Practice What You Preach

What do we call some one who says one thing but does another? A Hypocrite.

One Word –

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. Matthew 23:2-3

Daily Bible Reading: Leviticus 1, 2, 3; Matthew 23

Big Idea –

Let me encourage you to stop for a moment and read out loud the two verses above before continuing.

Okay now ask yourself, “Does that really sound like something Jesus would say?” I mean its like saying “Do as I say, not as I do, ” except Jesus is supposedly saying it about the scribes and Pharisees who teach from the seat of Moses. I’m sorry, but I have a hard time imaging Jesus really saying something like that.

Most bible commentaries essentially say “all” does not mean all or everything. The KJV and NASV both essentially translated this passage as Jesus saying “all the scribes and Pharisees say, observe and do.” However, these commentators are quick to say that what Jesus means is to observe and do everything they say consistent or in agreement with the seat of Moses or the Law of Moses. Thus all doesn’t mean all; instead you have to sort through everything they say to find what is true. How many of us are taking the time to read the writings of rabbis in order to observe and do everything they say that agrees with the seat of Moses? – No, I’m not either.

What these commentators failed to point out was that within each local synagogue a an actual seat of Moses was situated in a place where everyone could see and hear. Like pastors today who stand behind a pulpit to preach God’s word, religious leaders sat in a real “seat of Moses” to teach people the meaning of God’s Law and the scriptures. This was a position of authority where those who had given their lives to study the scriptures instructed the people.

Unfortunately, like many pulpits today, many ‘preachers’ sat in the seat of Moses teaching false doctrine. Here in Matthew 23 Jesus would go on to pronounce woes upon the scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses seat but were not teaching or living the things Moses had written. You might remember Jesus telling the disciples,  “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Mat. 16:6). With further encouragement from Jesus the disciples understood that Jesus was warning them to guard against the teachings of these religious leaders. Does it really sound like Jesus would later say, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do?

Jesus is the One Moses said God would send to instruct His people how to live when he said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15). If Jesus is a prophet like Moses who had come to make the words of God known to us, if Jesus is the one we are to listen to, then will Jesus really leave it to chance for those listening to His words to shift through the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees? Or will Jesus boldly instruct people in how they are to live? Do you remember how the people responded to Jesus’ teaching? “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28-29). Jesus spoke with authority leaving nothing to chance clearly teaching people how to live their lives in a way pleasing to God.

Thus what is recorded here in Matthew 23 just does not sound like Jesus. Is it possible that He said something else – something clear to understand and with authority? I think so.

The gospel of Matthew found in our English bibles is translated from the Greek. Of all the gospels Matthew is the most Jewish, and many wonder if his gospel was originally  written in Greek or the native language of the Jews, Hebrew. The debate is far from settled, but I think the Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew points the the greater possibility that the gospel was first written in Hebrew and later translated into the Greek we have used for our bibles.

Matthew 23 is one example of how the Hebrew Matthew differs from the Greek. And for me the translation into English from the Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew is more consistent with Jesus’ teaching. It is a statement made with authority and absolute clarity – a characteristic the teaching of Jesus was known for. So what is the record of Jesus’ teaching here according to the Hebrew Matthew?

“Upon the seat of Mosheh the Pharisean faction leaders and the theologians have seated themselves. Now all which he [Mosheh] says to you keep and do, but their ordinances and their works do not do because they quote [Mosheh] and do not.”

The English translation is a little rough, but did you catch the difference in Jesus teaching. Here Jesus does not tell the people to hear and do all the religious leaders say because they sit in Moses’ seat (with the unsaid and unclear meaning to sift through their teaching to obey only what agrees with Moses – a.k.a. the Law). Instead, Jesus plainly tells the people with authority to obey everything Moses has instructed you to do, while rejecting the teaching (ordinances) and works of their religious teachers because they say one thing quoting Moses, but they don’t practice what they preach.

For me this has the ring of truth. It agrees with the character of Jesus and is consistent with Jesus warning against the teaching or “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

Exemplify –

I must be faithful to proclaim the whole counsel of God’s Word in both word and deed practicing what I preach, because for some my words will remain ‘black and white’ with little or no meaning until the ‘living color’ of my day-to day life illustrates the authority and truth of the scriptures by what I say and do.

Yes to Yield –

LORD Jesus, I’m blessed to stand each week behind a pulpit to preach Your word. I pray the Holy Spirit helps me to faithfully make known the faith once delivered to the saints. Empower me to not be an empty vessel without substance, but to practice what I preach living in obedience to Your Word. Give me wisdom to communicate clearly the truth of Your Word – not to speak satisfying itching ears, but in the power of Your Spirit that lives are transformed to be more like Jesus.


If you’re new to Living It Now, you can find an explanation of the O-B-E-Y journal on the Hearing and Doing page, or the sample post Guard Duty.

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