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Who Am I Trying to Please

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Sermon on the Mount

Who Am I Trying to Please?

Matthew 6:1-18

We have started a new section of the Sermon on the Mount dealing with our religion and its practice in three areas of life. Much of what is called religion is not done for God, but is done to impress those around us. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day were masters at pretense, false humility, religious show and hypocrisy. The acts that Jesus mentions in this section were originally intended to draw people’s heart to God. The religious leaders of the day had turned it into nothing more than a man-pleasing circus.

They were not the first hypocrites, the worst hypocrites or the last. Through the prophet Amos, God denounced the hypocrisy of the people and gave His rejection of their religious works: Amos 5:21-24 (KJV), “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. 22Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. 23Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. 24But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Jesus in confronting the Scribes and Pharisees said this in Mark 7:6-7 (KJV), “He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

ILL: Augustine said, “The love of honor is the deadly bane of true piety. Other vices bring forth evil works but this brings forth good works in an evil way.” Hypocrisy is so dangerous, because it is so deceptive.

Satan’s most common and effective way to undermine the power of the church is through hypocrisy. Hypocrisy comes in two forms. The first is unbelievers parading around as believers, and the second is believers who are sinful, but pretending to be spiritual. Hypocrisy is so dangerous because it is so subtle and deceptive. It takes things that are normally for good purposes and twists and perverts them to be used to for self-serving purposes.

Jesus begins with a general principle and then applies to the only three areas of religious life that there are. Thesis: Jesus asserts in verse one that every Christian should live with the absence of hypocrisy. Today we will look at the audience and the practice of someone who is not a hypocrite.

I.       If you want to avoid hypocrisy, then you will live for the right audience

Verse one says that we need to “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men.” Notice that the King James uses the word “alms.” A more appropriate way of saying this would be the New American Standard Translation which says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men.” INTER:I have a question for you. When you practice your righteousness so that others can see, who are you really doing it for? You are really doing it for yourself. This brings us to a principle to remember.

A.        Ultimately, your choice is between pleasing God and pleasing self
Hypocrisy so dangerous, because it draws our attention away from God and redirects it to ourselves. The very things that God instituted to be used to bring glory to Him and reward to us, can instead be twisted for human glorification and temporal rewards. This brings us to a second principle about our religious deeds.

B.         The supreme cause of our righteous deeds is our relationship with God.
God is relational and He created us to be relational. The good deeds that we do for God should be done to either improve our relationship with Him or improve someone’s relationship to Him. Our problem though stems from the fact that we are so forgetful of our relationship with God. Consider this:

1.            We are always in God’s presence
We are always in God’s sight. He sees our every action and our every thought. We can deceive other men into believing that we are righteous and that the things we do is for him, but God knows when we are practicing things for man’s approval. You need to constantly remind yourself that you are in God’s presence. When we wake up in the morning, we should immediately remind ourselves and recollect that we are in the presence of God. There is nothing that I can do or attempt that God is not fully aware of.

If we could remember this then hypocrisy and self-adulation would cease. We need to remember that God knows all about us. The amazing thing is that He still loves us.

2.            Our supreme purpose is to please God
We need to realize that our supreme object in life should be to please God, to please Him only, and to please Him always and in everything. If we could remember this and practice it, we would be so much less prone to be a man or self-pleaser.
TRANS: These are the great principles on which Matthew 6:1 is based, Let’s look now at the guidelines Jesus gives for practice.

II.    If you want to avoid hypocrisy, you will have the right religious practice
This practice pertains to:

A.        Your giving (your practice in relation to others)
Almsgiving is actually giving to the poor. The Jewish synagogue had a place where people could give to the poor. There is some debate about the interpretation “do not sound a trumpet in the streets.” Some say that certain people would sound a trumpet in the streets when they gave so that everyone may know they were giving to the poor. Others say that the receptacle that the money was place was trumpet-shaped and people had learned to drop their money in, in such a way as to maximize the sound of the money. This is where we get the phrase “Toot your own horn.” Regardless of interpretation the principle is the same don’t do your giving so that others may know what you gave. Jesus calls these people hypocrites. A hypocrite in Greek is an actor consciously or unconsciously. Hypocritical piety is not from the heart it is play acting. Jesus said that they have their reward already, the praise of men.

Think of all the Christian organizations that use un-Christian methods to motivate support of their ministries. When framed certificates, published names of generous supporters, and other such recognitions are offered to stimulate giving, hypocrisy is promoted in the name of Christ. Sometimes though we know this, so what we want is for our good works to “accidentally” be noticed. This reveals your heart.

But is doesn’t stop at just giving. It can include any form of Christian service. If you get offended because you weren’t properly recognized, then you are at heart a hypocrite.

What Jesus says is that our giving should be quiet, unnoticed. “Let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” is an absurd statement to mean, “Give quietly.” Let God reward you.

B.         Your prayer (your practice in relation to God)
It was not uncommon or wrong for people to pray in public in Jesus’ day. In fact the apostles went to the temple to pray after Jesus ascended into heaven. What Jesus was attacking here is the desire for other men to see your prayer. Some would stand on the street corner and announce out loud what they had done for God over the last few days. This was all done to receive reward of men. These men had deceived themselves into believing that they were worshipping God when they were actually worshipping themselves. Martin Lloyd-Jones said this, “The essence of the biblical teaching on sin is that it is essentially a disposition. It is a state of heart. I suppose we can sum it up by saying that sin is actually self-worship and self-adulation; and our Lord shows that this tendency on our part to self-adulation is something follows us even into the very presence of God.”

This has to be so repugnant to God. We hear about the great saints who prayed a long time so we pray for a long time, then bask in self-congratulation at our good work. We go to prayer meetings give flowery prayers that we never pray in private and then bask in the congratulations of church members. This is a perversion of the Christians most humble and personal times with the Lord. We are not to abandon public prayer meetings. The apostles had many. We instead need to make sure that our prayer is to God and not for man’s approval.

Jesus warns us not to concentrate on the form of our prayers or the amount or length of time spent in prayer. It is so easy to get into a routine in our prayer life and forget what we are really doing.

What are we to do? We are to get alone with God, remember that we are in His presence and that prayer is our lifeline to God and make sure my most humble and fervent prayers come at that time.

We will come back to prayer next week and deal with the model prayer then. What I want to do now is to finish the last area we are prone to hypocrisy.

C.         Your fasting (your practice in relation to yourself)
There were times on the Jewish calendar when everyone participated in fasting, such as the Day of Atonement or the Jewish New Year. This is not what Jesus is speaking of here. People also fasted when the autumn rains failed to appear, sometimes people would fast as a sign of deep repentance and brokenness, sometimes people would fast, when they needed more time to pray about a decision. In every scriptural account of fasting, fasting is always linked with prayer. What started as a spiritual self-discipline was prostituted into an occasion for pompous self-righteousness. Men would wear glum expressions on their face, not wash their hair and go around unkempt and then sprinkle ashes upon their heads. This was nothing more than a self-righteous display.

All you have to do is look around and realize that fasting is not something we Americans do. It would hurt a few of us to go on a fast. We unfortunately do similar things today. At one time people wore nice clothes to church as a sign of respect and reverence before the Lord. It was not long before the quality of the clothes became more important than the reverence. Pretty soon it develops into a competition. More recently we have had a rejection of the clothes contest, but in just as shallowly the motives are no more pure than the clothes contest. Folk, we need to look nice for church. Give God your best.

Almost anything that can serve as an outward sign of an inward piety can become hypocritical.

Conclusion: What Jesus is saying is those who are sincerely trying to please God will studiously avoid trying to impress men.

How have you been trying to impress people in your religious work? Make sure you examine your religious work to see what sort it is.

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