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Seven Woes

Seven Woes

Originally published in
The Christian Informer
October, 1998

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Last updated:
October 3, 1998.

EVERY SIN BEGINS WITH temptation through an appetite of man: "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."  " But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed; Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (1 John 2:16; James 1:14,15).

It is sometimes difficult to accept, but the truth is that religious people dwell in bodies of flesh and have temptations just as those who have never been born into the family of God.  Furthermore, Satan has seen to it that those who would "do the will of the Father" have certain other temptations which sinners may not have to face.

When Jesus pronounced each of "seven woes" in Matthew 23, He identified a raw nerve among all religious people of all time.  He laid out to view sins peculiar to religious people, and left us with an important lesson to which we should all take heed.

THE FIRST "WOE" was pronounced upon those who would use the religion of others as a weapon against them (Matthew 23:14).  They would use their faith as a whip, or scourge to lash them into subjection.  Ever popping it over their heads the power-hungry would keep the others "in line."  The unscrupulous use of God and His word as a means to gain personal power and control over others is an old sin.  But what a terrible thing it is to be accused of using the word of God to accomplish one's own ends!  Furthermore, these men very devoutly did certain religious activities to cover their selfish deeds.  Do we pray long and loud and then rise up to serve ourselves?

THE SECOND "WOE" (verse 15) is declared upon those who have become more concerned about their own glory in the conversion of a person than the salvation of that soul.  Here again is a warning clearly set forth against zeal without a proper knowledge and understanding of God's love for man, and his soul's salvation.  It should be understood by all who would win a soul to Christ that this activity is primarily for that person's everlasting salvation, and secondarily for the advancement of the church of Christ.  We need to give God all the glory for every accomplishment we see in life!

THE THIRD "WOE" of this passage (verses 16-22) is pronounced against those who rely on those things material and of worldly value more than those things divine and spiritual.  One might censure these Pharisees, these religious leaders, for being so worldly minded, but just stop and look at ourselves!  Are we more interested in the building than in the souls who meet there?  Are we more concerned with the comfort and convenience of the worshipers than of their being edified?  Are we preoccupied with an eloquent delivery by the speaker and virtually overlook the scripturalness of his message?  Are we more inclined to evaluate the effectiveness of a gospel meeting by whether we've "had a good time" with the preacher?  False values are a constant danger to those who would be religious.

The charge of THE FOURTH "WOE" was brought against those who were determined to have their own way (verses 23-24). This, of course, was the bent of the religious leaders of Jesus' day.  Their rules were for the very purpose of keeping others in submission.  They had learned and applied to their lives a corrupt set of values, and those were seen in every law and in every regulation which they lorded over their fellow-man.  We must realize that no commandment of the Lord is unimportant.  But do we demand that details are followed in a few areas and fail miserably to observe the truly weightier matters of faith, mercy, and judgment, even as they did?

In THE FIFTH "WOE" pronounced against these Jews (verses 25,26), the Lord gives an impressive picture of one of the gravest and most primary dangers facing those who would be Christians.  It is the lack of true conversion--being totally and completely born again.  We cannot afford to simply make a good show.  A saving faith is a consistent faith, an unwavering faith.  It must be a conviction that is not "driven with the wind and tossed" (James 1:6).  When we make such a pretense, who are we trying to impress?  Everyone will know about us one day. A pretended conversion will avail us nothing.  For, although we may fool our friends for a time, the all-seeing and all-knowing God is not deceived, and His Son who will judge us in the last day is not impressed with a pretended faith.

THE SIXTH "WOE" of Jesus in this passage, (Matthew 23:27,28) is pronounced upon those who attempt to change their outward appearance without truly changing within.  But the Scriptures teach: " For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).  A godly outward appearance should be the outcome of a godly heart.  But many are taught by unscrupulous men that appearance is all that is necessary.  A very serious condition develops when the people fail to be " looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith"  (Hebrews 12:3), but instead are looking to such religious leaders as their standard by which they are to live.  We are warned against this type of evaluation in 2 Corinthians 10:12 which says, "For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."  Yet how many times do we hear the expression used, "Well, I'm as good as he is!"  Friend, that very well might be, but where is he headed?  Usually that expression is used by someone attempting to justify their sins.  Jesus set our example; let us work all our days to measure up to that great standard.

THE SEVENTH "WOE" seemed to focus on the source of all sins committed by religious people.  It was, in a word, " hypocrisy."  This is an ugly word which lies at the root of all the sins which are consistently committed by those confessing to believe in Christ.  Oh yes, a sin may come upon a child of God unexpectedly, and without much forethought as he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.  One caught in such a sin is to be restored "in the spirit of meekness" (Galatians 6:1).  However, people who persist in sins like the religious leaders of Jesus' day are marked as hypocrites.  We can readily see the sins of the people of this text, but if we are not careful we will fall as did they, and could possibly hear the same "woes of condemnation" pronounced upon us!