If I were a certain being, hell-bent on maiming the mission of the church, I would try to do three things (among others): I’d get the church to ignore the practical needs of humanity, I’d cause church members to have hard feelings one against another, and I’d make religion feel like a good idea on paper that doesn’t translate well in real life. In other words, I’d try to fill the church as full of hypocrites as I possibly could.

I’d want them in the pews. I’d want them in the pulpit. I’d especially want them in leadership roles. Then I’d watch the church slowly rip itself apart. Any progress the church could make toward its mission would be severely diminished by a selfish mixture of pride and ambition—and that’s what I’m driving at. Unhealthy ambition exists like an ugly blight on the church; the kind that makes us yearn to establish ourselves higher than our brothers and sisters any way we can, all while claiming to love our neighbor as ourself!

We are all the same when held up in comparison to Jesus!

While there are many genuine, useful and courageous leaders in the church, unfortunately hypocrisy within the church is nothing new. In my opinion, just because something has been around for awhile doesn’t mean it should be accepted or even tolerated. Obviously nobody is perfect this side of heaven, yet a person who is habitually hypocritical is like a weed that needs to be uprooted to let real Christianity grow. At least that’s the vibe I get from reading Matthew 23. It’s full of Jesus’ woes to the spiritual leaders of His day who were rife with hypocrisy. It seems that attaining a certain status within the spiritual hierarchy of the church doesn’t necessarily correspond to how genuine a person’s walk really is.

Genuine… or otherwise?

But surely things are different in this day and age… right? If the Pharisees were here I’m sure they’d say the same thing.

Before I go any further, let me pause here to clarify that I am not pointing an accusatory finger at anyone. What I’m doing is simply pointing out that hypocrisy is a bad thing and that Jesus viewed it as a serious problem. And, like Jesus, I also view hypocrisy as a serious problem, especially within the context of unhealthy ambition which I sometimes see within the church today. Only a person driven by selfish aspirations would even consider denying that this is a problem within the church. Only a person worried about guarding something could possibly take issue with what I am saying here. With that, let’s dig in a little deeper.

Matthew 23’s Message to Spiritual Leaders

For they preach, but do not practice, They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces, being called rabbi by others. You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel; you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and pall uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Servant leadership

Jesus says in Matthew 23:11 that the greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s what I want in a spiritual leader. It’s the model Jesus Himself exemplified. Verse 12 says that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. I think that about sums it up.