Christians today find it easy to hold the scribes and pharisees of Jesus’ day in contempt. If Jesus was so critical, then they must have been evil religious hypocrites, right?
We forget that they were among the most highly respected people in their society. Most of them, at least, must have been sincere and honorable. Alas, too many modern Christian leaders take after the ones Jesus scolded. (One, of course, is one too many.) When they come under criticism, many of their followers go to great lengths to defend them.
Indeed, religious leaders who live less than godly lives have always presented a quandary. Jesus’ message, essentially “do what they tell you, not what they do,” means that we cannot make any kind of snap judgment. We must use some discernment.
In recent decades, an alarming number of prominent Christian leaders (and probably many more known only locally) have fallen into some kind of sexual sin. Many people find it scandalous when some of them choose to keep on ministering as if nothing happened. At best, do what they tell you, not what they do.
That, however, is not the problem Jesus dealt with, and that problem remains common today, too. False leaders, trying to seem important, often try to make everyone’s decisions for them. Even preaching from the New Testament, some of them can manage to turn following Jesus into following them. That requires multiplication of man-made rules and distinctions.
True spiritual leaders demonstrate greater concern for service than for titles or position or reputation. Those who get it backwards eventually come to judgment as infected by the world.
Unfortunately, since all have sinned and nearly all of the worst abusers have some spark of anointing, it takes discernment to tell the difference. The best of Christian leaders want recognition, and the worst of them, on some level, care about the work of the gospel.
Godly preaching can come out of an ungodly lifestyle. If you discern an ungodly lifestyle, stop following that person. Why go to the trouble of separating the wheat from the chaff? But if worldliness does not rise to such an obvious level, determine to learn Scripture well enough to be able to rightly judge the teaching. Follow that, but follow what a leader does only to the extent that he or she follows Christ.