Looking for Loopholes

July 26, 2019 Preacher: Gareth Franks Series: Hypocrisy & Grace

Topic: Christian Living Scripture: Matthew 23:16–22

Home Group Study - Sermon Date: 26 July 2019

Text: Matthew 23:16-22

Opening Discussion: There is saying that goes 'Under-promise and over-deliver'. Do not promise too much. Then deliver more than you promised. In our misplaced enthusiasm and efforts to please others, we can easily do the opposite. Can you remember a time when you did the opposite, when you over-promised and under-delivered? Share your story?


The religious leaders in Matthew 23 were famous for breaking their promises. Not only did the Pharisees break their word, but they perverted the truth under the disguise and façade of spirituality. They were extremely deceitful; they happily played word games in order to avoid telling the truth and to avoid keeping their word. They constructed an elaborate system of oaths, some of which were binding and some were not. They treated making vows much like children who claim to invalidate their promises by crossing their fingers. As a result, the Lord condemned them for this self-inflicted moral blindness. He also calls them “blind guides” because they were so ignorant of the truth. They developed an elaborate system of what was binding and what was not. In this way they could sound very religious by making all sorts of boastful promises without ever keeping them. They should have known better, Deuteronomy 23:21 states, “When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the LORD your God will surely require it of you.” Ecclesiastes 5:5 states, “When you vow a vow to God, defer not to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools: pay that which you have vowed.” Jesus makes it plain that every vow is binding regardless of what you swear by for ultimately it is made before God who is the creator of everything and He will hold you to it.

The Lord clearly illustrates this in the two examples that He uses. The first example is swearing on the gold of the temple (v.16) and the second example is swearing by the gift (sacrifice) on the alter (v.18).

Investigation & Interpretation:

  • Read: Matthew 23:16-22
  1. What are the similarities between Matthew 5:33-37 and Matthew 23:16-22?
  2. What was the difference between swearing “by the temple” as opposed to “the gold of the temple”? v.16
  3. What was the difference between swearing “by the altar” as opposed to “the gift on the altar”? v.18
  4. Which is greater, the gift or the altar? Why? v.19
  5. In verse 16, Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides”, in verse 17, he calls them “blind fools”, and then in verse 19, he calls them “blind men”. How is spiritual blindness related to sin?

Application - How must I change?

  • Is there a Truth to be believed?

It is important to notice that from verse 16-22 Jesus does not call the Pharisees hypocrites (even though they are acting hypocritically), rather he calls them “blind guides” (v.16), “blind fools” (v.17) and “blind men” (v.19). The reason for this is because the Pharisees had substituted the Word of God for their own traditions. What they were teaching was not biblical. They had propagated a culture of deceit in a religious veneer (you could lie and be religious). What modern day religious methods can you identify, that are used to cover up sin?

  • Is there an Attitude to be fostered?

The religious Pharisees were liars. Jesus makes the connection between the Pharisees and the devil, when he says to them in John 8:44 “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” What would you say is the single most dreadful lie (taught today by false hypocritical teachers) that keeps people from understanding the gospel?

  •  Is there a Behavior to be changed?

Having reflected on the Pharisees, how can we practically live a life without loopholes?

  • Where are the loopholes in your spiritually life?
  • What lies of the devil influence your behaviour?


Jesus condemned the religious Pharisees. Woe to these blind guides, these fools, these blind men because they were deceitful liars disguising their teaching that would permit others to stay in sin which ultimately prevents people from coming to Christ. If sin is never exposed, if you do not think you are sinning and you think it is okay with God, then you are not going to come to Christ. How wicked is that? If you have a religious way to feel good about yourself and you think you are not sinning, then you will not come to Christ. These Pharisees were trying to look righteous on the outside; but in the inside, they were deceitful liars. Where are you today? Are you spiritually blind? Has God revealed to you from His word that you are a sinner? Have you recognized your sinfulness before Him? That the wages of sin is death; the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord? God is a gracious God. He sent Jesus to die for our sins. He will forgive you. If you are not redeemed, you will go to hell. You will pay the penalty. But Jesus died for sins; He paid the price.

If you are redeemed remember, God is omnipresent and sees us even when we are not aware of His presence. He hears our promises and expects us to keep them. He promises us the grace we need to keep our promises. He gives us grace to fulfill our marriage commitments, our vocational commitments, our relational commitments, our ministry commitments, church commitments; He gives us the grace to keep all of our biblical commitments! 


Prayer Points:  

  1. Pray we would be people of spiritual integrity and keep our promises.
  2. Pray we would be truthful and gracious in sharing the gospel.
  3. Pray we will have a high view of the holiness of God.

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