Summary: Idols we worship. Part 3 of 3.

Idols - part 3

Matthew 23:1-28

July 20, 2014

Well, today, we are going to end our 3 week look at the idols we have in our lives. Of course you don’t need to be reminder what today is. It’s Selfie Sunday! You need to know what I look like, just on the happenstance that you forgot! Even though you’re looking at me. Isn’t that a great picture. I never take good selfies. So, there you go. Post your photos on Instagram and tell everyone your pastor said it was okay! In many respects, it’s part of our idol worship.

While I joke about it, this has everything to do with idol worship. Because idol worship always starts and ends with a picture of ourselves. We’ve looked at worshiping our bodies, our pride and ego, entertainment, materialism, our happiness, our need to have control; and today we will end with a look at rules, religion and worship. Much of this will be tied together as I move through all three sometimes interchangeably.

When we think about Jesus, one thing we know for sure, Jesus loved the underdog, the outcast, the despised one. He had no problem being next to and talking to them, touching them, hanging out and eating with them. It’s THE greatest example we have of how to live our lives.

Now the people Jesus struggled with the most were the ones who were the most religious, they were the Pharisees. They were the kind who could recite scripture backwards and forwards, the ones who were always in the Temple, worshiping and going to meetings, and just trying to look like they were really religious.

Much of what Jesus said to the Pharisees was not complimentary. He often stepped on their toes. They didn’t like Jesus! He threatened their way of doing religion. And that was central to who they were. Really it was about themselves and control.

In Matthew 23 Jesus really goes at it with the Pharisees and scribes. In this chapter, Jesus gave 7 “woes” to them. I’m not going to read the entire chapter. But, listen to some of the words from Jesus as He hammers His points home ~

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat,

3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long,

6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues

7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.

28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

You can see how angry Jesus was. More than just anger, I believe Jesus was so disappointed at how faith and religion were being practiced and led by the leaders. His words were harsh. They were in their face. And Jesus didn’t say this in a private meeting with the leaders. Verse 1 told us – Jesus said this to the disciples and the crowds surrounding him. This was a public indictment.

So, what can we learn from Jesus in this passage as it relates to idol worship?

The Pharisees made their laws into idols. The Jewish people had 613 commandments or laws - 365 said “you shall not.” The Pharisees used the law to their advantage when they could. If they could get out of helping someone, like in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, they would. They placed their traditions, rules and laws above the word of God.

This is why Jesus said, 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

That is a huge indictment! You see, Jesus gave 3 examples of little things the people can give, and do give, yet, that which is far more important, the ethical obligations of the Pharisees, to take care of justice, mercy and faithfulness were being neglected. So, they followed the law and tithed, gave their 10%, but ignored more important issues.

Is that true about us as well? We may give our money, we may make an appearance, we may attend worship? We may look great on the outside . . . but on the inside are we dirty and unclean. We follow the letter of the law as it works on our behalf.

It’s so easy to look only at the rules and laws. Some of you know how I feel about rules and even by-laws. And we’ve been down that road before. As a church, one of the privileges of membership is that we vote on the by-laws and changes to them. While the by-laws are necessary, will we follow by-laws at the exclusion of the love of Jesus Christ? Will we worship the by-laws at the exclusion of justice, mercy and faithfulness? NEVER! We can’t!! If we do, we’ve made our by-laws, our rules, our traditions, or our unwritten rules into idols. We must always place Jesus first!

It’s so easy to fall into the habit of looking at doing the right things, but doing them wrong, because it’s about the show. That’s why Jesus said, 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

I mean who wants to drink out of a dirty cup? Who wants to go out to eat and have an unclean plate handed to you? Jesus’ point about this and the whitewashed tombs is that we look good on the outside, but on the inside we’re full of sin and dirt. Now, we’re all sinners, but Jesus’ point was that these people were faking it. They were hypocrites. They were more concerned about the outward appearance, looking good on the outside, making the world think they were doing all the right things, saying all the right things, dressing the right way, but on the inside they had not been transformed by their faith.

They valued their own set of rules and traditions above the law of God. We see that too often in our world today. We see that with Christianity. We hear people say, “I believe, but I don’t believe in the church.” They say there’s too much wrong with the church, they don’t like religion. And there are times when the church is not inviting. But they miss out on this imperfect place called church. Because what we do is both vertical (praising God) and horizontal (celebrating through community). There’s nothing like being part of the community as we worship Christ together.

Religion can easily become an idol. We worship the fact that we are Christian, rather than worshiping the one true Christ. We get hung up on all of the how to’s as opposed to the person of Christ. Sometimes our self-image is tied to the way we worship, or the fact that we are worshiping in the RIGHT church. Some people want to go to the church which will gain them the most socially and economically. Sometimes it’s about the right denomination. But remember, we are Christians before we are Baptists.

Some people may even worship the pastor or pastors. Please don’t do that. Don’t ever put me on a pedestal. I maybe the pastor, but I am human. We all sin. Sometimes we focus on the outside of the church as opposed to the inside of the church. We’re more concerned about the appearance of the church, rather than the ministry of the church. If the church looks clean and well painted and the carpet is clean, we feel good. I want a clean but used church, because it’s used for ministry. We cannot worship the building over Christ.

Sometimes people use serving as an idol. They end up at church 6 days a week. They don’t have lives because their life revolves around the church. We look at those people and we marvel at what a great Christian they are, yet they’ve made the church into an idol and serving becomes a strange way to hide from people. So, they spend all their time here, but don’t have that real connection with God they should have. It’s all about the appearance.

And we even worship . . . worship. We make worship into an idol.

We worship the right God in the wrong way whenever we make a particular expression of worship more important than the essence of worship. The expression SLIDEof worship has to do with style; the essence of worship is God, and has to do with God. We all have preferences in worship style, don't we?

On occasion, I hear about them and our differences. Someone says, "The music is too loud." Then the next person says, “I can’t hear you very well.” Then someone says, "The music is too mellow."

The next Sunday someone else says, "We need to sing more hymns." Then I hear "We need to be more contemporary." Pastor, we need to sing more Southern Gospel, Pastor we need to sing more rocky songs. Pastor we need to sing a little more rap. Can we sing a beatles song next week. It goes on and on.

And across the nation churches have been divided over this issue. Here’s the key folks, whenever our focus shifts from the person of God to the style of worship we're in danger of idol worship. Whenever we exalt a style to the place where we say, "I just can't worship unless it happens in this way or that way," then something is wrong. God is bigger than any worship style. Whatever our preference is, as long as it exalts the true God and focuses our attention and adoration on Him, we should thank God for it.

At the same time I do understood we all have our preferences and that’s why there’s a gazillion and one churches. I’m not telling anyone to leave. But if you don’t like something, if you say I just can’t worship here, then find somewhere where you can worship. When you think about the style so much, we are moving right back into worship of ourselves, which is idolatry.

At the same time, I don’t want anyone to leave this church, I think we have great ministries and great people. And I don’t want you to come up to me and say, “Pastor, I’m not being fed!” Really? I only get you for one hour per week, what happens in the other 167 hours. Don’t worship . . . worship! It’s like talking to someone and you know they are in love with the thought of being in love, but they really aren’t in love. Come here each and every Sunday ready to worship. Ready to meet and greet God and one another. It’s not about worshiping the message or the songs or the prayers or the fellowship. They are all part of worship, but they make up the whole. We won’t always hit a grand slam, but there will always be something here each Sunday, if you’re open to it that will touch you and help you meet the real and living and risen Christ. That should always be your expectation of worship.

John and Paul, both command us to beware of idols. It’s not just the 2nd of the 10 commandments.

John wrote ~ Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21

Paul wrote ~ Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14

In the end . . . whatever we place before God becomes an idol to us. It could be our family, friends, work, the material world, our control of life, our pride and ego, entertainment and even worship, religion and rules can get in the way of our true worship of God.

One final comment. I’ve read this too many times on facebook and instagram, and it applies. Both teens and adults will write this ~

Life only comes around once, so do whatever makes you happy, and be with whoever makes you smile.

That sounds nice, but you know what, that’s part of idol worship. It’s the desire to gain happiness at the expense of God. Life only comes around once, so go for all the gusto you can. Do WHATEVER makes you happy? Really? Who cares about what God has to say? Be with who ever makes you smile, even if it’s wrong? Again, that’s the worship of self, the idol of having that happiness at the expense of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.

Please don’t lose sight of the love of God. He wants your heart, spirit, mind and body to be fully devoted to Him. He loves you! He wants to give you His power, His grace, His hope, His strength. We can get lost albeit with great intentions, but still lost, and ultimately we’re led down the wrong path. As we move into the coming week, consider what you are placing first in your life. Is it Jesus? Is it family? Work? Success? Materialism? Control? Happiness? Pride? Religion?