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Pointing Others To God?

Sermon on the Mount  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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SADDAM HUSSEIN was a very religious man, or so it seems. During his twenty-four years of dictatorship in Iraq, he brought about many religious “advances.” He built, for example, the largest mosque in the region, which supposedly contained a copy of the Quran written in his own blood. During his reign, he also added an inscription in his own hand on the Iraqi flag: Allahu Akbar (“God is Great”).
Shortly after Saddam’s death the British journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote a book using this Iraqi motto sarcastically for his title: god Is Not Great. In that book, which is critical of both Christianity and Islam, Hitchens argues How Religion Poisons Everything, as his less than subtle subtitle says. His hatred for religion comes from his intellectual convictions (he is an atheist, Darwinist, and materialist) but also from his experience as a journalist in which he saw firsthand so much religious hypocrisy.
For example, he writes about his visit to Iran, which like Iraq is an Islamic nation and thus stringently upholds the teachings of the Quran. Therefore, premarital intercourse and prostitution are outlawed. However, what happens is that the mullahs (the Islamic religious leaders) profit monetarily by licensing something they call “temporary marriages.” That is, a man comes to the mullah, often in a specially designated house, and receives a temporary marriage license to be the temporary husband of a girl he has never met. Then he can have a temporary union with her and just a few minutes later conveniently and lawfully receive a permanent divorce declaration. Some might call this legalized prostitution. Hitchens writes about how he was offered “such a bargain,” of all places, outside the shrine to the Ayatollah Khomeini in south Tehran.

Hitchens writes about how he was offered “such a bargain,” of all places, outside the shrine to the Ayatollah Khomeini in south Tehran.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.,t

HOW TO PRAY

5 “Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.,v 7 When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. 8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him.

16 “Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they make their faces unattractive,e so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Giving to the Needy as an Act of Mercy

The wrong way to give is to blow your own horn, which is precisely what Jesus was saying if he was using symbolic language. If he was speaking of a literal practice, he was probably describing the sound of the temple trumpets that called citizens to come and give. What a great opportunity to show off! The trumpets would blare, and people would be seen scurrying along the streets toward the temple with pious looks on their faces. “Hey, folks, look at my zeal! Big giver on the way to the temple here!” They thought they were really something, but Jesus called them “hypocrites.” Actors was Jesus’ idea. They were pretending to be something they were not. They were assuming a false identity, putting on a theatrical display. The truth is, they were not giving for the glory of God, or even for benefit of the needy. They were giving for the praise of men.
The idea is, not only are we not to tell others of our giving—we are not to make a big deal of it to ourselves.

The true believer gives and serves to please God—not for the fleeting approval of man. Also, our lives are to be given to uncalculating generosity. And as we help others we must guard our eyes from wandering from those we are helping to the observers.

Men who do works so they will be seen by men receive the applause of men. Those who do works for God’s glory receive God’s smile. The reward for the latter is overwhelming—and always will be.

How NOT to Fast

The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1 How Not to Fast (Matthew 6:16–18 Contd)

HIGH as the ideal of fasting might be, the practice of it involved certain inevitable dangers. The great danger was that some people might fast as a sign of superior piety, that their fasting might be a deliberate demonstration, not to God, but to others, of how devoted and disciplined they were. That is precisely what Jesus was condemning. He was condemning fasting when it was used as an ostentatious parade of piety.

The New American Commentary: Matthew 2. Paradigmatic Preaching: The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

“The light of a Christian character will shine before men and win glory for God without the artificial aid of public advertisement. Ostentatious religion may have its reward here, but it receives none from God.” Christians who judge successful ministries by external statistics such as attendance figures, membership, baptisms, and offerings should seriously rethink their criteria in light of Jesus’ words here. God judges the greatness of his servants by searching their hearts, examining their inner attitudes, and seeing deeds done in secret.

But you puts the follower of Jesus in contrast; that way is not for the disciple. Jesus implies that those who follow him will fast from time to time, but he says nothing about frequency, occasion, or method. He is concerned only with the motive behind the fasting and indeed primarily with the requirement that fasting be done secretly, as a matter between the religious person and God. So the faster is told anoint your head; this points to a normal social custom of the day, but evidently those who fasted sometimes omitted the practice. So with washing the face. It is pleasant to be clean, and evidently it was felt by some who fasted that they should forego this pleasure. And, of course, an untended face is very obvious.

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