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Appearances Can Be Deceiving (Matthew 23:27)

Sermon on 21 July 2019 by Reverend Lynette

Matthew 23:27 - “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

In this day and age of social media, we base our decisions on what looks good - the number of friends we have, how good food looks and how many likes we get. Media was used to photoshop celebrities to look more beautiful but now any good camera app can make us slimmer and with good skin. People learn how to package themselves and present themselves in a good way. They look more on the outside than on the inside. Politicians also package themselves very well, even ministers of the church or believers within the church. We can learn how to package, but are we working on what’s important to God? The first step we need to do is either to judge or not to judge. Believers are often surprised that they have to judge. However, if they don’t judge, they will end up hurt and bitter as they are deceived. We need to learn how to judge.

In Matthew 23:27,

The Pharisees studied the word of God and studied the commands well. They dressed with many accessories hanging on them. They appear godly, but Jesus saw through them. They were often jealous of Jesus and didn’t understand His authority. Hence, Jesus judged them.

I want to lead you through what we should judge and what not to judge. We don’t judge superficially. We already know superficial appearances can lead us astray.

1. To Judge or Not To Judge?

a (i). Judge not superficially

1 Samuel 16:1 - “Now the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.””


1 Samuel 16:6-7 - “So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.””


We often look at wealth, status and eloquence. We quickly jump to conclusions and don’t even check with the Lord. We need to learn how to see as the Lord sees. The word helps us to do so.

1 Samuel 16:10-12 - “Thus Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!””

God saw the heart of David. When we read the Psalms, we see David’s heart for God. In this dramatic story, we see David’s heart turned towards the Lord. When we seek the Lord, our hearts are turned towards Him. We seek the Lord.

a (ii) Judge Spiritually

Matthew 7:15-20 - ““Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

We cannot jump to conclusions but instead wait on the Lord. I like to do something quickly and when something is good, I jump into it. I’ve learnt over these years to slow down not only for the Lord but for my husband. I’ve made fewer mistakes. Many times, my husband will tell me to watch out for this person and not share too much. I begin to pray whether I should share or not to share. I began to hear from the Lord and not just how good the situation is. Sometimes we may judge wrongly and think that something is not good just because it doesn’t look good. However, time will tell.

1 John 2:3-6 - “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”

1 John 2:9-11 - “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

Many Singaporean believers are deceived by eloquence of so-called ministers. However, John wrote clearly what is good and evil. You begin how to judge leaders. From their fruit and lifestyle, you will know them. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. If people say this is the time to give, you take a step back, kneel and pray and listen to God’s word.

John 16:13 - “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

He will prepare you ahead of time. When you are on your knees, you begin to hear from the Lord. The Holy Spirit will show you. Many years ago, my husband and I were still courting each other. I remember the Holy Spirit showing something. I was going down the escalator while he was coming up. I thought that the young man that I saw in that split second was a man of God. I was shocked as we were just going into the working world. The thought kept coming back to me. We may not know all things, but whatever we need to know, He will tell us.

2 Corinthians 5:16 - “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

We judge not by flesh but by the Spirit. It is after the Spirit, after what Jesus have done for us on the Cross. We judge no longer superficially but spiritually.

b (i) Judge not critically or hypocritically

Matthew 7:1-5 (AMPC) - “DO NOT judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others, you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you [use to] deal out to others, it will be dealt out again to you. Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother's eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye, when there is the beam of timber in your own eye? You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother's eye.”

Jesus was talking about the critical spirit - judging to condemn people and bring them down. If you don’t understand the full meaning of the original word, people think that they shouldn’t judge so that they won’t be judged. No, this is not judging to condemn or to tear down people so that you won’t be torn down. Instead, Jesus says don’t be hypocritical and let the word of God judge yourself first so that we can see clearer and walk in His light. Because of not judging, we see people do wrong and walk the path of destruction, keeping quiet. We need to judge in a different Spirit.

b (ii) Judge righteously

John 7:24 - “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Judge fairly and righteously. (AMPC)

1 Thessalonians 5:21 - “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

When good things come, hold fast. It is what is good in the Lord. Hold on to what is the good plan to the Lord. We want to go deeper with eyes of the Lord. Testing means to evaluate, to see if it is genuine. We need to judge with a correct attitude.

2.    What and Who Do We Judge?

a.  Doctrine

2 Timothy 2:15 - “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Not every teaching we hear is correct. There are teachings that sound good but are erroneous. There are preachings that sound like it came from the Bible, but they aren’t good. I’m also learning how to evaluate and test. I rather share the word of God than those worldly sayings that aren’t helpful. The Bible says you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. We hold on to truth. Half truth or opinions of man may sound good but we need to evaluate if it’s good to apply. We must learn how to judge. Believers must make effort. Some believers, after 10-20 years with God don’t want to pray as they don’t know the word of God. This isn’t humility. God told us to be diligent and we need to know the word of God. There’s no excuse to not know the word of God and not praying. There’s always a first time to grow and learn. There’s nothing to be afraid of as you are in the body of Christ. If some of you have taken many steps already, continue. Be courageous to start a lifetime of word in you. We need to judge the doctrine and when you know the word of God, you know the character of God. You can discern what is light and darkness.

b.  Prophecy

1 Corinthians 14:29 - “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”

We need to judge as the word tells us to. What the prophets say today, is it of the Holy Spirit?

Acts 21:10-14 - “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ ” Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.””

c.  Prophets, Leaders & Teachers of the World

2 Peter 2:1-3 - “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”

2 Timothy 4:3-4 - “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

We begin to understand the Spirit in which these false teachers are operating in. They want to give in to their own desires and not God’s kingdom. Paul taught us to not listen to these false teachers. Hence, we need to judge and defend ourselves from them.

d.  Ourselves

James 1:22-25 - “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

If you are deceiving yourselves, you are not listening to God. When you look into the mirror of God’s word, you see the truth. We have to follow the truth. However, if we turn away, it is deception. We need to observe and apply. We cannot remain deceived from ourselves. We don’t like being corrected due to the system of society and start to be defensive. However, it is good to be corrected by the word. Being corrected by godly people is humbling. We then walk in the truth and don’t deceive ourselves. He made us worthy to come into the Holy of Holies so we need to be diligent and judge ourselves. We will be able to continue in the Lord.

3.    How Are We Able To Judge?

a.  No Word, Know deception; Know the Word, No Deception

2 Timothy 3:15-16 - “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,”

b.  Inner Witness

1 John 2:20 - “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”


1 John 2:27 - “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”

We understand that we have the inner witness. The Holy Spirit and anointing in you will show you things abiding in Christ, not to pull you out of Christ. It is very clear. How do we judge righteously? We don’t judge superficially, critically or hypocritically.

Pastor Justin’s summary:

I’m so thankful that we are reminded once again as a congregation that every step will lead to a thousand miles. Appearances can be deceiving. This reminded me on one saying - what you see is what you get if you don’t judge righteously. I want all of us to be reminded again that the Bible said we look at the fruit of the tree. Look at the fruit because appearances can be deceiving. To judge righteously, we need to read the word and the Spirit behind the word. You are called to judge and preach the word. You are called to rebut, exalt and convince as the world have itchy ears.


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