. “Surely a Christian would never listen to that kind of ­music, or wear those clothes, or dance, or . . .” We might think we are being especially zealous for the law of God by adding such restrictions. But God desires love, not legalistic additions to his law.

Following human standards while ignoring God’s call to love can lead to terrible results. It has led to racism: “We just followed the rules of apartheid!” It has led to sexism: “She should have known better than to wear that.” It has lead to nationalism: “We were just following our leaders’ orders.”

Such hypocrisy will condemn us on the day of judgment. Laws that do not aim at love for all people are not God’s laws. The Ruler of heaven and earth is not fooled by distorted rule-following.

Father, forgive us when we set up false standards. Forgive us if we have judged others unlovingly. Help us to love everyone as you do. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

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