“The religious scholars and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ throne as the authorized interpreters of the Law. So listen and follow what they teach, but don’t do what they do, for they tell you one thing, but do another. They tie on your backs an oppressive burden of religious obligations and insist that you carry it, but will never lift a finger to help ease your load. Everything they do is done for show and to be noticed by others. They want to be seen as holy, so they wear oversized prayer boxes on their arms and foreheads with Scriptures inside, and wear extra-long tassels on their outer garments. They crave the seats of highest honor at banquets and in their meeting places. And how they love to be admired by men with their titles of respect, aspiring to be recognized in public and have others called them “Reverend.”’ “But you are to be different from that. You are not to be called “master,” for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers and sisters… The greatest among you will be the one who always serves others from the heart. Remember this: If you have a lofty opinion of yourself and seek to be honored, you will be humbled. But if you have a modest opinion of yourselves and choose to humble yourself, you will be honored” (Matthew 23:1-12 TPT).
Jesus continues in on in the next several verses to call the religious leaders of His day “frauds, pretenders; those who not only won’t go into heaven’s kingdom, but keep others out as well; those who eat up the widow’s household; who make disciples of hell; who swear by gold and money; who are obsessed with peripheral issues, but ignore the most important thing, which is walking in love with God, displaying mercy, and living by integrity; who wipe clean the outside of the cup, while leaving the inside filthy; who are nothing more than shiny tombs, beautiful on the outside, but holding decaying corpses of corruption; and, who masquerade as righteous people” (Matthew 23:27, TPT).
These are the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, who were the religious leaders, but also the governmental leaders in His day. Though Rome was the ruling government, it was the laws of the religious leaders that truly governed the people affecting every area of their lives. We can imagine in our day, Jesus addressing church leaders.
It’s so interesting to me that the ones society would have called low-life, sinners, and the untouchable ones, Jesus called friends, forgiven, restored, those with great faith, family. Towards these, He demonstrated honor, respect, and compassion; touching, healing, and loving those that had been pushed to the wayside, kicked to the curb, and left to die.
Why was He so hard on the religious leaders then?
Well, I believe that He saw their hearts, the well-hidden issues: the corrupted, puffed up, self-seeking germs infecting every cell.
More than that, He knew that people looked to these religious leaders as an example of what God was like. As they wallowed in selfish corruption, they presented a very twisted, skewed view of Father God.
Their number one job was to point the people to a loving, relational God. Instead, they abused their positions of authority for greedy, personal gain, even to the extent of murdering the prophets, thereby removing anyone who stood in their way. The ultimate act was murdering Jesus, the very Son of God, of the God they so poorly represented.
Why is this message important for us today?
Some of the worse abuse I’ve experienced in my life has come by the hands of “religious leaders.” When the enemy uses the very ones who should be representing Father’s heartbeat, he most effectively twists, like a mangled tangle, our view of who our loving God is, often our enemy leaves permanent damage in his victims. This is why the enemy loves, loves when he can manipulate leaders to act on his behalf, but also why Yahweh hates this misrepresentation so much.
God doesn’t hate the people, even the abusers. Jesus died for them as well. Yet, He hates the perversion, because these very leaders should be representing His heart. When people look to them, they think God is the same way.
This is also why so often when a leader falls, our faith is shaken. Yet, perhaps our faith was in the leader, not in Yahweh.
I know, because not only have I seen this play out in others who have been abused by church leaders on every level, but also how it’s taken me years for the Holy Spirit to undo the lies, which contaminated my soul like a poison, distorting my perception of my loving Father. Many times, I still struggle to view God through a clear, clean lens.
I really believe God loves His Bride, and we are in a time of God exposing corruption in religious leaders, as well as in government. I believe that has only begun to happen and will increase in the coming years. It’s not out of God’s wrath though. It’s because He loves us, and more than anything wants us to know Him for who He really is, without the distorted view presented through ungodly leaders.
As a part of this cleansing, we need to be able to recognize what abuse looks like.
When people have walked through abuse as children, and then come in contact with unhealthy, abusive leaders, they often don’t even realize it, because it is their norm, their familiar place. This is why abuse continues to cycle through generations of family lines, why these broken ones end up continuing the cycle by marrying an abuser.
Until we come out from this prison of lies, taking off the distorted glasses that have been placed on us, and taste true love through caring people God brings into our lives, direct encounters with our compassionate Father, and through revelatory truth from His Word, we remain captives.
Jesus came to set us free. May we all walk fully in the freedom He paid such a high price to give us. May we recognize unhealthy leadership and come out from under lies and perversion, setting our hearts on intimately knowing our loving God.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on wholeheartedwomen.org
Featured Image by Kelly Sikkema