In the final days of Jesus’ ministry, he stands in the temple arguing with the leaders of Jerusalem and teaching his disciples along with the crowds of people. One can imagine how much he would have taught so this string of passages in Mark 12 might be considered selections from his teaching over the course of the Passover week.
In Mark 12:38-40, Jesus teaches against the other teachers who were undoubtedly walking around the Temple as he was teaching. Some were likely listening to him teach. Although Jesus isn’t necessarily referring to every teacher of the law here, there were certainly enough of them like this to warrant him teaching on the matter. He’s telling the crowd of normal people to watch out for religious teachers who use their position for personal gain rather than for genuine religious purposes. Jesus says to beware of those who look pious but really worship themselves.
It was part of the job of these teachers to dress a certain way, and be greeted a certain way in public, and this wasn’t the issue. Jesus says in verse 38, they “like” to walk around this way and be respected this way. They enjoy what their position affords them as a matter of personal pleasure rather than recognizing that the respect they received is a borrowed respect because of who they represent. hey were teachers of God’s word, not their own, so the respect they were given was for that reason. But they took the respect and honor for themselves. As a result, it was corrupted and used corruptly.
Verse 40 points out that men like these take advantage of the weak and defenseless and they practice their false piety as a show, not as worship. It doesn’t say how, but verse 40 concludes by saying their punishment will be severe. Those who parade their piety are guilty of pride but those who oppress the weak and defenseless are guilty of exploitation as well. Those who manipulate the things of God for personal gain will receive great condemnation. The crazy part about their behavior is that these actions may take place in such a way so that they violate no laws in particular. It’s perfectly legal for them to act this way. However, they are in violation of the sum of the law – loving God and people.
Jesus has just spoken about this in Mark 12:28-34. All the laws flow from the supreme law requiring everyone to love God and our neighbor Religious leaders like this only love themselves, and this isn’t only wrong, it’s destructive, it’s deadly.
Now, this passage is a warning to pastors for sure. Pastors need to regularly check their hearts and motives and make sure they are genuinely leading the church in worship and in love for God and others, and not doing this for show, pride, or personal benefit. But,Jesus is addressing the crowd in verse 38. He tells the people to stay away from these types of religious leaders.
So,there is a two-fold application. First, be careful who you allow to speak into your life spiritually. Make sure their religion is true and they aren’t practicing for personal honor or personal gain. Secondly, make sure your own religion is true and it isn’t merely a cover to look respectable or to appease your conscience, or to gain influence.
We need to love God and others from our hearts so that our outward actions are authentic. Jesus warns against following anyone who isn’t like this. The religious observances of the godly are not for show.