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Re-Thinking Your Religious Stuff

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(3/17) One of the primary excuses that people give for dropping out of church or for not attending church is the presence of hypocrites in the church. Do you remember that almost exactly a year ago, we answered the question, If Christianity is Real, Why Are There So Many Hypocrites in the Church? As I have told you before, even if people have never read the Bible, they have an idea of what Jesus is like and they expect, (and rightfully so) that His followers would be like Him and when they aren't, the world doesn't want to know or follow Him. Jesus, our blessed Lord said, that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, in fact, it literally reads that we are the only salt and the only light and we are to conduct ourselves in such a way that the world will see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven. We are the absolute best advertisement for Jesus that there is, but we are also the absolute worst advertisement for Jesus that there is. I told you a few weeks ago, about Gandhi, who studied the sermon the mount and the life of Jesus and modeled his own non-violent protests after Jesus, yet when asked why he wasn't a Christian, is said to have responded, "I would be if I would see His followers being like Him."

So what is a hypocrite? The Word Hypocrite is a word that refers to an actor wearing a mask. In the ancient Greek plays and theater, actors wore masks like the smiley or sad faces we used to see in the corner of the credits of old movies. Baltimore has a famous theater called the Hippodrome. A Hypocrite is someone who is pretending to be someone that he isn't, or someone pretending that he isn't what he is. Do you understand that? He is a pretender, an actor. When People pretend to follow Jesus but their lives aren't like Jesus, or when they pretend they are righteous but their lives haven't changed, they are pretenders - hypocrites. The world sees this and dismisses the thought of converting to being a Christ Follower. When our Lord made His appearance in the first century, it seems as if, not all, but most of the religious leaders were hypocrites. Religion was a stage, and religious stuff was the opportunity to play to a crowd for applause. For example look at Matthew 23:1-15. But our Lord told us, that we are not to be like that, and in 5:20 He says, that unless we are different we cannot be part of His kingdom.

I. The Requirement Given (5:48)

Christ Followers must be noticeably different from the world, and different from the religious leaders of His day. Our goal is to cause people to glorify, bless, and honor our Father as we live like Jesus (5:16). He has told us in the verse we looked at last week, that our Father in Heaven is our model. What we do or don't do isn't based on what we want, but on Who our Father is and What He does. He expects or demands that His children be mature, and think and act like Him. That, my friends, is the gist if verse 48, "Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is Perfect."

Some of you may have read the novel by Charles Sheldon written over 100 years ago, called, In His Steps, It is about a pastor who because of a tragedy that occurred when God's people didn't act like Jesus, challenged his congregation to join Him in making a pledge to make no decisions this year without first asking this question, "What Would Jesus Do?" That's where that WWJD came from. Would you be willing to make such a pledge? It is a novel, but it demonstrates what is possible when God's people take serious the challenge to follow Jesus.

II. The Righteousness Expected (6:1a). No matter what we claim about Christianity being a relationship and not a religion, there are certain things that we are expected to do-religious stuff. Good stuff; things that are in keeping with our beliefs; that come out from our faith. Verse 1, uses the words, Alms, or Charitable Deeds, or Acts of Righteousness for this stuff, For example, we will:

Gather on Sunday's (or an acceptable day and time) with others to worship and encourage each other and learn God's Word. We do so because Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the Dead.

We will sing songs of praise, doctrine or testimony, because God loves music and loves it when we express worship with singing. And its a way to express our gratitude for His grace given at the cross.

We will read, study, meditate on, memorize and live by God's Word, for this is the Word of Life and the Truth.

We will sacrifice our time with love to serve each other or to teach each other in some way as we model our lives after Jesus's love; because Jesus came not to be served but to serve. By the way, who are you serving?

We will proselytize or evangelize because we have good news to share, knowing that unless people hear and repent they can not be saved.

We will give to the poor, to our church, to our community, to charity, because we have been instructed by our Father to do so, because He does and He wants us to do the same.

We will pray, as we praise and express gratitude, and seek our Father's guidance or help on our behalf or to intercede for others. Sometimes we pray publically or in unison with others, and sometimes we pray privately.

We will sometimes fast; or devote periods of time to prayer forgoing meals or personal desires as we seek our Father's favor in some crisis, or event.

I know I may have not covered everything, but you get the point.

III. A Warning Given (6:1ff)

Now, here is the deal, as we enter Chapter 6, if any of the things we have mentioned are just for show, then it is a sham, and God knows it and so do you, and you are doing more harm than good to yourself and to our Lord's glory. And your sham is worthless. Paul reminds us that there is coming a day when everything we have ever done will be on the big screen and we will be rewarded for the things we have done whether they have been good things or worthless things (2 Cor. 5:10). Here, our Lord says, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven."

Listen to me carefully, our Lord is Not telling us to not to do acts of righteousness publically, He is not telling us not to pray publically. What He is telling us is, to not do any of our stuff for personal glory. It is not to be a show, it is not for the applause, it is not for the fame; it must always be for the Glory of God. Look back at 5:16, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."

Do you see the phrase, "To be seen by men," it comes from the Greek word, "theomai," from which we get the word, 'Theater,' Hypocrites were actors wearing the masks of religious God-followers, and their religion was their theater from which their soul desire was to get the highest reviews from the audience for their piety. Everything they did was for show and applause. Let’s notice:

When they gave to charity they announced their gift, "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." (v.2). The gift may have helped the poor and needy and the poor and needy probably were grateful, and they could say they gave in accordance with God's will to care for the poor, but the motive was for show-"look what a wonderful person I am." Did they literally blow a trumpet? I don't know. Trumpets were blown to get people's attention, to warn them or to gather them together for a special purpose. The point is that these folks wanted to advertise their charitable ways. For years and years Jerry Lewis has hosted a Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. And for years large corporations would present huge six foot checks from their corporation to the cause. The purpose is twofold, support the cause, but also to advertise the corporation.

When they prayed at prescribed times, "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward" (v.5). Usually at 9, 12, and 6, many Jews would recite the Shema, that is, Deut. 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one," or (Deut. 6:4-9), or they would pray the Shemenoh 'esray (the Eighteen), a series of 18 prayers for all occasions. These were said every day at the prescribed times. These religious actors would make sure they were at the most public places and recite these prayers loudly, Look at Mark 12:38-40, "Then He said to them in His teaching, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation." The praying wasn't to seek God but to play to the crowd. Also, when they prayed they would use repetitive phrases and try to think of as many adjectives as possible to ascribe to God, because they thought the more they said, the more likely that God himself would take special note of their piety. Matthew 6:7, "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words."

Though there was only one prescribed fast a year and that was for the Day of Atonement, people often fasted. Basically speaking, fasting is the foregoing of something necessary or desired in order to focus on God by prayer and meditation. Instead of preparing and eating meals, people would devote that time to concentrate on seeking God's grace or favor or help. Many of these religious leaders fasted twice a week. Do you remember the story of the two men who went in to the temple to pray in Luke 18? "He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ But the fasting was show, a performance, look at what our Lord says, v. 16, "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." They purposely put on torn clothing, messed up their hair, maybe even rubbed ashes on themselves, or used a little make-up to show what pious people they are to the crowds.

Other forms of Hypocrisy- Let's just stop for a moment and consider that there are other ways that people often portray hypocrisy.

When we are ashamed to confess Christ because of the consequences. John 12:42-43 says, " Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."

When we teach or preach only what people want to hear. Gal. 1:10 says, "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." There are some pastors and teachers who smile a lot and only teach or preach what will please the people, whether it is true or not.

When we only work hard or diligently when the boss is around, "Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; 6 not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, (Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:23)

When we cater to one group of people over another like Peter and Barnabas did. Gal. 2:11-13; "Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy."

When we are more concerned with our traditions than we are the Word of God (Matt. 15:1-9) For some, the way we always did it is mor important than what God's word really says, "Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread. He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ By the way, some approach Church this way every week, they come and stand and maybe sing but their hearts are far from worshiping God. But they feel they are okay because they have none their religious stuff.

Notice what our Lord says about Hypocrisy, one may get the applause from man, but absolutely nothing from God, and none of these things for none of these things has any eternal value, their works have been good for nothing (2 Cor. 5:10). Job said, "So are the paths of all who forget God;

And the hope of the hypocrite shall perish, Whose confidence shall be cut off, And whose trust is a spider’s web. He leans on his house, but it does not stand. He holds it fast, but it does not endure." (Job 8:13-15) Because his confidence has been in himself and the praise of people, a hypocrite has nothing to strengthen him or her when a trial or tough times hit, and unless they are born again, all of their religious stuff will be for nothing. (cp. Matthew 24:51)

IV. A Right Way Described -

A.) Matt. 6:3-4, "when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret..." The idea, is that our giving is to be discreet; caring about the person or charity in need and not for attention, applause or even a, "Thank You." God sees, God approves, and God will reward. God expects us to give as He has given to us. Giving from our resources is a way of gracing the lives of others. God has always designed that His people care for the poor and needy, that is one of the five primary purposes for the money God has blessed you to have. But the goal for your giving must always be that the recipient would express gratitude to God and see the goodness of God in the gift (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).

B.) Matt. 6:6-8 " But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him." This is not prohibiting public prayers. Jesus prayed in public and there are several references to prayer meetings. It is simply saying that praying is not to be recited prayers, it is to be a conversation between a child and his or her Father. It is to the Father we are speaking and not to impress an audience. You must always remember that whether we sing, play the piano, guitar, or pray, we are doing so for an audience of one. Find a quiet place, a private place if possible where you can talk undistracted to your Father. Our Lord often went into a garden or up on a mountain to pray. It may be in your car, your basement, your garage, taking a walk, a stump in the woods, or in your recliner before your wife and children get up. Everyone should try to have a quiet, private place to talk to their Father in Heaven. (More about this after Easter)

C.) Matt. 6:17-18, "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." If you dedicate time to fast to seek God and His intervention, Take a shower, shave, use deodorant, after shave, cologne, perfume, fix your hair, put on clean clothes and don't draw attention to yourself. Fasting is to examine your life, to seek God's intervention, to petition God for special needs and not for applause or attention from the public.

V. The Reward Desired - In all three of these righteous deeds, a reward is mentioned. Verses 4, 6, and 18 all say, that God who sees in secret will reward you, and the KJV or NKJV says 'openly.'

When you give charitably you need to remember that the Bible principle is true, you reap what you sow. Listen to these promises, "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38) Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:6 "But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." Solomon said, "The generous soul will be made rich, And he who waters will also be watered himself." (Proverbs 11:25). God often rewards the charitable soul by returning what has been given and more. The old saying is true, "You cannot out give God."

God rewards faithful praying and fasting by answering our prayers, or giving us the peace to trust and rest in Him even when He doesn't answer in the way we want. He gives us the confidence to know that He knows what we need and He cares. And He will bring blessings even out of brokenness.

And if not this side of Life, then on the other side, God has promised a crown, a home, an inheritance, a shared Glory, a throne, a new name, and a commendation, "Well done thou good and faithful servant,"

I love it when a soldier, a police officer, a firefighter or others are rewarded for heroism and in response they say, "I was just doing my job."

Our Job is described in Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?"

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Janet Schmidt

  • Do you know Jesus as your Savior and Lord?
  • Do you need to repent of doing religious stuff for a show or a tax right-off?
  • Do you need to renew your commitment to follow Jesus? Perhaps to make no decision without asking what would Jesus do?

Let's pray

Janet Schmidt was widowed with four small children that she raised off her social security check without ever drawing attention to her situation. She came to our church back in the late 80’s and served in such a way that blessed others and never drew attention to herself. For example,

  • When Debbie led VBS, Janet would prepare our meals every evening for that week. And bring it in a pick-nick basket, with something special for the children. She would arrive, knock on the door, and set it on our table and leave. Never once, waiting for a "Thank you."
  • She would offer her humble country home to us to invite 4-5 couples to dinner and she would prepare the meal and serve us as if we were in a restaurant.
  • She knew Debbie and I loved pumpkin pie but Debbie didn’t like making pie crusts, so one day she came to the door with a bag full of homemade pie crusts for the freezer.
  • Once on our anniversary, she called and asked if she could make us a dinner, she came in placed a pretty table cloth on our table, with flowers, a big meal, and then left. She didn’t stay and eat with us. She didn’t want our praise, she wanted to serve us.
  • When I became a chaplain in the Carroll County Detention center, I had Bible lessons that I would give to the inmates who wanted to learn the scriptures, Janet wanted a way to serve and she would use the answer key and grade all the lessons for me. I wanted to honor her at our banquet for what she did but she wouldn’t let me because she wasn’t doing it for honor.
  • And when she developed Lou Gehrig’s disease, to my knowledge, she never complained, her faith was totally in Jesus Christ. I was honored to be her pastor and preside over memorial service
  • She was served her Lord by serving his people with humility and grace and her memory will always be with Debbie and I.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman