What a strange time we live in of celebrity pastors and Christian influencers. I remember looking on Instagram one day and following a rabbit trail of a celeb world I didn’t even know existed. Photos of impeccably dressed worship leaders and pastors I’d never heard of but all with a couple hundred thousand followers (or more!). There were enviable locations and opportunities that would give even the most introverted unflashy Christian leader a little FOMO.
I remember ending that time not feeling fed spiritually but feeling instead like my faith was morphing into something that looked too much like the world. And let me say this, it wasn’t their fault I did this. It was mine. I got caught up in the flash of something that in the past has never needed to be flashy.
The old rugged cross isn’t flashy. Worn knees from hours in a prayer room aren’t flashy.
And now I’m seeing stages (which in all honestly I’d actually puke if I was standing on) of performers and pray-ers and it’s pretty dang glamorous looking. There’s who’s who of intimate gatherings we’d kill for an invite too. It’s hard to not be impressed.
But I’ll drop Romans 12:2 here even though I drop it on you a lot because it’s super foundational for our daily life.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
What we are looking at will conform us to something. And lately, it feels like there have been more falls than rises lately. If you’ve spent years idolizing someone you might feel a little rattled right now.
I remember years ago idolizing someone I started following online. I read everything they wrote. I bought everything they had. At the time I never would have said I idolized them, because that’s not my personality to get obsessed. I tend to be more of a dabbler or skeptic, but it can happen slowly and subtly.
I eventually met them and it was different than I imagined. I heard gossip and secrets and I was crushed. I gave little grace because frankly, I didn’t think they’d ever do anything to need it.
If that’s you right now, I know exactly how you feel! And I wish someone was there to tell me I couldn’t blame them for leading me astray. I decided how I would view them.
This is not a post about influencers needing to be something different. We can’t control what others do. What we can control is who we choose to let speak into our lives. We can control how big of a pedestal we put someone on or if we keep them grounded on the same footing we’ve got. And we can also control our response when the inevitable falls from grace happen.
The Bible has a lot to say about influencers and educators actually. In those days, they were known as teachers and scribes, but I was amazed as I dove into Matthew at what Jesus shared, so below we’ll break down a few warnings to be on the lookout for when it comes to teachers and those we listen to.
Here are 7 reflections on Matthew 23:1-36.
1. THEY PREACH, BUT DON’T DO
Vs. 3 “they preach, but do not practice.”
Pretty self-explanatory. They may actually know the truth, but they aren’t living it out. This doesn’t mean they have to do it perfectly, but there should be some visible fruit of what they are teaching. Jesus literally told the people you can follow what they teach you but DON’T follow how they actually live. Pretty crazy!
2. THEY BURDEN, BUT DON’T LIFT
Vs. 4 “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrased that these teachers “package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help.”
3. THEY SEEK THE PRAISE OF MAN
Vs. 5 “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,”
It’s all for the show of it. I love Marvin R. Vincent’s commentary on this verse “The scribes and Pharisees deport themselves with a view to being contemplated as actors in a theatre; so that men may fix their gaze upon them admiringly.”
4. THEY SEEK THE BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
Vs. 6 “and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues”
This doesn’t mean anyone in the spotlight is bad. Not at all! I think this refers to those who seek the best seat more than they seek to obey God.
5. THEY ARE PRIDEFUL
Vs. 12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
If a leader is scratching to get to the top, and more focused on that then leading and serving well, a fall will come.
6. THEY NEGLECT THE BASICS
Vs. 23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For 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!”
If we don’t have love, it’s all meaningless (1 Corinthians 13). This isn’t a pick and choose based on your personality type, love language type of thing. Without the foundation of “weightier matters” like justice, mercy, and faithfulness, the rest will fall.
7. THEY KEEP THE OUTSIDE POLISHED WHILE THE INSIDE CRUMBLES
Vs. 25-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
I don’t think this means you are supposed to air every sin to thousands of followers. I pray they do that in their community. This means they aren’t more concerned with making sure the outside looks good while neglecting their inner life.
Every once in awhile, I get super overwhelmed with the Christian world I only know on my phone. And when that happens, I always take it as a sign to step back and reorient my heart so that I can come to this space with a pure and intentional heart myself. I know I’m not above bearing these characteristics, especially if my mind does not stay on God.
I’ll be a tad quieter on social media for the next few weeks, maybe longer, as I work on writing my next book. I so desire to do it as an empty vessel for the Lord!
Also, if you haven’t read our post on handling controversy in the church, I’d definitely check it out here. I go over 2 Timothy 2 which also has some great applications for this topic!