"But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Matt. 23:8-12).
Jesus did not want His disciples to use religious titles. The title of "Rabbi" was reserved for the Jewish doctors of the Law of Moses. The word itself meant "master" or "teacher." A modern religious equivalent would be the title "Doctor" (e.g., Doctor of Divinity, Doctor of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, etc.). Jesus' point in this section is that His followers should not use religious titles to create artificial distinctions among themselves. The use of titles tends to imply that a certain one has more authority or is superior (e.g., Reverend, Most Right Reverend, etc.). Such is not the case religiously, even if a man has decades of experience, has completed years of advanced studies, and has a host of "letters" he could use after his name. Pursuing religious education is a good thing, even at an advanced level. However, such a one should be content to be known simply as one of the "brethren."
Let it be understood that it is not inherently wrong to refer to oneself or someone else descriptively as a "teacher." This can be shown to be the case from passages such as: Acts 13:1, I Timothy 2:7, and II Timothy 1:11. Jesus is prohibiting the use of the words in this section (i.e., "rabbi," "father," and "teacher") when they are used as titles of religious honor, authority, or superiority. Our Lord wants all to be humble, even those with great spiritual knowledge.
"Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven" - One might rightly wonder how our Catholic friends can miss this simple command. They fondly refer to their local church leader as "Father," and they certainly mean it as a religious title. Do they not understand Jesus' teaching here, or do they simply disobey His command out of ignorance?
It should be observed that this prohibition would not forbid a physical son from referring to his male parent as "father." It also would not ban a "spiritual son" from referring to his "father in the faith" as such (e.g., I Cor. 4:15).
Rather than exalting ourselves with religious titles, Jesus wants us to be humble servants - "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (cf. Luke 14:11; 18:14).
In this chapter thus far, Jesus has rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their public displays (i.e., all the things they did "to be seen by men"). Dear friends, we today as followers of Christ must be mindful of our motives. It is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. May we empty ourselves of pride and seek to do God's will faithfully--regardless of who is or isn't watching and regardless of the arrogant titles that many religious leaders use!