The Danger of Self Deception
Robert Wurtz II
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
(Matthew 23:1–3 ESV)
Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Matthew 15:14)
You blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24 KJV)
The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:31)
The late Greek scholar A.T. Robertson once told the story of being in Cincinnati, where a blind man introduced him to his blind friend. He said that “he was showing him the city.” The story is insightful and similar to the “blind” motif that our Lord used on numerous occasions. The point is simple. People seek to lead others regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ but are blind to their own sinful ways. Nevertheless, these blind leader types show up in their respective places every week and “show people the city.”
The spiritually blind religious leaders of the Second Temple period were experts at making people believe they were godly. They loved the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues (Matthew 23:6 ESV). They loved titles like “rabbi” or “father,” which were like titles of honor we use today for religious leaders, just different. Contrast their proud looks that God hates (Proverbs 6:17) with Jesus, who being in the form of God, took on the form of a slave (Philippians 2:5). The religious leaders hated Jesus and envied him. Why? He was a threat to their aspirations.
Jesus identified these blind leaders (blind guides) as people who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. He exposed the inconsistencies in their thinking and behavior that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t see. How can a person condemn one behavior and then celebrate (laud) other behaviors that are far eviler? They swallow evil the size of a camel but choke on evil the size of a gnat. This behavior should alarm us because it’s wildly inconsistent and symptomatic of a person abandoned by God and given over to their self-deception.
Let Them Alone
My instinct is to help these people by writing, teaching, and preaching. That does not make me spiritual; it could mean my theology is wrong. Why? Because Jesus said, “Let them alone…” This implies that He has already abandoned the blind and inconsistent leader to their own devices and expects us to do likewise. He told them that they were of their father the devil, though they claimed to be Abraham’s seed. When John the Baptist confronted these types, he called them vipers. You can’t help a viper. Don’t handle them. Stay back before you’re bitten and spend years recovering.
When a person is clearly shown the truth and refuses to change their ways, they are willingly blind. The concept is similar to willful ignorance, where a person could know the truth but deliberately ignore it. It is safe to say that willful blindness is one “disease” that God cannot or will not cure. It requires action on the part of the person. They must acknowledge the truth and own it.
Blind Seeking the Blind
Our passage in Matthew 15:14 suggests that some people select other blind leaders to lead them around. Birds of a feather flock together, as the old saying goes. Jeremiah dealt with this same problem in his day. People love to be lied to by religious leaders. In other words, both leader and follower are willfully blind. They may even believe they are spiritual because they use all the right religious-sounding trigger words. Those who see it shake their head, but the blind say, “amen, amen.”
As a spiritual leader, it’s dangerous to surround yourself with people who are afraid to confront you or always overlook your sinful ways. The religious leaders did this during the Second Temple period. They only wanted people around who agreed with them. Challenge them, and you’re done! Paul is an example of a person who was best buddies with the Pharisees until he challenged their teachings, and then they tried to kill him. If we filter out all the people from our lives who challenge our stinking thinking and bad behavior, we risk destroying our own souls.
I Got Your Number
Have you ever met someone who realized you “had their number,” and suddenly, they had no use for you? That’s a way of saying you could see their bad behavior. What happens? They work to destroy your good name and influence before you expose them. It’s the oldest trick in the book. Jesus experienced this often with the religious leaders. He exposed them because He wasn’t afraid of them like most people.
Once they knew His blinders were off, they hated Him. He saw their hypocrisy and self-promotion. Understand that Blind leaders avoid anyone who “sees” their blindness, anyone who could lead them to a change of mind (repentance). They love their blindness, as it agrees with their own evil ways. To shine a light upon this group is to incur their wrath, even as Jesus all too often experienced.
Doers of the Word
Again, Jesus said, “Let them alone…” Romans 2:19 tells us that certain Jews believed they were a guide to the blind but refused to teach themselves. Their messages would be biblically sound. The problem is that their words and actions needed to match. Their life militated against their message and left people sorely disillusioned. Moreover, people actually blasphemed God on account of such hypocrites (Romans 2:23-24).
James 1:22 tells us to “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” This means that the trap the religious leaders of the Second Century fell into is also a danger to us. It isn’t sufficient to merely appear holy, spiritual, and religious. We need to be the real thing. Moreover, we need to examine ourselves for inconsistencies in our thinking and beliefs and not be quick to condemn others when we have worse issues working in our own lives.