Summary: A challenge to avoid being Pharisaical in the church.
The Apostle Paul had an interesting style of ministry. Paul would travel to a city, get to know a few people, plant a church, then stay around as long as it took (usually a couple years) until the church was self-sufficient. Then he would pack up and move to a new city and start the process all over again.
On one of Paul¡¦s journey¡¦s he arrived in the city of Athens. Athens was a great center of philosophy, architecture, art, and religion. We learn in Acts 17:16 that Paul became distressed at how many idols they had lying around the city. So Paul begins to reason with the people in that city about the One True God. In his opening statement to the group assembled at the Areopagus, Paul says, ¡§Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.¡¨ (Acts 17:22)
In Paul¡¦s day, there was no shortage of religion. The same is true for us today. We live in a culture where the supply of religion certainly meets the demand. But the truth that Paul knew in his day is the same truth we must know today: We do not need religion, we need a relationship.
The message of the entire Bible could be summed up in saying that God is trying to establish a relationship with us. Jesus Himself said, ¡§These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.¡¨ (Matthew 15:8) God is not interested in lip service. God is interested in your heart. God wants a relationship.
Last week we talked about Freedom of Religion in our sermon time. We saw how from the beginning of time we have had the choice to choose who we would worship.
But this week I want to make a twist and talk about Freedom from Religion. There is always a danger that in our worship we would simply focus on the motions, but our hearts would not be in it. There is a danger that we would follow the rules, do everything right, but not have be right in our hearts.
A group known as the Pharisees fell into this trap. The Pharisees were a distinctive group of Jewish leaders who lived during Jesus¡¦ time. They started with good intentions. They were concerned about the Jewish people living a pure life in accordance with the Law God had given them. The Pharisees had a passion and desire to know, live, and teach the Law of God given to Moses.
They would be the group who went around each morning and made sure you got up on the right side of the bed. They would make sure you had done your daily Bible reading. They wanted the Jewish people to be pure in their religion.
However, they degenerated into a group that was primarily interested in outward appearances but not an inward relationship with God. Some of Jesus¡¦ harshest words were directed to the Pharisees.
I worry in my own life that sometimes I can be more of a Pharisee than I should be. Part of this has to do with my upbringing in the Christian Church.
I am proud to be a member of the Christian Church. Our heritage is part of the Restoration Movement. The Restoration Movement began in the early 1800¡¦s and was a movement dedicated to restoring the New Testament church. The Restoration Movement was made up of people from Methodist, Presbyterian, and various other denominations who determined among themselves that they would have no creed but Christ. They would use no book except for the Bible.
We in the Restoration Movement have some very distinct characteristics and we have some important doctrinal distinctions as well. Sometimes we even laugh at some of those distinctions.
In the tradition of Jeff Foxworthy, here are some indicators that you might be a member of the Christian Church:
If you were an adult before you knew that guide, guard and direct wasn¡¦t one word, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
If you think it¡¦s unscriptural to drain the baptistery, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
If during religion week at school the item you brought in to represent your faith was a casserole dish, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
If you raised your hands during a worship service and you¡¦ve felt guilty ever since, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
If you think that Jesus really did turn the water in to Welch¡¦s grape juice, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
If your minister owns a pair of waders but doesn¡¦t fish, you might be a member of the Christian Church.
This morning I want us to look at Jesus¡¦ words to the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 23. These are some tough verses, but they are actually indicators of whether or not we are being Pharisees. They are indicators if we are focusing more on religion than relationship.