“Beware!” If you are out driving, and you come across a sign in the road that says “Beware!”, you are going to pay attention, and proceed very carefully, aren’t you? And you should. You know there is something dangerous ahead, that you need to be very careful about.
Well if we pay attention to the warnings of men from the highway department, how much MORE should we heed it when Jesus begins Chapter 6 here of the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “BEWARE!” It’s like He’s waving a red flag in front of our faces, saying, you need to careful; there is something dangerous here. Every one of us needs to “perk up our ears” and LISTEN to the warning Jesus gives us here. What He talks about here IS a danger, because it can take what could be some of the BEST things for your relationship with God, and turn them into the tools of the devil.
So, Jesus starts Matthew 6 with this warning: “BEWARE of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
I. THE PRESENCE OF HYPOCRISY
Jesus is warning us here against hypocrisy. In verses 2, and 5, and 16 here, He specifically mentions “the hypocrites.” Now we’ve all heard that word used — mostly, undoubtedly about someone in a church — and hypocrisy IS a Biblical concept.
This Bible word for “hypocrite” means “an actor.” It means to pretend like you are someone or something that you are not. In Luke 20:20, the Bible says Jewish leaders “sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, wishing to trap Jesus with questions.” These spies acted like something they were not; they were hypocrites; actors.
Now Jesus is specifically speaking here of people who pretend to be more righteous than they really are. Now as with all scripture, we need to look at this in its CONTEXT. We have a tendency to think that the thought “breaks” when there is another chapter in the Bible, and that the next chapter doesn’t have anything to do with the one before it. But we need to remember that the chapters and verses we have in our Bibles were NOT in the original Bible text. The chapters were added in the 13th century, and the verses in the 16th century, to help us find passages more easily. And they are a good help with that. But we always need to remember that they were not there originally — and remembering that can help us to see the continuity between the scriptures, as here.
Jesus didn’t just “turn the chapter” to another whole subject here in Chapter 6; we need to remember that He had just been speaking about righteousness. He had been speaking about how those who annul the least of His commandments shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven — and then He said, “But unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes & Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” And then as we saw a couple of weeks ago before our Homecoming last week, Jesus spends the rest of Matthew 5 showing us just what Biblical righteousness IS: that it’s a lot higher than many of us think: that to be right with God it’s not good enough just “not to commit murder”, you’re not to murder someone’s spirit, or murder their reputation with your words; that it is not enough just not to commit adultery, you aren’t even to lust for someone in your heart, and so on. And we saw that the standard of righteousness that it takes to get into the Kingdom of Heaven is a lot harder than we think; it takes perfection. And NONE of us have it.
Now Jesus showed us all this to convict us of how sinful we are, and to cause us to become “poor in spirit” so that we would ask HIM to have mercy on us and save us and give us His perfect righteousness, so that we could know Him and go to heaven. THAT is the way He wants us to respond to those standards He showed us in Chapter 5. But He shows us here in Chapter 6, continuing this theme of righteousness, that there IS another possible response to that high standard of righteousness, and that is to PRETEND like you are more righteous than you really are!
And this was very common in Jesus’ day — there was a saying to the effect that nine out of every ten acts of hypocrisy in the world were to be found in Jerusalem”! (TDNTTE p. 562). This was especially true among the scribes & Pharisees, the religious leaders there. Jesus said instead of being humble, and saying “Only God can save me”, these hypocrites tried to make themselves appear better than they really were. In Matthew 23 Jesus called the scribes & Pharisees “hypocrites” at least 7 times. They tried to act like they were so righteous:
— He said “for a pretense you make long prayers”. They prayed a long time; but it wasn’t for God, it was to get attention.
— He said they “broadened their phylacteries”. God had commanded His people in Deuteronomy 6:8 to bind His word on their forehead — I believe He was speaking symbolically there, but they took it literally, and put little leather cases of scripture on their foreheads which were called “phylacteries”. But Jesus said these men’s phylacteries were not little, they “broadened their phylacteries” — they made them really BIG, to show just “how spiritual” they were, they had SO many verses in there! It was all about calling attention to themselves.
— He said they loved being called “Rabbi” because they enjoyed being admired by others, and they swelled with pride every time someone called them the title “Rabbi.”
God had commanded them to love Him and to love other people, but instead they had made it all about THEMSELVES: calling attention to themselves, getting people to admire THEM. They ACTED like they were worshipping God, but in reality they were just “actors”; hypocrites — it was really all about THEM.
But hypocrisy didn’t stop with the first century, did it? People are the same today as they were then. Jesus wants us to look at the standards of His word and say, “Oh, I’m such a sinner; I have fallen short. Lord, the only way I can be saved is through Your death on the cross. Save me!” — you may need to pray that right now in your heart, and if you’ve never done it, I hope you will!
But unfortunately, just like scribes & Pharisees in Jesus’ day, instead of responding to God’s word with humility and crying for mercy, many people try to act better than they really are, so that people will admire THEM. And they become self-righteous towards God, and “holier than thou” towards other people. Those of us who are like that today are just as worthy of the name “hypocrite” as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Jesus says “Beware” lest you become like them.
II. THREE EXAMPLES OF HYPOCRISY:
Well Jesus doesn’t leave what this hypocrisy looks like, to our imagination. In the first half of Matthew 6 He gives us 3 specific examples of what He means by His warning in :1 about hypocrisy. He gives us examples in GIVING, in PRAYING, and in FASTING:
— He says in :2-4 “When you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men.”
We are supposed to give to help the poor, but Jesus says there is a kind of person who just “trumpets” their giving so that everyone knows about it. He says, don’t call attention to yourself when you give.
— Then He says in :5-6, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.” Now we know that praying is good; it is one of the foundational elements of our walk with God. But Jesus says some people do it not really to talk to God, but as a means of getting attention from other people.
— (Then in :7-14 He teaches us some principles of genuine prayer, and give us an outline of how to pray, which we will look the next couple of weeks), and then in :16-18 He gives us a third example of hypocrisy, regarding fasting. He says: “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.” Importantly, Jesus assumes here that we ARE going to fast; He says, “WHENEVER you fast.” Fasting is a neglected element in our self-centered, pleasure-oriented religious practices today. But Jesus says there is a kind of person who fasts so that people will say; “oh, they look so miserable; they must be fasting; how spiritual they are!”, that kind of thing. Fasting is supposed to be a time in which you neglect food to spend more time seeking God; but instead, like he does everything, the hypocrite turns it into an opportunity to call attention to himself.
So in all three of these examples, Jesus is saying, don’t do what you do in your religious works to be seen and praised by other people. That is what hypocrites do.
And of course this still goes on today: in our giving, in our praying, in our fasting — and in hundreds of other ways. People in church services all over America today, are doing things that are “supposedly” to worship God, but they are really doing it to call attention to themselves.
I knew someone in a church a few years ago who had been given a great singing voice by God. But the problem was, they knew it! And they loved for other people to know it. And they had this “little habit” of holding the note out on a song just a “hair” longer than everyone else who was singing, so that everyone would be sure and know just who it was who had that great voice! They were supposed to be praising GOD with their voice, but were they doing? They were calling attention to themselves instead.
Jesus says we must “Beware” of this kind of thing. Listen: if you do what you do in church to call attention to yourself instead of to direct praise to God, you are not worshiping God; you are worshiping YOURSELF. You are an idolater. No, you don’t bow before an idol of a monkey or an elephant like some peoples do; instead YOU are the idol. You are worshiping yourself, not God. Listen: you may have never thought of it this way, but it is not too much to say, that when you try to get people to focus their attention on you, instead of on God in church — you are trying to take a place that only belongs to GOD! Only GOD is worthy of our attention; only GOD is worthy of our praise. If you try to get the attention that only belongs to Him, then you had better “beware”; for Deuteronomy 6 says our God is a jealous God, a consuming fire, who will wipe those who would take His place off the face of this earth!
“Beware”, Jesus say, of calling attention to yourself, instead God through your religious works.
III. THE MISTAKEN SOLUTION FOR HYPOCRISY:
But unfortunately, some people apply a mistaken solution to this danger. They decide they are not going to do ANYTHING in public. I knew a man in a church several years ago who said, “I don’t pray out loud in church, because Jesus told us not to pray in public, only to pray in our own closet, with our door shut.” That may sound “spiritual”, but there are several things wrong with that:
— Number one: if everyone did that, then we would never have prayer in church! There would be no one to model prayer and encourage others to pray.
— Second, JESUS HIMSELF prayed in public, didn’t He? I am reading in John in my daily Bible reading, and not long ago I was in Chapter 11, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. As they are removing the stone from Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus prays: “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear me; but BECAUSE OF THE PEOPLE STANDING AROUND I SAID IT, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” So Jesus prayed in public, and He specifically said that He did it, so that other people could hear what He prayed, and that it might cause them to believe. So Jesus modeled for us there, that there is a legitimate place for praying in public, for the edification of other people.
And it’s not only prayers. We just saw a few weeks ago how Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are to be “salt” and “light” in the world. And He specifically commanded us in :16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way THAT THEY MAY SEE YOUR GOOD WORKS and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” So far from prohibiting all good works in public, Jesus actually COMMANDS us to do good works that ARE seen by other people! It is part of the witness that He wants us to be in the world. So never praying, giving, fasting, or doing anything in public is NOT the solution to the problem here. That’s a mistaken solution.
But you might wonder: why the difference? Why in one place does He say DON’T do something in public, then in another, that we ARE to do good works in public?
The difference is the motivation: WHY are you doing what you are doing? Let’s look more closely at those verses for just a minute:
— Here in Matthew 6:2, Jesus said the hypocrites pray in the synagogues and in the streets “SO THAT they may be honored by men.” The words “SO THAT” are a key; they reveal the motivation of the heart. The hypocrite does what he does in public “SO THAT” people will honor him. THAT is what Jesus says we need to beware of.
— But look back at 5:16, where Jesus commanded us: “Let your light shine before men in such a way THAT they may see your good works and GLORIFY YOUR FATHER who is in heaven.” Do you see the difference? The hypocrite on the street corner does what he does SO THAT he will be honored by men. But the true disciple of Jesus does what he does in public that people will see and glorify GOD! It is the motivation that makes all the difference: are you trying to glorify YOURSELF, or GOD, by what you do?
This is what makes things a bit “tricky” in evaluating the Christian life. You can have two people, both of them doing the exact same thing, in the same place, and one can be pleasing to God, but the other can be totally DISpleasing to God — depending on their motivation!
For example, a couple of weeks ago there were 250 students from around the country here for World Changers. Keith and some of our students went out to serve, and some of our adults helped with snacks as well. All of them served in public that week. Was that good or bad? Was there a reward from God for them, or not? It all depends on their motivation, doesn’t it? Whoever went out there to serve God, because they wanted the people of Burke county to see God’s light through their good works, has a great reward with the Lord. But whoever went out there so that Keith would think they are a good person, or to meet girls or guys, or because of peer pressure, or so that people would think they are really “spiritual”, they have NO reward with the Lord. It ALL depends on your motivation.
(By the way, this is one of the reasons why Jesus says in Chapter 7, “Judge not.” We don’t know why people are doing things, in their heart — and it is the heart that makes all the difference to God. So we are not capable of judging rightly; that’s why we have to leave that to Him.)
We see again here that Christianity is not just a religion of “deeds.” It is not just “say certain prayers, do certain things” — because you can say all the “right” prayers, and you can do all the “right things”, but if you don’t do it with the right heart attitude, there is no reward with God for you. That is why Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in HEART, for THEY shall see God.” It matters WHY you do what you do.
So: why are you doing what you are doing? Are you doing it to boost your ego in front of other people, or are you doing it to glorify God? But the answer is not to stop doing all Christian works in public.
IV. THE GODLY SOLUTION FOR HYPOCRISY:
So what is the answer to this? How can we guard ourselves against against doing things for the attention of men instead of really doing them for God?
A. The first solution is: do as much of your religious practice as possible, when it is just you and the Lord, NOT in front of other people.
— This is why Jesus says in :3, “When you give to the poor, 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 why He says in :6, “But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
— This is why He says in :17, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
As we saw just a moment ago, that does NOT mean that we are NEVER to do good works publicly. But it does mean that MOST of what we do in our relationship with the Lord, will NOT be done in public, but in secret; when it is just us and Him.
As I said, Jesus prayed some in public, like He did in John 11. But most of Jesus’ praying was NOT in public, but just Him and His Heavenly Father. Mark 1:35 says that He got up while it was still dark, and went out to a lonely place and was praying. THAT is where Jesus did most of His praying. When He prayed in public it was only “the tip of the iceberg.”
They showed on the news a couple of weeks ago that a huge iceberg — estimated to be one trillion tons — broke loose from Antarctica. I saw one picture of it on the internet. But as big as that iceberg looks in that picture; it is bigger yet, isn’t it? Because they tell us that only 1/10 of an iceberg is above water; 90% of it is below the water, unseen to the human eye.
THAT is exactly what our good works are to be like. It is not wrong for people to occasionally see our good works; in fact Jesus commanded us to let God be glorified through the works that people see. BUT THE GOOD WORKS THAT PEOPLE SEE FROM YOUR LIFE SHOULD BE LIKE “THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG”! MOST of the things you do in your relationship with God should be just between you and Him.
— It’s not wrong for us to pray in public, like Jesus did, so that other people can be encouraged and edified. You can pray for 5 minutes in church — just make sure that what you pray in church is only “the tip of the iceberg;” make sure that most of your praying is at home, where nobody sees. 5 minutes at church, but 50 minutes at home.
And it’s the same with all our works. Let what is seen be just “the tip of the iceberg.”
I grew up in a very conservative Southern Baptist church, and we worshiped like good “Baptist soldiers” with our hands right down at our sides! But while I was on a mission trip with our church in Louisiana the Lord gave me a greater freedom to express myself in worship, and I began to raise my hands, and express more openly what I had always felt in my heart. Someone asked a senior adult lady in our church what she thought about the pastor lifting his hands in worship, and I thought she had a very wise response. She said: “As long as that is really a part of how he worships, in his own personal time at home, and it’s not just a show for church, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.” I thought that was a pretty good answer. In other words, as long as what I was doing in church was only “the tip of the iceberg”, it was ok to also do it in public.
I think that’s a pretty good guide for a LOT of what we do:
— There’s nothing wrong with praying in public — as long as most of your praying is in private.
— There’s nothing wrong with giving in public as a challenge others — as long as most of your giving, no one knows about.
— There’s nothing wrong with letting someone know you’re fasting and praying. Especially these days; people need the challenge. Just don’t tell someone every time you fast. Let most of your fasting be in secret.
— There’s nothing wrong with telling someone you’ve had an opportunity to share the gospel — we need to encourage each other in that — just don’t brag about it every time you do it. Let most of it be between you and God.
A vital question you should ask yourself today is: WHERE are most of your Christian works done?
— If most of your praying is done here in church, in public; you are a hypocrite.
— If you open your Bible more here in church on Sunday morning than you do all week long at home — you are a hypocrite.
— If you raise your hands, and shout, and are exuberant in your worship here at church, but you don’t do that in your personal prayer time, I hate to tell you, but you are a hypocrite!
— If people KNOW about most of the good things you do — you are probably a hypocrite.
Jesus said We ARE to let our light shine; we ARE our works be seen, to glorify God. But LET WHAT IS SEEN BE JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG — make sure most of your walk with God is just that: between you and God.
B. The second solution to this is to check your heart motivation. What are you really living for? , Jesus said in :19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” Don’t live for this world — for the applause and recognition of other people. Live for God, for the reward He has for you in heaven.
Are you living for the reward of God, or men? One way to test yourself in this is: how do you respond when no one notices what you do? What if no one sees you? What if your name doesn’t get posted on Facebook; what if no one puts your picture up; what if no one thanks you publicly? Do you get upset about that? Then you need to ask yourself: WHY were you doing it? If you were doing it for God — He saw it! Your reward is with Him, as Jesus teaches here. But if you were doing it to be noticed and appreciated by people, then you need to beware. You’ve got a spiritual problem that is worse than the problem of someone not appreciating you. You have an attitude that Jesus says “BEWARE” of — because it will take the best things you can do for the Lord, and turn them into works of hypocrisy, and you into a child of hell.
As with most everything in the Christian life, this is a matter of the heart. IN CHRISTIANITY, IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO THAT MATTERS — IT’S WHY YOU DO IT. Are you doing things for the reward of men, or the reward of God? The applause of men, or the applause of God?
I remember several years ago watching an NBA team playing for the world championship. In the NBA playoffs they take turns playing games at home and away, and this particular game was at the opponent’s home court, and it was the deciding game for the championship. The home court advantage is HUGE in the NBA, because the fans are right next on the court, and they can be LOUD as they cheer for their team, and if the team gets any momentum going, the crowd noise adds to it, and it all works together to give the home team a big advantage. As a result, home teams win a huge percentage of NBA games (61% of playoff games).
Well as they have done in recent years, they televised this game at the visiting team’s home stadium as well, on live tv, and they had a lot of people there to watch their team. And the team did very well; and the better they did, the quieter the home crowd became. Occasionally the tv cameras would switch over to the fans at the team’s home arena, and it would show them all going screaming and crazy — but their team playing on the road couldn’t see it or hear it. But I remember after they had won the game, one of the reporters asked a player: “Wasn’t it hard to play on the road, where no one was cheering for you?” And this player said: “You know what helped me, was that I could just imagine how our fans back home were there cheering for us — and I was playing for their applause.”
See, that is what we have to learn to do as Christians. This world is not our “home court.” We can’t play to the “applause” here — in fact, we MUST NOT play to the applause here; this world is going to cheer for the wrong things. We have to realize that as Christians, our home is in heaven. And like that player, by faith, we have to listen for the applause of our Home team; we have to play for “The Applause of Heaven”!
Do what you do for GOD. Do what is right when no one else sees or knows. Jesus is saying here. “Beware.” Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t live for the applause of this world. Live and serve, and do everything that you do, for the applause of heaven.