Matthew 23:7-12 (Honorary Titles 2: The Brotherhood of All Men)

Recall that Jesus has been denouncing the scribes and Pharisees for their desire to be noticed by men.  Considering the propensity of man’s fallen nature to seek such titles so they may be recognized by others and lord over them, what does Jesus command His disciples in Mat 23:8-10?  What is the significance of His repeated admonition?  I.e., are the three titles he commands against meant to be exhaustive, or just examples illustrating the broader principle that such titles are incompatible with His kingdom and for His disciples who would enter into it?  Why is that?  See Mat 23:11-12 and think: are those who seek to appear great to others by means of such titles really great?  What is it that makes men great in God’s kingdom?  Does one need an honorary title for that?  Does this necessarily mean that one may not be an even more effective servant in God’s kingdom by being well-educated?  Cf. Act 22:3.

Is Jesus’ prohibition to His disciples just against claiming such titles for themselves, or also against ascribing such titles to others?  See Mat 23:9.  Does Jesus mean in Mat 23:9 that we are not to refer to our human fathers as “father”?  Notice the context of honorary titles that elevate one man over others, and also that “your” in this verse is not singular referring to his disciples individually, but plural, referring to them collectively, thus indicating a single human individual who is over a plurality of Christian brothers in the church.  How do Jesus’ words in Mat 23:9 directly contradict the practice in the Roman and Orthodox churches of referring to their priests as “father”?  What must they do with such a contradiction to their official dogma?  See note[1].

For what reason does Jesus repeat three times that his disciples ought not to exalt themselves or elevate any man over themselves by means of such titles?  See again Mat 23:8-10 and think: to Whom alone do such titles belong in the church?  Why is it in Christ’s true Church that no man apart from Christ is exalted above the others?  See Mat 23:8 and cf. 1Co 12:4-26.  What does this remind us about the important Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers?  Cf. 1Pe 2:5,9, Rev 1:6.  Are we to understand from Jesus’ prohibition of such titles for those in His kingdom that it is wrong to render honor to anyone except God?  See Exo 20:12, Lev 19:32, 1Ti 5:17, 6:1, 1Pe 2:17, 3:7.  What is the difference?  See again Mat 23:11-12, Rom 13:6-7.

What does Jesus’ condemnation of honorary titles for His followers teach us about those who insist upon such titles?  Think: Are they truly His followers?  Based upon Jesus’ teaching in Mat 23:8-10, what should our attitude be toward any man who exalts himself to a position over others in the brotherhood of men for the purpose of lording over them?  In what way has the desire to be recognized by others and lord over them been behind the rise of the many despots throughout history?  Cf. Mat 20:25.  Considering that many of these despots have even sought to be deified and worshiped by others, how powerful must this tendency be in fallen man?  Considering then this manner of the world, what have been the potential implications for God’s people of practicing the brotherhood of all men?  Cf. Est 3:1-6, Dan 3:13-18 and consider the many Christians martyrs who gave up their lives rather than ascribe to a man what alone belongs to God.  Could that same thing happen today?  Think North Korea.  How does Jesus’ teaching here in these verses contradict the divine right of kings theory advocated frequently throughout history, that monarchs derive their right to rule directly from God and so are subject to no earthly authority?  In what way is it behind the American tradition penned by Thomas Jefferson that “all men are created equal” and so equally subject to just laws?

Consider in Mat 23:8-12 the contrast Jesus makes between those who are great in the eyes of the world and those who are great in God’s kingdom; on how many different occasions did Jesus emphasize this teaching?  See Mat 20:21,24-28, Mar 9:33-35, Luk 22:24-27.  What does this indicate about the importance of this principle and how contrary it is to our sinful nature that it bore repeating so often?  What examples do we have in the New Testament that the early Christians took to heart this teaching of Jesus?  See 2Co 1:24, 4:5, 11:20-21, 1Pe 5:3.

 


1. “Typical hyperbolic speech of the time.  It does not reject authority in principle, but authoritarianism; not the use of titles, but the failure to acknowledge that authority exists to serve God, his anointed One, and one’s neighbor.”  New American (Catholic) Bible.

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