August 6

Text: Matthew 23:15

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (NASB)

This woe is centered in making proselytes.  The Christian likely is more familiar with the concept of conversion.  While the process of making a person who was a non-Jew a part of the Jewish community AND making a person who was not a Christian a part of the Christian community have a number of things in common, it was (is) not an exact overlay.  There is commonly an aggressiveness in Christian conversion that was not typically a part of first-century Jewish proselytism.

Typically when a person who was not Jewish by birth wished to be accepted into the Jewish community, that person was or had been a pagan.  Thus three things were essential.  First, the person had to understand there is one God, not many.  That understanding included knowing the One God was the Creator.  All other gods were false gods.  Second, the person had to learn the ethical values of this One God.  The person learned a new way of determining right and wrong.  Third, the person learned Jewish customs.  The person learned how to do Jewish things in Jewish ways. 

Obviously, the transition was a process that required time—no walking down an aisle, declaring your desires, and being baptized a few minutes later.  Christians of today likely would see the proselytism transition as an indoctrination requiring some procedures.

Do not miss Jesus’ concern!  He was not opposed to people being proselytes.   He was not opposed to teaching them Jewish ways or accepting them into the Jewish community.

The scribes and Pharisees made great efforts to teach people who wished to be proselytes.  However, their focus was their values—not God’s!  The result: these new proselytes were spiritually worse off after being taught than they were before being taught.  They offended God more as proselytes than they did as pagans.  They were little scribes and Pharisees following their misguided teachers!

What a sobering inditment!  How awful to teach spiritual “improvements” that make people worse!

Suggestion for reflection: Would people be better or worse spiritually if they adopted your values and emphases?  (Read Philippians 3:17-21.)

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