This is the word of the Lord,

Matthew 23:23–24 ESV

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Let us pray!

In Matthew 5, Jesus gave us the 7 beatitudes – the blessings that are the inheritance of the Christian, and here in Matthew 23, Jesus gives us the 7 woes – the curses that are the inheritance of the hypocrite (the Christian pretender).

A Matter of Life and Death

The sin of the Pharisees and Scribes were not some hypocritical behaviour, but the hypocrisy of the heart. The facade of spirituality that they had were not a few blind spots, they were entirely blind. They were an unregenerate group of people that did not love or glorify God. But in the name of faith and religion, they were corrupted at the core.

Therefore, the contrast between the beatitudes and the woes is the separation between the saved and the unsaved.

And so, the first and foremost question that you are faced with in this sermon series is the question of your own salvation. That is what is at stake in this study.

How much of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees are a reality in your own life? How fundamentally compromised are you in your own faith?

Now, we know that the Christian can exhibit hypocritical behaviour in many areas of their life but that is not a corruption of their identity in Christ. It is the sin of the flesh that remains for all regenerate men.

Let us for the sake of argument call that a lower order hypocrisy. We have to start with the higher order hypocrisy, repent if we are found guilty of it, and turn to Jesus Christ for salvation.

But if we are found to be genuinely saved, then we must hate and reject the lower order hypocrisy because it is a sign and symbol of the old life that the Christian has abandoned.

But do not be unnecessarily hasty to arrive at conclusions as to the nature and extent of your hypocrisies. In each of these woes, examine your own lives truthfully. Examine yourself with readily repentant hearts.

You need to understand this clearly. Jesus curses the Christian pretender. Whatever else we may think of ourselves, Jesus knows the hearts of all men. He is the one person before whom your hypocrisies cannot hide.

We know from Matthew 7, that people are not saved simply because they call on the name of the Lord.

We know from Ephesians 2, that people are not saved by any measure of their good works.

We know from Galatians 2, that righteousness cannot be attained through the law.

Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Genuine salvation is a miraculous work of God upon the heart of the converted.

And the fact that such a work has indeed taken place in the life of the convert is evidenced by their godly conduct.

Philippians 2:12–13 ESV

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

James 2:26 ESV

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

So, if I may summarise, true salvation is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s elect whom he predestined for salvation. Those who are genuinely saved in this manner will bear the fruit of that salvation in their lives.

Any human attempt at imitating or humanly manufacturing this God-entanced work of redemption will always end in hypocrisy.

Blessings and Curses

Now, there is a certain structure to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, where every blessing is granted for a particular trait of righteousness and in each one there is a description of what that blessing is.

So, for example, Matthew 5:3-4

Matthew 5:3–4 ESV

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed – poor in spirit – kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Blessed – mourn – will be comforted.

But, in Matthew 23, the curses likewise fall for a particular trait of hypocrisy (or unrighteousness) but then it does not detail what the curse specifically is. Instead, it details the hypocrisy further.

Matthew 23:13 ESV

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Matthew 23:23 ESV

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Woe – hypocrite – shut the kingdom

Woe – hypocrite – neglect weightier matters

I think the reason that Matthew does not detail the explicit nature of these curses is because they are the antithesis of the Beatitudes.

Therefore, if ‘the kingdom belongs to the blessed’, then the curse is that ‘the kingdom does not belong to them’.

If ‘the promise of comfort’ is the blessing, then the curse is ‘the assurance of discomfort and the lack of relief’.

The meek shall inherit the earth but the hypocrite has no inheritance in this world.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are satisfied, but the pretender (the hypocrite) will thirst forever.

Mercy is the portion of the blessed, and merciless judgment is the portion of the cursed.

The pure in heart shall see God, but the eyes of the hypocrite will always be blinded to the glory of God.

The blessed are called the sons of God, but the cursed are called the sons of disobedience of their father the Devil.

Matthew 5:11–12 ESV

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

But the cursed are regarded with great honour by the world, and they have no reward in heaven.

Matthew 7:23 ESV

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Understanding the curses this way adds flesh to the danger of the woes of Christ.

The Traits of Hypocrisy

We’ve covered two of the seven woes so far and we’ve seen two traits of hypocrisy.

1. Evangelism – Obstruction of salvation & the indoctrination of hell

2. Teaching – Lying & the twisting of Scripture

3. Discernment – And today, we are going to see the compromise of priorities, the dangerous imbalance of false piety.


Matthew 23:23 ESV

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

They hypocrisy of the Pharisees is here revealed in their generosity – Lev 27:30-32

Leviticus 27:30–32 ESV

30 “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.
31 If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it.
32 And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.

They took tithing seriously and mint, dill and cumin were the smallest of their garden crops, and they were so precise in their tithing that they gave a tenth of everything, even the smallest.

We know that sin is a parasite. It cannot exist independently but needs something good to corrupt. There is no sin without the good that it corrupts.

And so as sinners, our flesh is capable of taking anything good and turning it to evil.

False piety is a sin that latches on to the easiest external display of godliness and elevates its importance disproportionally in order to distract from weightier matters.

Maturity & Weightier Matters

By heightening the stature of the lesser matter, they neglected the weightier matters of the law.

The first thing that you have to understand here is that there are weightier matters.

I wrote on my blog once that there are many things that matter in my own ministry, but they don’t all matter at the same time.

Ephesians 4:11–15 ESV

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Maturity is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. An important part of maturing is to be able to distinguish between lesser and weightier matters.

Hebrews 5:14 ESV

14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

The mature have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

They can discern the weightier matters from the lesser matters.

Christian maturity is not a matter of how long you’ve been saved, or how many churches you’ve been a part of, or even how many experiences you’ve had in your Christian walk.

It is a matter of evidenced discernment.

Adulthood has become a privilege we acquire from the legal government when we turn a certain age. But this is not true. The human government has no authority to bestow on you adulthood. Rather, that age is the declaration of the human government that by this time the man and the woman ought to have risen to the stature of maturity that is required of an adult.

Adulthood is not a privilege bestowed on us, it is a standard we are supposed to rise to.

1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV

20 Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

Parents, you have 21 years to equip your children, not a lifetime. You have 21 years to train them in the power of discernment and godliness. Your job is to help the rise to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and then handover the keys to their life over to them when they turn 21.

Philippians 1:9–10 ESV

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

Abounding in knowledge and discernment is the stature of the mature.

Luke 10:41–42 ESV

41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,
42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

The sin of Martha was not in her serving, but in what her serving neglected – the weightier matter – to sit at the feet of Jesus.

And Christian maturity is first understanding and identifying the differences in lesser and weightier matters.

And here, Jesus gives us the weightier matters of tithing – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

Deuteronomy 14:28–29 ESV

28 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns.
29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.

The tithe was an expression of worship and of compassion for those who were dependent on others.

James 1:27 ESV

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Religion that is church membership and expository preaching that neglects the comforting aid to the afflicted is impure and defiled. A church that deals with the text all the day long and never with the hearts of the people is a corrupt church.

The false piety of the Pharisees latches on the tithe in such a way so as to neglect the very reason for the tithe – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

These you ought to have done without neglecting the weightier matters of the law.

The problem here was not in the righteousness of these righteous acts but how they were emphasised disproportionally so as to obscure other more weightier matters.

• For husbands, this is like that time when you bought that expensive gift for your wife as a way to cover up your inadequacy in your care and selfless sacrificial service to her wellbeing.

The gift in this case is more a down payment to shut up her nagging than a blessing.

• For wives, this is managing the home and all its various functions by putting on the expression of a household slave, as a way to excuse your lack of verbal encouragement and respect for your husband’s leadership.

Your call to such respect is not primarily experiential but biblical.

• In the workplace, we would rather do what pleases our managers than what glorifies God in righteous working.

• We would rather organise and critique the liturgy of our church than the liturgy of our hearts or our homes.

1 Timothy 3:4–5 ESV

4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

One of the most important fruits of a spiritually mature man is his ability to discern the weightier matters of the law.

Now, Jesus had a good way of summarising this trait of hypocrisy.

Matthew 23:24 ESV

24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Gnats among other small insects were considered spiritually unclean.

Leviticus 11:23 ESV

23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.

Leviticus 11:41 ESV

41 “Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten.

So, the Pharisees were so particular to strain out a gnat from their wine reserves to keep it without blemish.

But, the thing is, camels are also ceremonially unclean. If gnats are the smallest unclean insect, the camels were the largest unclean animal. Lev 11:4

Leviticus 11:4 ESV

4 Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you.

So, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees was about how they take the smallest concern out of proportion as a way to neglect a camel that they heedlessly swallow as a whole.


Hypocrisy corrupted their evangelism, their teaching and now their discernment.

Hypocrites are not judicial because the matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness are not their concern.

In the place of justice, they would cut corners and compromise.

In the place of mercy, they would burden their people with harsh laws.

In the place of faithfulness, they would rather raise a facade of spirituality.

Sincerity in the Christian faith is not an option.

For those of you who find the traits of this hypocrisy seeped deep in your life, turn to Jesus and be rid of the curse that befalls you.

For you Christians, hate all hypocritical behaviour by recognising the root of this sin and the seriousness of it.

Galatians 3:13 ESV

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

• Christ did not merely become cursed on that tree. He who is the very embodiment of righteousness became the very embodiment of the curse for you and me.

• In order that the blessings of Christ may fall on us, he took the curse that denied the kingdom of God to the sinner.

The curse of ‘the assurance of discomfort and the lack of relief’.

The curse of no inheritance in this world.

The never-ending source of living waters suffered the curse of the unquenchable thirst upon the tree.

The Father mercilessly turned his face in judgment that fell upon the Son.

He who forever was face-to-face with his Father in complete harmony cried out when suffering the curse of forsakenness.

The Son of God took the sins of the world and suffered in our stead

• Christ your blessing became the curse. The sin of hypocrisy makes a mockery of the cross and for such the cross is not a salvation but a judgment.

Turn now to Jesus, the only way, the truth and the life. Abandon insincerity and hypocrisy and love him with all your heart, body, mind and strength.

Romans 12:1–2 ESV

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.