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A Parade of Pretense | Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18

August 14, 2016 Preacher: Ryan Gilbert Series: Sermon on the Mount

Scripture: Matthew 6:1–8, Matthew 6:16–18

Transcript

Today we are getting into chapter 6 of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount. It looks like we have about 8 weeks left of the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m telling you, it just gets better and better. And by better I mean more and more life-transforming. My prayer every single week is that God use His Word to mold our hearts and minds, and that’s my prayer for this morning as well.

Today we look at how Jesus addressed the Pharisees, who had made huge shows out of some of the most important disciplines within their faith. Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting had become charades. They were all about the show, the recognition, all about what people thought vs. what God thought. What we can learn from Jesus today seems to be so relevant to you and me in the 21st century.

That’s because we live in a culture driven by image. How you are presented, how people see you determines who you really are, or at least that’s how so many of us think, whether we know it or not. If people see me as significant, important, talented, etc., then I am. If people don’t see me as those things, then I’m not. Reality does not dictate how we see ourselves or anyone else. Perception dictates how we see ourselves and everyone else. Particularly for younger generations, who increasingly socialize and interact with people online as opposed to in person, it’s so easy to present yourself however you want to online, whether it really gives an accurate picture of who you are or not. But even in real life, there is a huge struggle we have with wanting to present ourselves in a certain way, and therefore find value and self-worth in how others perceive us.

This can happen with our faith as well. Maybe we don’t struggle as much as the Pharisees do, as obnoxious as we’re going to see they were, but part of this sinful human condition that all people have, is trying to find our identity, our value, in what people think of us, rather than in Christ. We go through the motions, doing things he wants to do, but not because our hearts are in it, but because that’s how we want to be seen by others. Honestly, if we call it what it really is, it’s hypocrisy.

We’ve been looking at what Jesus taught about the Law, correcting Jewish misinterpretation, and explaining what God actually taught in the Old Testament. And Jesus has been explaining how far off the Jews were with their traditions, and that’s what we’ve been looking at for the last several weeks, what inner righteousness looks like, as opposed to just outward righteousness. And in Matthew 6 he continues this theme, but with specific disciplines of the Christian faith. You see, even with these specifically outward things that we do—giving, praying, and fasting, disciplines that help us follow Christ—even with us doing these outward things, our inward motivations can be completely off. Let’s read, starting in Mat. 6:1-

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

At this point, Jesus goes into a digression of sorts, giving a model of how to pray. We’re going to look at that in-depth next week. But I do want us to move down to verse 16, and read three more verses. You’ll see the parallel he’s making, but this time he’s talking about fasting. Starting with vs. 16:

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

So, Jesus gives us three specific things, in fact the three primary disciplines that practicing Jews took seriously—giving, praying, and fasting—and he makes very clear with them that these disciplines are not to be done for show! In fact, a sort of thesis verse for everything we just read is verse 1, which says again:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” “Beware” means to “pay really close attention.” The word for “to be seen” is the same word from which we get “theater.” It’s saying beware of practicing your righteousness as a performance, a theatrical play! Why? Because that is false righteousness. That doesn’t reflect the real righteousness that we receive from Christ. It’s fake. And guess what? There is a reward for it…you perform it for people, you get your reward from people, but not from God. Real righteousness that we receive by repenting and placing our faith in Christ is a righteousness of the heart.

Ultimately, we’re not to do anything when it comes to our faith simply for show, or just so people are impressed with us. That’s not the point of our faith, to impress people with our actions. But that’s what the Pharisees did, so Jesus was telling them what God thought about their performances. This is sort-of a performance review. So let’s look at these three disciplines one at a time and see what we can learn from Jesus. The first one, giving to the needy, I’ll summarize Jesus’ words in verses 1-4 by simply saying:

 

  1. Give and Forget (vv. 1-4).

That may sound familiar, because it’s close to the common saying, “Forgive and Forget.” I didn’t mean it to sound like that, but it does. Verse 2: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.” Now, I don’t think they’re referring to an actual trumpet here, although that certainly could have happened, but it seems like Jesus is just using this as an expression, and it’s a pretty good one! If you’ve had a trumpet player in the family, your entire family might hate the sound of the trumpet. That was certainly true for me growing up. I played the trumpet, and still do; I love it. But, growing up, my brother and sister hated the trumpet. Why? Because it was LOUD, and I practiced anywhere from 1-3 hours every single day when I got home from school.

But Jesus doesn’t bring up the trumpet just because it was loud; he brings it up because it was used to announce things! For the Pharisees, they had turned giving alms, or giving to the needy, into an announcement and a show! “Dah, dah-dah-DUH! Look at me! I am now giving money to the needy. Look how generous I am.” Why were they announcing it so dramatically? We see it right there in verse 2, “to be praised by others.” That’s why they were giving in the first place and why they did it in very public places, and that’s also why they didn’t receive a reward from the Father. Why? Because they had received their reward, which was man’s praise! That’s what they wanted anyway. Why would God also reward them, when they were doing it for man’s praise? But we, as followers of Christ, are NOT to be like the Pharisees.

Instead, what are we to do? He says it right there in verse 3: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This is where my summary of Jesus’ words come in. We give, then forget. Not only are we not to give for recognition or to impress people, but in a very real sense, we’re not even to overly recognize ourselves! That’s what he means by “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give, then move on! Don’t walk around with a different kind of strut all day, thinking about how good you are for giving to the needy. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find joy in giving, we should! It’s better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). But, do you do it because you want to be recognized or maybe because you want to feel good about yourself, or do you give out of the overflow of a heart captivated by the Gospel. You see, giving is wonderful thing, a beautiful thing, but we give because Christ gave us infinitely more, not because it adds to our ego.

This is a major part of why giving is anonymous here at Raintree. Only those that help with counting see any of the giving. I don’t, most of the elders don’t, except for the weeks they help with counting, and even then, they don’t study who’s giving and who’s not; they’re just counting. Why? Because we don’t want you to give out of compulsion, or to be recognized, and we don’t want you to ever be guilted into giving. We want you to give, like 2 Corinthians 9:7 puts it, as a “cheerful giver, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

But even Christian organizations, like those that run financial campaigns for churches– many of them completely ignore the need for anonymity. Why? Because it’s more effective to give rewards and public recognition. It’s true. They raise more money faster by giving recognition and rewards and publicizing each pledge, or at least the biggest ones. We naturally desire to be recognized. But so you know, if we ever do some sort of campaign at Raintree, maybe one day to kick out our building debt, it will likely be an in-house campaign, and it will definitely not be manipulative or compulsory or distracting from our main purpose as a church. We give out of an overflow because Christ gave us infinitely more. We give, then move on. We give, then forget. The 2nd discipline that Jesus brings up is prayer, and I summarize his words with this:

 

  1. Pray in Secret (vv. 5-8).

Verses 5-6- “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Once again, the Pharisees were very active in prayer, which is a great thing! But their motivation for praying was not so great. They prayed to be seen praying. That’s what was wrong with what the Pharisees were doing. Jesus is not saying that we should not pray publically, at all. We see public prayers throughout the New Testament; we see Jesus himself praying publically, like when he fed the 5,000. Jesus is instead making the point, particularly for the Pharisees, that prayer, of all things, is not a performance.

Just think about it: of all things to twist and somehow make about us, prayer? Really? The purpose of prayer is to know the Father, and to nourish the life of Christ in us. It could not be farther from performance! Prayer is meant for focusing our attention on God, and yet the Pharisees had turned it around to make it something that pointed to their own self-righteousness.

This is probably why they had begun to “heap up empty phrases”, as it’s written in verse 7. That means that were repeating things over and over and over just for the purpose of making the prayer last longer. This is something that the Gentiles did, because they thought that their pagan gods would not actually hear them unless they said it a certain number of times. It reminds of a child who constantly tries to get his dad’s attention: “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, DAD!” What?! You know, finally the dad is annoyed enough to respond. Imagine an adult doing that. “Honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey.” It doesn’t make sense. It’s a sign of incredible immaturity. Of all beings in the universe, God doesn’t need us to pray in some ritualistic manner, saying the same thing over and over and over because that’s how we get Him to hear us. In fact, verse 8 makes the point that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Maybe you don’t struggle with thinking that more words mean a higher likelihood that God will hear you. But, I bet we struggle more than we know with praying things without really thinking about them. It’s easy to pray without thinking, using the same words, phrases, sentences we always use, without reverence and a worshipful attitude. Think about when we pray before meals, if you do that. Are you heaping up empty phrases, not really thinking about what you’re saying? When we come before the Father in prayer, we’re focusing all our attention on Him. We’re speaking to GOD! Let’s not forget that! We can use the same phrases, and even pray the same things, especially if it’s a need that we have, but don’t say it for the sake of saying it. Slow down, make sure in your heart and mind you realize with whom you’re communing. Then pray.

And while it is clear that Jesus isn’t condemning public prayer, I do think it’s worth noting the emphasis on private prayer. Here’s the thing: if we really believe in prayer, and that God hears our prayers (though maybe He doesn’t always answer the way we’d like him to), if we really believe in prayer, we will pray when we’re alone. We will. A question worth asking is, “Do I pray when I’m alone? Do I pray as one who really believes that I have direct access to God because of Christ?” Because if the majority of your prayer time is public, and you don’t really pray in secret, then you don’t believe in prayer. And prayerlessness is a sign of faithlessness.

I’m not saying all this to make you feel guilty; I’m saying this because it could be God revealing a heart issue in some of us. Public praying should be an overflow of a deep, meaningful, secret prayer life. We’ll talk about prayer much more next week as we look at the Lord’s prayer. The third discipline that Jesus addresses with the Pharisees is fasting. I summarize his words with:

 

  1. Fast with Focus.

Look again with me at verses 16-18: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen be others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus addresses the Pharisees yet again saying almost the exact same thing about fasting that he did with giving and praying. Fasting usually means abstaining from food, and sometimes is partial in nature, like eating only at night-time, or not eating certain foods. We see people fast in the Bible particularly during times of mourning, or really important times where the people needed guidance from the Lord even more than usual. Fasting was never some big-time spiritual experience, or for the purpose of creating a sort of spiritual momentum or hype or excitement. Fasting was always for focusing our attention on God, and for reminding ourselves that we’re not to rely on food as much as we are to rely on God for fulfillment and nourishment. Now that may seem like an easy thing for us to say: “Well, of course I rely on God and not on food.” Let me be honest: If you think that’s an easy thing, you’ve likely never gone without eating!

It’s quite remarkable how much we desire food, and think about food, and often we don’t realize just how much we think about food until we skip a meal or two. I love food, and there’s nothing wrong with loving food, but food too can become an idol! We can easily think that the primary nourishment we need as human beings is FOOD as opposed to a regular appetite of the Word of God! You may remember what Jesus said in response to Satan in the desert when he himself was fasting and being tempted by Satan with food! He quoted the Old Testament, and he said: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

This is why I would encourage you to consider making fasting about of your spiritual disciplines. If your health allows you to, maybe just once or twice a year, you take a day where you don’t eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Maybe a few times a year. It is worth noting here that Jesus said, “When you fast.” Many think that that means that Jesus is assuming his followers will fast. I’m not totally sure that that is tantamount to a command from God. I mean, we know very clearly that prayer and giving is commanded throughout the Word of God, but we don’t actually ever see a direct command for Christians to fast. In fact, this verse is the closest we get to that. But, the Bible does speak very highly of fasting, so maybe that’s something for you to pray about. If you need some guidance on how to go about fasting in a healthy way, let me know, I have several great resources that will help with that.

But, the purpose of fasting is clear: not to diet, and definitely not to show off. The Pharisees had made it all into a show, though. No joke, they’d put on old clothes or tear them up, get dirty, and even use make-up to make so obvious that they were going without food. The purpose of fasting had become to LOOK holy in front of people. They wanted to be seen. They wanted to draw attention to themselves, and guess what, they did! And that became their reward! They were seeking man’s attention; they got it, so once again, God sees no purpose in giving a reward when they were seeking something different anyway.

Again, maybe you’re not tempted to look like you’re fasting. Or to make fasting some sort of show; most likely, very few of us ever fast at all. But, generally, do you love the attention you get from people more than the attention you get from God? Does it mean less to you until someone sees it and says something. Maybe it’s Martyr Syndrome, where you’re always talking about how busy you are because you need pity, or recognition that you’re busy. Maybe on social media, you post things that hurt you just to get people to jump in and defend you and affirm you. Look, there’s a place for encouragement, and sympathy, and seeking help. But this idea, especially on social media, that, “Well, so you want me to be fake, Ryan? You don’t want me to be real and honest? I thought that’s what you’re preaching about right now, not being fake.”

I have to clarify this, and for those of you not on social media, don’t worry about this, although it definitely relates to all areas of life. There’s no such thing as being “real” on Facebook, or SnapChat, or Instagram. By definition, it’s a media platform. Do we see this? I think sometimes we forget this, and we excuse ourselves for whatever we do online, because, “Hey, I’m just being real.” Stop it. There’s no such thing as being “real” online. Why? Because you are online. You are not actually there.

I just have to heavily encourage you to think about the “why” every single time you post something. Are you doing it for attention? Are you doing it for man’s praise? Are you doing it to come across as something that maybe you’re not. Not only are we to fast with focus on God. You step back for a moment, and see that we’re to live our entire lives with focus on God, and not ourselves.

 

Concluding Remarks

With these three examples that Jesus brings up, he’s speaking to the heart. What is our motivation for doing anything that we do, especially when it comes to our faith?

  • “Well, I’m supposed to come to church, and if I don’t, people will notice I’m gone and what will they think of me?”
  • “Well, I’m supposed to volunteer, and the fall is coming, and what if people notice my name not on that wall?” Or, on the other side of it:
  • “I’m going to be here every week no matter what, and everyone will see how devoted I am.”
  • “I’m to volunteer for 17 different areas, and everyone will know where my priorities are at.”

Look, I believe strongly that, as a Christian, you need to be here and gather with the Body. As a Christian, you need to serve the Body. And guess what, we shouldn’t not do all that just because we don’t feel like it. BUT, stop looking at the WHAT and start looking at the WHY. Why should I gather with the church, even when I don’t feel like it on a Sunday morning? Not to look holy or simply so no one looks down on me. But because God has established the church to be a place where I am spurred on toward Godliness even in the midst of spiritual slumps. Why should I serve the Body, in children’s ministry or students or whatever it is? Not so that people think of me a bit different than if I didn’t, but because God has called us to serve one another, and called us to invest into the next generation.

Our motivation for everything we do should be the greatest motivation there is: and that is for God’s glory. That’s it. Jesus isn’t saying that no one is ever to know anything we ever do for God. In fact, if you remember back to several weeks ago, in Matthew 5:14, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world! A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Now that seems to contradict everything Jesus said today. I mean, which is it? Live holy lives in front of people or not in front of people? The simplest way to answer this is to realize that in Matthew 5, Jesus is addressing cowardice. He’s saying, we’re not to be afraid of opposition or rejection; we’re to be bold! In Matthew 6, today’s passage, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. Matthew 5-> cowardice, Matthew 6-> hypocrisy. Here’s the funny thing: Both of them characterize people who put too much value on what other people think! Why would we hide our faith? Because we’re embarrassed! We’re worried about what people will think! Why would we put on a show! Because we’re worried about what people think! Matthew 5 and Matthew 6 go together perfectly. Stop worrying about what people think. Stop putting so much value in what people say about you. All that matters is what God says about us. Are you a child of the living God? That’s all the recognition you need. It’s also all the courage you need. In Revelation chapter 4, we see the 24 elders at the throne of God do something shocking with their personal recognition, status, power, their own importance and even reward. Revelation 4:10-11, it says this:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Our hope, our joy, our fulfillment, our redemption, our identity is all hidden with Christ. That’s why at Raintree, the way we articulate our mission is by saying we are “guiding people to a Christ-centered identity and influence.” We have no need to puff ourselves up in front of people, or pretend we’re anything that we’re not, or do things just for attention, especially when it comes to our faith. We don’t need man’s praise, because we have a far greater reward from God, namely, being in His presence for eternity. Just like the elders who cast down their crowns at the throne, we too need no recognition in His presence, because He is worthy of all the recognition. Verse 11, again: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We need no parade of charades or pretense, we need only point to the one who is worthy, the one in whom we find our identity.