Summary: Part 11 of Sermon on the Mount Series, looks at our motives for giving etc.
Have you ever noticed that words are like Canadian currency? They are constantly being devalued. There was a time that if you called a woman homely you were paying her a compliment, not anymore. Vulgar used to mean popular and it was commonly used, but now it means coarse or nasty.
Sin used to mean rebellion against God, but now it’s something you do which I either don’t want to do or wish I could but don’t have either the energy or the nerve to do. Piety is like that! Once upon a time a Christian would have welcomed being called pious, but now it’s a put down, much like being called a legalist. "My aren’t you pious" it doesn’t have a nice sound does it?
A number of years ago there was a comedian that appeared on various television shows by the name of Raymond J. Johnson Jr., maybe you remember him? Things would start when someone called him Mr. Johnson and his reply would be "O you doesn’t have to call me Mr. Johnson you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay, or you can call me Ray Jay or you can call me Jay Jay, or you can call me Ray Jr., or you can call me Jay Jr., or you can call me Ray Jay Jr., or you can call me just Jr. but you doesn’t have to call me Johnson.
And we do that as Christians, "You can call me dedicated, or you can call me consecrated, or you can call me sanctified, or you can call me committed, or you can call me devoted but you doesn’t have to call me pious." But what is this piety that we want so little of? Well Collins English Dictionary defines Pious as "Godliness, devotedness, goodness or dutifullness." Kind of think those would be qualities that we would strive toward not shun.
My definition of piety is this "Devote fulfillment of all religious obligation". Any and everything we do out of religious motivation. Worship, prayer, meditation, singing, Bible Study, Evangelism, missionary work, monetary giving, anything that is directed toward a religious end is piety." Now Christ had some disturbing ideas and concepts concerning piety. the chief one was that piety is primarily for God’s sake, and His alone. Every religious action, every good deed, every act of piety should be performed to increase God’s standing in this world. Piety is primarily for God not for ourselves, not for others and not for society but for God.
Now to be quite frank this shook up those who were listening to Christ that afternoon on the hill. They had been brought up and educated in a Jewish culture where the main reason for piety was to increase your standing in the eyes of God and before others. Now it’s not difficult to see how this could happen. True worship often takes a form or ritual for a church, whether or not it is printed in a bulletin. Our worship becomes formalized and organized into set patterns. In some churches that means that we all say the Lord’s prayer together, read the responsive reading, sing the doxology and fill our prayers with thees and thous and thys. Now in other churches they claim to be much freer in worship, and they may think they are but all they have done is adopted a different form of liturgy.
They know when they are going to sing choruses, when to lift a hand or two, when to clap, when to dance, when to give a testimony or when to speak in tongues or whatever. And there is nothing wrong with knowing what is going to happen, but the unfortunate thing is that after awhile we follow the pattern and forget what we are supposed to be doing and that is worshipping. We become like Christopher Columbus, he set out and didn’t know where he was going, he got there and didn’t know where he was and came back and didn’t know where he had been.
We go to church and go through the motions but we forget why we are there. Which is to worship God. And into this vacuum comes piety for ourselves. We simply come to church to perform for one another. Baptist Minster Gerald Mann asked members of five different churches why they went to church . Here are their top answers 1) To feel God’s presence 2) To learn more about God 3) To be with my Christian friends 4) To give my Children a Christian environment 5) to gain strength to face life weekly 6) To keep myself morally pure 7) For the preaching 8) For the music 9) For the Bible study 10) It’s something I’ve always done 11) It makes me feel good. Now Mann claims that there were rarely any different answers. What does those responses say to you? That piety is self serving? That we use it to improve our standing before God and man? Most people go to church to receive not to give. And so we approach Church like we approach other things in our life, if the car is broke we go to the mechanic, if we feel sick we go to the doctor, if we have a toothache we go to the dentist. Now there is nothing wrong with going to God for spiritual healing, but the church is not God, nor is it a spiritual hospital.