I just want to take four words for my text this morning found in Matthew Chapter six and at verse 8 and they are “Do not be like them…” “Do not be like them”
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been instructing his disciples that they are to be different. Kingdom living is different from worldly living. They are to be different in their attitudes, actions and aims in life, different in morals, different in meaning and different in motivation.
“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Outward obedience should be accompanied by inner transformation of the heart and mind and soul or it is mere show with no substance in faith and hope and therefore of no saving worth for their lives.
“What are you doing more than others?” says Jesus
What distinguishes you as a disciple of Christ?
So Jesus turns now to teach his disciples how the righteousness of the Kingdom of heaven works out in the details of the three primary areas of everyday life, public religious life 6:1-18, personal interior life 6:19-34 and interpersonal life 7:1-12. Today we are concerned with the first of these -public religious life.
Again it is all about motivation. Why do we do what we do, to gain the approval of men or the approval of God? Is what we do outwardly a true reflection of how we are inwardly? Are we authentic believers or false hypocrites? Do we say one thing and do another, or do we do one thing and say another?
“Do not be like them...” Jesus says.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do…” Matthew 6:2
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men." Matthew 6:5
“And when you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” Matthew 6:16
The actual word hypocrite, ‘hupokrites’ in the Greek, originally described an actor who was playing a part and who was wearing a mask to conceal his true identity.
Why and how we do things reveals the truth concerning what we truly believe and whether we are sincere or sanctimonious concerning our Christian discipleship.
Notice, firstly then, concerning these three things - giving alms, prayer and fasting that Jesus says “When you…” not “If you…” That is a challenge to us in itself, for are we not often lacking in our devotional lives? In what ways do you live out your faith and endeavour to develop your relationship to God, through prayer, bible reading and by service?
God has given to us many means to do so but do we put these means to as much good use as we ought to? Matthew Wilkins in his very helpful commentary on Matthew’s Gospel tells us:
“Throughout church history the practise of the full panoply of spiritual disciplines has been a key to spiritual growth. These “disciplines” are viewed from different perspectives. One way is to view them as a threefold unity; inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, study), outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service), and corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration). Another way to view them is from a twofold opposite perspective: disciplines of abstinence (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and disciplines of engagement (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission) however we might view them, the important point to remember is that the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven is an inside-out process, which Jesus intentionally orients to counteract the hypocritical practice of operating only on the surface.”
Yet, to what extent do we apply ourselves to make use of these disciplines in the living out of our Christian lives? Jesus himself did. Ought we not to follow his example and would we not benefit if we did so more often?. The whole point of Christian discipline is to focus our attention on God. How we need to get closer to the heart of God, to cultivate a greater longer for God, a deeper knowledge of God and a nearer intimacy with God. Richard Foster in his fascinating book on the spiritual disciples, entitled ‘celebration of discipline’, speaking of the prophets of the Old Testament tells us,
“God spoke to them not because they had special abilities, but because they were willing to listen.”
How willing are we to listen then to what God would teach us in the Sermon on the Mount concerning our public religious life. Not “if you” but “When you…” give alms, pray and fast.
Then, secondly, not ‘to be seen by men’, but “in secret”
The true measure of our faith is not that which others see but that which God sees. Not what we do before men but what we do when no one is looking. What only God knows about. Time spent alone with him. Time spent caring for others and time spent fighting those spiritual battles that only god knows about. Therein we are revealed as we truly are. Who was it that said ‘what a man is on his knees before God that he is and no more’. I think it was Archbishop Temple, but how true that is. Or, to put it another way in as much as our priorities are determined by our motivation, what matters to us will be seen then in the way that we use our time, talents and money. Mark 12:41-44
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They gave out of their wealth; bur she, out of her poverty, put in everything- all she had to live on.”
If others actually saw us as God does what would they really think of us? Who are we really trying to impress? What is the reward that we really seek, earthly benefit and prestige, or heavenly blessing and honour given to God?
Now there may seem to be a contradiction here, for did not Jesus tells us to ‘so let your light shine before men that they will give glory to your Father in heaven’. Yes he did, Jesus indeed encourages us to make known the Gospel and to show forth his love to others. But the whole point here is that we should do so, not for self-glory but to God’s glory. Jesus does not condemn public sharing of the faith, but rather those displays of piety that are more about being seen than being sincere in helping others come to know God and be blessed by God through the help we give them.
Hypocrisy is doing the right things for the wrong reasons. We ought to be doing the right things for the right reasons. Giving, simply to help someone in their need, praying, that we might live our lives all the more in accordance with Gods will and be over-comers in the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil., and fasting, such that we might be empowered all the more to do God’s will having centred our attention more specifically and assuredly on God that he might strengthen our faith and supply us with the spiritual resources that we require to effectively resolve a specific personal issue or church problem that needs to be dealt with, if we are grow and move forwards as an individual or as a church to God’s glory and honour and praise.
How serious are we about the work God calls us to do as individuals and as His church here in this place? How prepared are we then to discipline and train ourselves ‘in secret’ such that what we do we do by God’s strength might and not simply for our own benefit or Earthly reward. Matthew 6:3, 4
“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. Then, your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:6
“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen, and your father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:17, 18
1 Timothy 4:7, 8
“…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Firstly, Jesus says “When you…” not “If you…”
Then, secondly, Jesus says, not ‘to be seen by men’, but “in secret”
Such that thirdly and finally, Jesus says, not “they will have received their reward in full” but, “your father will reward you”
Now, this is not earthly financial reward nor even having your name put forward for the honours list good though those things may be in the eyes of the world, but that of a life lived in accordance with God’s will which brings it own greater reward in terms of character developed, commitment to God strengthened and conversion and entry into heaven affirmed. Isaiah 58:6-9
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
Then your righteousness will go before you
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and he will say: here am I”
This is the reward of inner righteousness in as much as what we do and why we do it is in agreement with what Jesus did and why he did it. What greater reward can there be than this, to receive the approval of God and to be acceptable to God because Jesus and his saving forgiveness of our sins.
So we live a life of piety, not to show off but to point others to Jesus that they too in him might be blessed. We are different and glad to be so, devoted to God and distanced from seeking the approval of men because we want rather the approval of God and the affirmation of our faith as authentic and real not hypocritical. For as Jesus says,
“Do not be like them”