Summary: Jesus wants his followers to live into a righteousness that is better than that of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees… Jesus wants us to be better!
Title: Authentic Piety
Text: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Thesis: Jesus wants his followers to live into a righteousness that is better than that of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees… Jesus wants us to be better!
The Center for Disease Control is reminding us that it is not too late to get vaccinated for the Influenza B Victoria Virus if we have not yet done so and at the same time we are being encouraged to take precautionary measures to guard against contacting infected surfaces and people who may be carrying the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), for which there is no current vaccine. Should we be infected with any cold or flu or COVID-19 we would hope and pray that we have a mild case of it. Sometimes a mild case of it is a good thing!
Chad Walsh wrote an intriguing book entitled Early Christians of the Twenty-First Century. He wrote:
"Millions of Christians live in a sentimental haze of vague piety, with soft organ music trembling in the lovely light from stained-glass windows. Their religion is a pleasant thing of emotional quiver, divorced from the intellect, divorced from the will, and demanding little except lip service to a few harmless platitudes.
He continued, "I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a person travels far enough away from Christianity, he or she is always in danger of seeing it in perspective and deciding that it is true. It is much safer, from Satan's point of view, to vaccinate a person with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease." (Howard Hendricks, "Faith in Tough Times," Preaching Today, Tape 140)
If Jesus was about anything at all in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount it is that in his mind, there is no place for a thing called “a Mild Case of Christianity.” A mild case of Christianity is not a good thing! When he spoke of what it means to be a follower of Christ it was never in terms of getting a “touch of the flu.” He laid it out in no uncertain terms, “Unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:20
In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us how to be better in three specific acts of piety. They are commonly practiced spiritual disciplines that were and are still practiced by people of faith… Jesus clearly assumed that his hearers, as a matter of religious practice, gave to the needy, prayed and fasted.
In this teaching his concern is that we practice our religious piety for the right reason…
I. Sometimes people do the right things for the wrong reasons
In my life and ministry I have observed that the more dramatic and pious we become about our faith, the more likely it is that we are trying to please ourselves and others rather than God. I am reminded of how on more than one occasion a parishioners have introduced motions at business meetings by saying something like this, “My wife and I have prayed about this and we will put up the first $10,000 if you will vote to approve this project.” Jesus couldn't hack sanctimonious displays of religiosity. He preferred those whose humble actions spoke for their faith.
In evangelical circles we call it Pharisaism because the Pharisees were known to make doing good a religious show. The story Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 is a case in point.
Two men went to the Temple to pray… one man went to connect with God and the other went to put on a performance for the other Temple worshipers.
The Pharisees were doing right the things, good things, but for the wrong reasons. As Jesus tells this parable, he is not comparing the deeds of the two men in the story. He is comparing the attitudes of their heart. One came to the temple to pray while filled with pride. The other came to pray while full of humility.
Jesus never criticizes the Pharisees for their acts of piety. He takes them to task because acts of private devotion had become, for them, nothing more than public displays of religiosity. When our faith only affects the externals, pride is inevitable. To this day, people use things like giving, prayer, and fasting as measuring sticks to compare themselves with others.
II. We can do the right things for the right reasons
In Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18 Jesus teaches us how to do that.
A. First of all, we can practice authentic outward expressions of love.
Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven… when you give don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private and your Father who sees everything will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4