I'd like to share with you the woes of Christ. We rarely hear about these, as most preachers prefer to preach positive messages that please the crowds. One mega church pastor says that he does not preach about hell or against sin, because people hear enough negative things already, rather, he prefers to give them something positive and uplifting. He says, "I'm for people," and "I'm not against anything." It's no wonder his church draws tens of thousands of people every Sunday.
But the Lord did not neglect to preach against sin and warn people about hell, as I have already pointed out in my article, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught. Since He loves us and does not want us to perish, He did not fail to issue dire warnings of God to people, but freely gave them whenever they were necessary. Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not do the same. His woes are still just as important today as they were then, and they deserve our attention, in case any of them might apply to our own lives.
The word "woe" is a primary exclamation of grief, sorrow, or distress. It is still in use today, and can even be used as a slang word to express shock, amazement, or surprise, although most people misspell it as "whoa!" As John Wesley put it, the woes of Christ were "solemn, compassionate declarations of the misery, which these stubborn sinners were bringing upon themselves."
Eight Woes of Hypocrites
In Matthew 23, we find the eight woes that Jesus delivered to hypocrites, in which He repeatedly used the phrase, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” They are woes to these particular people for the following:
1. For making salvation hard for other people.
He said, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in." (Mat 23:13).
In Luke's gospel, it says, "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." (Luk 11:52)
There are still those who do this today, adding to the Word of God man-made rules and traditions of men that God does not require, which make it impossible for people to ever be saved. Neither they nor their followers will enter heaven. One of the things they do is to call things "sin" which are not sins according to God. They do not preach the fear of God, which is the beginning of knowledge, and they do not tell people the true way to be saved. Woe to them!
2. For devouring widows' homes and pretending to pray long.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Mat 23:14).
There are still those who devour widows' houses in various ways, primarily through pleading for their money in the name of God. And the same goes for those today who make long prayers for a show, who are merely pretenders. Their condemnation is greater.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around 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." (Mat 23:15)
4. For trivializing religion.
"Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it." (Mat 23:16-22)
5. For neglecting the more important matters of the law.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Mat 23:23-24)
In Luke's gospel, it says, "But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Luk 11:42)
As I pointed out in my article, Is Tithing Required for Christians, the Lord here did not condemn tithing or nullify that requirement. In fact, He affirmed it's importance by saying, "...these are the things you should have done." But He warned those who tithe meticulously while neglecting the much more important commandments of God. While they work so hard to ensure that they tithe on every increase they receive, they neglect justice, mercy, faithfulness, and the love of God, which are even greater matters. These things are as much weightier than tithing as a camel is heavier than a gnat.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." (Mat 23:25-26; cf. Lk 11:39-41)
We still have those who take great care to ensure that they and their belongings are clean on the outside, but they are full of greed and self-indulgence within. Woe to them! The Lord taught us to first clean out that which is inside of us, in order that the outside may also become clean.
7. For hypocrisy and lawlessness within.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Mat 23:27-28)
Much like the previous woe, the Lord here warned those who appear beautiful and righteous to men, but are full of uncleanness, hypocrisy, and lawlessness within. The Lord pronounced a woe over such people.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." (Mat 23:29-36)
Woe to Those Who Do Not Repent
The apostle Matthew tells us that the Lord also used the word "woe" to denounce the citizens of certain cities (Mat 11:20). In other words, He spoke this word to solemnly declare the impending threat of destruction over their lives.
"Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.'" (Mat 11:20-21; cf., Luk 10:13)
As I pointed out in my article, Was Jesus Seeker Friendly?, the Lord did not cater to the crowds or try to sweet talk them into following Him. He told it like it is. He warned people of their need to repent, and this was a critical part of his message. He did not tolerate the unrepentant or accept a mere "Sinner's Prayer" from such people.
You may be surprised to know that many people who get healed by the Lord, or receive a miracle, do not continue on to follow the Lord. They do not repent, but continue on in their sins. The same is true of others who have seen healing and miracles take place in meetings where the gospel is preached, and yet they do not repent. Woe to them!
Woe to Those Who Become Stumbling Blocks
Jesus said, "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! (Mat 18:7)
In Luke's gospel, He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!" (Luk 17:1)
May the Lord help us not to be someone that makes others stumble into sin. This is a serious sin in God's sight. As the apostle Paul said, let us determine "not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way." (Rom 14:13)
Jesus said, "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full." (Luk 6:24)
That same mega church pastor that I referred to previously has become very wealthy through his best selling books, and his church brings in 90 million dollars a year. As I have explained in my article, What's Wrong with the Prosperity Gospel?, Scripture warns against the deceitfulness of riches. And as I said in my article, Wisdom for Wealthy Preachers and Prosperity Teachers, it is going to be extremely difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Woe to them.
In light of all the prosperity teaching these days, it's high time we adopt A Biblical View of the Poor.
Woe to the Well-Fed
Jesus said, "Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry." (Luk 6:25a)
Some people eat well in this life. They enjoy the best of food and plenty of it. Paul said, " Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things." (Phil 3:19, NIV). Their god is their appetite. Perhaps they even neglect fasting. But in the end, they will go hungry. It will not go well for them. Woe to them!
Woe to Those Who Laugh Now
Jesus said, "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." (Luk 6:25b).
In heaven there will be much laughing, and in this life, we as followers of Christ have great joy. But we also must be sober, serious. It is not becoming of a disciple of Christ to be always cracking jokes and making fun of things, laughing. As John Wesley said, they "are of a light trifling spirit." Matthew Henry said they "have always a disposition to be merry, and always something to make merry with... and are always entertaining themselves with the laughter of the fool." Sadly there are even preachers like this. Woe to them! For they shall mourn and weep eternally, wailing endlessly with a regretful sorrow that is without ease or remedy.
Woe to You When All Speak Well of You
Jesus said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way." (Luk 6:26)
As I wrote in my articles Popularity of the Gospel and Persecuted or Popular?, it is not considered a blessing when everyone speaks well of you. The true gospel is not going to be popular with the majority of the people in the world. And neither are those who preach the true gospel. Therefore, woe to you when all men speak well of you. That's how they treated the false prophets!
Woe to Those Who Love Prominence and Respect
Jesus said, "Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places." (Luk 11:43)
This woe is still relevant today. There are still those, even among ministers, who love having a place of prominence and receiving respectful greetings in public. They love the chief seat, the reserved parking spot, and the place of honor. They love to have people greet them respectfully as "Reverend," "Bishop," "Pastor," "Apostle," or "Prophet." Woe to them. As I said in my article, Clergy-Laity Distinction Unbiblical, we shouldn’t let anyone address us with such titles and we should not address anyone with titles. Rather, we must walk in humility.
Putting it All Together
I hope this has helped to see that our Lord did not neglect to warn us with very serious woes, which we still need to hear today. They have not become any less important or relevant today than they were then. Let's allow the Holy Spirit to bring the conviction to our hearts and repent wherever applicable. And those who preach the gospel should include these woes in their messages just as the Lord did. Live your life today as if there is no tomorrow. With these things the Lord will be pleased.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: If you would like to become a disciple, consider enrolling in our Doulos Training School. You are invited to read Was Jesus Seeker Friendly?, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught, Wisdom for Wealthy Preachers and Prosperity Teachers, The Difference Between a Disciple and a Believer, The Cost of Discipleship, Popularity of the Gospel, Michael Shigaba's Encounter with Jesus, Strive to Enter the Kingdom of God, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, A Warning for Married Christian Couples, Godly Attire and Adornment -- Seven Divine Revelations, Carrying Your Cross or Cross Dressing?, Alcohol and Cigarettes -- Ten Divine Revelations, Keeping Sundays Holy - Part I, Keeping Sundays Holy - Part II, Rock, Rap, and Reggae Music -- Three Divine Revelations, The Forgotten Sin of Worldliness, Separation from the World, Life Transformation Groups, and Ask for the Ancient Paths. You may access the Main Directory for this Seeking the Lord blog for more articles like this, as well as my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.