Summary: Jesus teaches us how to behave like a real Christian without being a hypocrite.
John Wayne Religion
Intro: I like John Wayne. If an old John Wayne movie is on T.V. that I have seen 5 or 6 times, I’ll still watch that over almost anything else on television. John Wayne played his part so convincingly that I could almost believe he really was that person. Of course that is what good acting is all about. For that hour or so, John Wayne was Davy Crockett, Rooster Cogburn, Big Jake McCandles, or John Chisum.
Of course we all know John Wayne was none of these persons. He was an actor whose job it was to portray those characters in a movie. As an actor he provided us with enjoyable entertainment. That’s O.K.
But what if John Wayne, or anyone else for that matter, began to perform religious deeds that were not consistent with their real character? What if they only pretended to be religious when they were really only putting on a show. We might call that “John Wayne Religion.” Jesus called it hypocrisy and spoke out against it in Matt. 6:1-7.
In this passage Jesus is again blasting the outward hypocritical righteousness of the scribes and pharisees. It was this outward righteousness that Jesus stated in Matt. 5:20 that we must surpass if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. So he warns us, beware of “John Wayne Righteousness.” Beware of practicing our righteousness before men, to be noticed by them. In other words, don’t be a religious show off.
The warning is clear. We will receive our reward from those for whom we are performing. If we are practicing our righteousness just to be seen by men, then we can be sure that is where we will receive our reward. John Wayne received an academy award for his acting skills. We have all seen some religious actors that probably deserved an academy award for their performances. This kind of religious performance, however, will receive no reward from God. After Jesus’ warning, he gives three examples of religious hypocrisy...giving...praying...fasting.
I. Giving (alms to the poor) (charitable giving) (vs. 2-4)
These verses are not talking about giving in church but giving to the poor.
This kind of giving is commanded by God in Deut. 15:7-11. James 1:27 includes benevolence as a part of pure religion. Jesus takes for granted that his disciples practice benevolence for he says “when” not “if” you give alms. However, there is a wrong way and a right way to give.
A. Wrong way...giving to be seen by men. (Vs. 2)
The hypocrites would literally stage a performance with trumpets sounding to draw attention to themselves so that they could be noticed and praised for their giving. Very much like little Jack Horner who was filled with praise for himself and loved the praise of others. Jesus states that these hypocrites have received their reward in full. It is a reward for the present...they will receive no reward in the future.
B. Right way . . . Secretly (vs.3-4)
“Right hand . . . left hand.” The expression probably refers to the fact that as much as possible we must keep our voluntary giving a secret not only to others but even to ourselves.
How can we develop the ability to give in this way? Perhaps by giving so often it becomes “second nature,” So that we do it without much thought.
When we give secretly, it purifies our motives and protects us from the temptation of hypocrisy. It also protects the privacy of the one receiving our gift.
When we practice our benevolence in this way, we can be assured that
While no one else may see, God sees and will reward us. Furthermore, our reward is not just for now but for evermore.
Again Jesus assumes that his disciples pray when he says “when you pray...” but like giving, there is a wrong way and a right way to pray.
1. Wrong way
A. Praying to be seen by men. (Vs. 5)
Public prayer is not condemned but public prayer used as a display of pretentious piety is. The hypocrites loved to STAND AND PRAY in the synagogues and street corners. The hypocrites loved to go any public place where they could pray, be seen and recognized by others as pious pillars of the community. They were not praying to be heard by God but to be heard by those around them. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. As in giving, Jesus again says that these hypocrites have their reward “IN FULL.”
B. Prayers filled with meaningless repetition. (Vs. 7)
Again repetition itself is not condemned but rather that vain and meaningless repetition that has no meaning or purpose other than to elicit the praise of men.
C. Prayers of “many words.”
Christ is not condemning long prayers for He Himself prayed all night. However, Jesus is condemning long prayers just to hear our own voice and to gain the praise of others.