Recall that Jesus has been denouncing the scribes and Pharisees for seeking the recognition of men. Besides loving the place of honor at banquets, the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greeting in the marketplaces, what else does Jesus mention they loved that illustrates their desire to be noticed by men? See Mat 23:7. What does Rabbi mean? See Joh 1:38 and notice that most literally it means “my master or my teacher”; the word derives from the Hebrew verb rabab meaning to become much, many, or great, and hence as a noun refers to a lord, chief or other superior. Why then would they have loved to be called Rabbi? By what similar honorary titles do many in secular society today seem to delight? Consider doctor, professor, or similar degree titles and abbreviations after their name, as well as various political titles. Is Jesus denouncing such learned positions of authority themselves through which God’s own wisdom and authority flow as a blessing to all mankind? Or rather, is He denouncing as evil the desire to be recognized by such titles, not because one wants to be a channel of God’s blessing to others, but to lord over others? See Mat 23:11 and note.
Is it only people in secular society who seek the honor and prestige of such titles to lord over others? By what titles do many in various religious positions also sometimes glory? Consider doctor, reverend, bishop, apostle, or even pastor, as well as such ecclesiastical titles as the right reverend, the most reverend, the very reverend, father, archbishop, monsignor, cardinal, his eminence, his holiness, or most holy father. What does the abundance of such titles illustrate about the propensity for man’s fallen nature to seek the honor of other men, even, and especially in a religious context?
In what way has the education industry exploited the weakness of man’s fallen nature to seek the honor of other men in order to fuel its own growth? How is this similar to the way the medical industry has exploited fallen man’s fear of death to fuel its growth, or the way the food industry has exploited fallen man’s fleshly appetites to fuel its growth? Is this to say that education, medical care, or food are necessarily wrong? What is wrong, and why? Think: even when something is good, what is always the result when it is used to allure and exploit people by tempting their sinful nature? See Exo 1:8-11,13-14, 2:23 and consider that Egypt was a blessing to the sons of Israel until they became exploited and fell into bondage; cf. Exo 16:3, Num 11:5. See also Gen 3:6-7. In what way is the end result of the education, medical, and food industries’ exploitation of man’s fallen nature similar to that of the pornography industry? With what bondage does the education industry enslave men who are tempted by it to seek honorary titles by which they may be honored by men? Think: how much debt have people taken on to obtain a degree, only to discover that the prestige of the degree didn’t guarantee them the “honor” of a higher paying job? Instead of seeking honor from men, from Whom does Scripture say we should seek honor? See Joh 5:44, Rom 2:29, 1Th 2:4; contrast Luk 16:15. By what means does one seek the honor that is from the one and only God, as opposed to seeking honor from men? See Mat 23:11-12. What does this remind us about the only way that one may find true deliverance from all the bondage that comes upon people from others exploiting their fallen nature? See Joh 8:34-36, 14:6, Mat 11:28-30. What examples do we find in Scripture of this true freedom from men’s bondage? See Rom 14:4-6, Col 2:16,20-22, 1Ti 4:1-5, Tit 1:15.
Is it significant that among those who have an honorary title, those who are proud to flaunt it and feel slighted if not addressed by it tend to be the least competent, sincere, or faithful, while those who wouldn’t think of flaunting it tend to be the most competent, sincere and faithful? Why is this? Think: do not those who are truly faithful in whatever it is they do with whatever gifts they possess have a witness in their hearts that they are pleasing to God, who has taken notice, and having the recognition of God, do they then value as highly the recognition of men? What does this teach us about the importance of being truly faithful in all that we do with what God has given us, lest our sinful nature be deceived to seek the approval of men rather than of God?
1. The Jewish teachers, the masters of Israel…laid such a stress upon [the title], that they gave it for a maxim that “he who salutes his teacher, and does not call him Rabbi, provokes the divine Majesty to depart from Israel.” (Matthew Henry).↩