Jesus ends his exposition of the law and now begins applying them in the lives of his disciples. He focuses their attention on the dangers of living inconsistent lives. Jesus exposes this sin of hypocrisy. Often Christians fall into sin even while maintaining outward religious respectability. They sometimes go through the motions when dispensing their religious duties but in reality their hearts are unmoved by God.
Jesus recognizes the presence of indwelling sin and its on-going effect to a Christian. He wants us to realize our capacity for self-deceit to cover our own sin instead of dealing with it to kill it. Jesus teaches his disciple, including us Christians today, the root cause of hypocrisy and how to remedy it. We desire to cover our sins instead of exposing them in us. This leads us to the path perdition. Instead of doing our good deeds before God, we tend to perform them before men in order to be recognized for it. Jesus exposes such hypocrisy and calls his disciples to live before God and depend on him for spiritual strength and vitality.
This morning we will hear God’s Word preached to us from Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18. We intentionally skipped the Lord’s Prayer section from verses 9 to 15. We will spend time next Lord’s Day to study them. For now we focus our attention of Jesus’ warning about 1) The Dangers of Hypocrisy and he points us to 2) The Gospel Remedy to Hypocrisy.
Before we begin, let us pray…
Let us hear again God’s Word from Matthew 6:1-8; 16-18:
“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 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.
This is the Word of Lord. Amen.
The Danger of Hypocrisy
Christians are called to demonstrate their faith before God. Yes, we are called to show our love for others and even to our enemies but our purpose is not to please no man. As God’s children. we do them in order to please our Father.
Jesus teaches again uses an illustration of threes. He warns his disciples about the danger of hypocrisy using three illustrations: 1) Giving 2) Praying 3) Fasting. As illustrations they are not merely a checklist of Christian duty. Rather, Jesus wants us to understand the motivation and purpose for doing any good works.
- Alms Giving: When we give alms, there is no need for trumpeters. If we really intend to give to the poor then the money we pay to announcers must be given also to the needy and not to the performers. Our motivation for giving must come from the desire to help and not in order to be recognized for it. This is what Jesus means when he said we ought to give in secret.
- Praying: When we intend to pray publicly then we also need to discipline ourselves to pray in private. The public dispensing of religious duties must be matched by private actions. Jesus instructs his disciples to pray in secret. Yet we must understand that it does not mean we do them only when we are alone. Rather, private means we perform these duties consistency in the privacy of our own homes. Our purpose for praying must come the desire to express our dependence to God in private as well as in public. We cannot be hypocrites who are considered holy by public reputation only and yet considered self-righteous monsters in relation to those who are close to us. We are called to consistently portray the Christian life as the one who will always be dependent on God.
- Fasting: When we fast, we do them without any grumbling or grand standing. To fast means to temporarily without taking food for the purpose of preparing oneself to pray and petition for our great need. Jesus warns against the practice of fasting in order to receive the admiration of many people. Instead, he wanted his disciples to fast yet do them without others even noticing. Fasting is a valid spiritual discipline and individually as Christians, we can do it as a means to strengthen our dependence on God. Our intention cannot be to get what we want from God in our petitions. We draw strength from God and not from the positive impression it gives to other people.
Giving, Praying, and Fasting are important practices for spiritual vitality. Jesus was not questioning the fact these were performed during his time. Rather, he wanted his disciples to understand how dangerous they become when done with selfish motives. These religious practices when performed during Jesus’ time become a way for others to gauge one’s spirituality. And there is one strict Jewish sect Jesus was particularly critical with and they were called the Pharisees.
Pharisees or the “separated ones” mastered and carried out these practice to an extreme. Paul used to be belong to this radical group and persecuted Christians before his conversion to Christ. Pharisees become synonymous to hypocrisy. Jesus made sure his disciples would not follow their examples. Jesus exposes the nature of their hypocrisy. Again, he does not object they give, pray, and even fast. Rather, he warns against the danger of doing them in order to maintain a religious reputation. Jesus uses here the term “hypocrites”.
The term “hypocrite” comes from the theatrical world. It means putting a mask in order to act or pretend to be someone else. It becomes synonymous for being an actor who pretends to be someone else as part of playing a role in a play.
Jesus compares the Pharisees to these hypocrites. For Jesus, these Pharisees are not calling people to God but worst; they make them religious monsters. They mislead other people into thinking they are spiritual because of how they perform religious duties. Their ministry is to call other people to follow their abominable example. They aim to please and according to Jesus, they received their rewards in full – the praise of the people. They got what they truly wanted: the admiration of men but not the approval from God. This clearly not what Jesus desires for his disciples to do.
Properly understood. Giving, Praying, and Fasting are practiced in order to grow our concern for others and their needs. It is designed to help us forget ourselves, focus on God and serve others. This is the purpose of practicing these disciplines. According Dr. Ferguson, giving reveals how we relate to others; prayer points how we relate to our needs and fasting show how we relate to ourselves. The practice of these disciplines helps cultivate a desire to love God and do what is pleasing to him.
On the contrary, we tend to become selfish, self-righteous, and self-sufficient. Indwelling sin still affects our judgment when it comes to performing good works. We tend over estimate power to control it and yet under estimate its presence in us. We become self-centered. We need to remember who we are in Christ and realize that it is God who abundantly supplies spiritual vitality to his people.
Positively, the role of law is to portray to us the righteousness that pleases God. It calls us to desire properly them in our lives. We love God and obey his commandments. We desire him and order our lives to please him. It calls us to look beyond ourselves for righteousness and depend on God for spiritual vitality. He alone can supply all our needs. We need to come to God to cure us of our hypocrisy.
This leads us to our second and last point – the Gospel remedy to Hypocrisy.
The Gospel-Remedy to Hypocrisy
Spirituality without the Trinity is hypocrisy. The cure to hypocrisy is to live before God and for his glory. The life-transforming message of God redeeming his people comes with the benefit of communing with our Triune God. God is our Father and we are his adopted children in Christ. Christ is our brother who intercedes for us when we are weak and the Holy Spirit comforts when we are afflicted and in doubt. Our religious vitality depends on God and the only way to live in honor of God is live before Him in this life and life to come.
How can we honor God in our practice of spiritual disciplines? We learn from His Word and understand what is pleasing to Him; we obey God, and follow its example. We simply do what Scripture commands and we pray God will motivate us with gratitude, and supply us with the strength to persevere.
For example, let us apply the practice of alms giving. The Word says, “we will always the poor with us” It was Jesus himself who said this as recorded in Matthew 26:11. Alms giving means giving to the poor and needy. It is attending to their physical and temporary needs. As a congregation, we are called to do good to all men especially to those who are in the household of faith meaning members of our local church (Galatians 6:10). So every Lord’s Day we collect our offerings and some times we ask our congregation to voluntarily give in order to support the needs of our poor members. We are called to give generously and cheerfully as how Paul reminds us to do in 2 Corinthians 9:7.
Recently, we are asked to give to our deacons so we as a church can provide financial support to our members affected by pandemic. It is often tempting to think of our own needs during times of calamity. However, God calls us to soberly assess our own situation and selflessly think of those who are in greater need than us. Rather than thinking “to each their own”, we are called to reach out to one another and help in any way we can. Our love for one another shows how God’s love is present in our midst (1 John 4:7). This is how we apply the life-giving gospel in our lives.How about praying? How can we develop the practice of praying in a God honoring way? We will focus on the Lord’s prayer next week. So as to not preempt of topic on prayer, let us simply go through three helpful instructions I learned from Dr. D.A. Carson on practice of praying.
First, pray until you pray. It does not mean we simply follow the popular idiom, “Try and try again until we die”. No, it teaches us that the way for our practice of prayer to become fruitful is to also pray for God to motivate us to pray. God is source of all life including spiritual vitality. It is so simple yet often neglected. During times of unwillingness, we assume all we need is more strictness and rather than attending to the heart of the matter we whip ourselves into force obedience. This is the fault of the Pharisees my friend. They see God simply as task master or worse a slave driver. Instead, as God’s children, we look at God as our Father who supplies our every need. We come to his loving presence in prayer and petition as little in need and looking up to him for his gracious provision. We pray until we pray and ask God to supply our needs including the motivation we need to pray.
Second, we form our own prayer list. This is a practical step to help us forget ourselves, focus on God and serve others. As a congregation, we publish our prayer list every Lord’s Day. It reminds us as a church to pray for the needs of others. We also encourage praying for one another during prayer meetings. Our elders posts in our group chat all the prayer items given by each member. If we don’t have a personal prayer list then we start from there. We begin cultivating a prayer life by praying for others. It helps cure self-centeredness. Again, it is easy to fall under the trap of false piety. We trick ourselves into thinking we have done it by simply having a list. No, the list helps with arranging the prayer items and including others in list help us focus on others. But the motivation to actually pray comes from God so let us refer again to our first guideline, pray until you pray.
Third, we set time to pray. It goes without saying but again, often we do not pray because we failed to set time for it. Praying does not happen haphazardly. It is does not happen accidentally. We need to schedule our prayer times and we have do it regularly. Our prayer chat group reminds us to pray for other another specially when our members post pray items during weekdays. It gives us an opportunity to pray immediately for others but we also need to set regular times for prayer. Praying in the morning for me is best. If you were are able to develop your own time schedule then follow it. What we are aiming here is regularity. Let us set a regular time to pray.
A short word about fasting. What is the purpose of fasting? Dr. John Calvin listed three:
- We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or
- To prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or
- To give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him.
Personally applied, we are called to engage in fasting to remind ourselves that we are depending on God alone and not simply by the provision he so faithfully provides. Fasting, as a valid Christian practice, allows us to prepare ourselves better when praying. It aids us in our petition for God as we hunger and thirsty for his righteousness. It prepares our hearts to demonstrate our full dependence on God.
Again, let us give, pray, and fast before God and do it for his glory.
ZCRC(Imus), God calls us to demonstrate saving faith by our good deeds which are done for his glory. Let us follow God’s Word and obey its commands as an expression of our love for Him and our neighbors. Let us do them not as way to merit any reward but to show God’s work of grace in our lives. When Jesus speaks about rewarding his people, he refers to eternal rewards in heaven. Jesus talks about receiving them by grace and not as works-based merit. So let us long to receive the eternal rewards from heaven. For in them, our reward is God himself. Let commune with Him as our shield and great reward. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.