Robert Jeffress - Straight Talk About Your Worship
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". In his 33 years on earth, Jesus encountered all kinds of people. And do you know which ones bothered him the most? It wasn't the tax collectors. It wasn't the thieves or adulterers. It was the religious phonies. Their contrived devotion to God was so insincere. Today, we're going to see why hypocrisy is such a serious offense to God. My message is titled "Straight Talk About Your Worship" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
A little boy was seated next to his father during the church service, and the father grumbled incessantly throughout the service. He grumbled about the temperature in the sanctuary being too warm, about the soloist being off key, about the preacher preaching too long. They got into the car and went to the restaurant, and the father continued to complain. The waiter was too slow in taking the order. The food, when it came, was cold, and then the father said to his son, "Now, let's bow together in prayer. Dear Lord, thank you for our church. Thank you for our pastor you used so powerfully this morning. Thank you for the time of worship we had, and thank you for the food you've prepared and set before us today. In Jesus's name, amen". The little boy looked up at his dad and said, "Does God hear everything we say"? "Well, yes, son". "Well, did he hear you this morning when you were fussing about the service"? "Well, yes". "Did God hear you when you complained about the food"? "Yes". "Did God hear you when you just prayed"? "Son, God hears everything we say. Eat your French fries". The little boy looked up and said, "Well, what part does he really believe"?
You know, there are two people you can never fool: one is God, who sees everything in our heart, and the other is a child who is quick to call out hypocrisy when he sees it. You know, when I think about hypocrisy, I think about the definition Ambrose Bierce, a journalist, gave it one time. He said, "Hypocrisy is a person who professes virtues that he does not respect and secures the advantage of seeming to be what he despises". That's hypocrisy: pretending to be something, in fact, that we are not. Uncovering hypocrisy, whether it's in a Christian or an un-Christian can be troubling at times, but hypocrisy, especially in the life of a Christian, has devastating consequences, and that's what we're going to see this morning.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Matthew 6, as we continue our study on the most famous sermon of all: the Sermon on the Mount, a series we're calling, "18 Minutes with Jesus". And when it comes to worship, Jesus is going to address our attitudes and actions in three key expressions of worship: giving, praying, and fasting. And today we're going to look at what Jesus says about giving. First of all, in verse 1, he sounds a general warning against hypocrisy. He says, "Beware". Let me stop there for a moment. Beware. That means something big is coming. You know, when Jesus says you'd better beware of something, we need to sit up and take notice. It's easy to read this section of the Sermon on the Mount and think Jesus is just talking about Sunday School niceties, rather than absolute necessities. No, this is not optional. This is essential, if you want to live a life pleasing to God. Beware. Beware of what? "Of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in heaven".
Nothing caused Jesus's stomach to churn any more than fake believers, people who pretended to be something they really weren't, people who had only a veneer, a façade of Christianity that wasn't backed up by reality. You know, when I think about façades, I remember something that happened to me many years ago when I was youth minister here. Every year, we used to have a big Halloween celebration, and we'd have a haunted house down in Ennis, Texas, on the farm of one of our members, and we made it an elaborate production. And so on the Saturday before Halloween one year, I was down there in Ennis working on this haunted house, and it was taking longer to get the cow guts and the cow head, everything where it needed to be. And I knew I was running late, so I needed to call Amy to tell her I was going to be late coming home.
Well, this was in the day before cell phones, so I looked around, and I noticed, we were in a vacant lot, I noticed across the road there was a motel, and there was a phone booth standing out in front of the motel. So, I went over there to call Amy. Remember phone booths? Yeah. I went into the phone booth, put my quarter in, waited for the dial tone, nothing. It was absolutely dead, and I was kind of disturbed about that. So, I decided to go over to the office of the motel to see if I could use the phone. There was a door that said, "Office". I knocked on the door. Nothing. Knocked on the door again. Nothing. Finally, I opened the door, and it opened into nothing, a blank field. I mean, when I walked through the door, it was just an empty field. I thought, "What is this? Is this a twilight zone or where am I"?
I had stumbled on a movie set that was being prepared to film that movie with Robert Duvall, "Tender Mercies". It was all a fake. I didn't know it at the time. It was just a fake. It was a façade. It looked real; but when I made a telephone call, the phone was helpless. It couldn't help me connect with anybody. When I looked for somebody in the motel, there was nobody there because, in fact, it was a fake. Now, that's what Jesus is talking about here: façade Christianity. Looks real until you open it up and find there is absolutely nothing there whatsoever. Jesus said beware of that kind of fake Christianity. Beware of people who practice their faith in order to be seen by others.
Jesus described these people this way in Matthew 15:8: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me". My mom used to say the one thing people will never forgive you for is being able to see through them. That was Jesus. He was able to see through the Pharisees, and that's why they hated him. That's why they ended up crucifying him. Did you know Jesus's most scathing indictments were not against adulterers, or murderers, or drunkards? It was against religious hypocrites. In fact, the most scathing of these denunciations is found in Matthew chapter 23, in which Jesus pronounced eight woes, woes, W-O-E. Those were divine judgments against hypocrites.
Listen to some of them. Matthew 23, beginning with verse 13, "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom from people". Verse 14, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses". Verse 15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on the sea and land to make proselytes; and when one becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a son of hell". Verse 33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell"? I found out something interesting this week in my study. The word "hypocrite" is used 17 times in the New Testament, and the only person who used that word was Jesus. He was the one who was a specialist on hypocrites. He denounced hypocrisy. What does hypocrite mean? Hupokrites is the Greek word. It literally means one who wears a mask. I didn't know this until this week.
Back in 1990, there was a large city that was discovered in northern Israel, Sepphoris, and it was right near the little village of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. In fact, on the hillside where Nazareth was located, Jesus could've looked over as a boy and seen Sepphoris. It was built by Herod when Jesus was a little boy, and it's been uncovered, and there's a huge amphitheater in the middle of the town. Some people actually speculate Jesus, when he was a young man, may have helped construct that amphitheater under Roman rule. But in that amphitheater, plays would be produced and seen by many people, and the actors who acted on the stage were called hupokrites, hypocrites, because they wore a mask. That's what a hypocrite was. It was an actor who pretending to be another character would wear a mask to make people think he was that character; and at the end of the play, the hupokrites, the hypocrites would remove their mask to reveal who they really were to the applause of people.
Now, Jesus, with that background, uses this phrase, hupokrites, to describe the Pharisees. They are wearing a mask. They're pretending to be somebody they weren't. John Ortberg, the writer, notes that this was an especially stinging indictment to the Pharisees because the Pharisees prided themselves on the fact that they never went to the theater. They never engaged in watching a play, kind of like Christians today who think they're so spiritual because they don't go to a movie. They watch DVDs and streaming on Amazon Prime, but they, you know, make people think they're spiritual because they don't go to a movie. That was the Pharisees. And for Jesus to call these religious leaders hupokrites, hypocrites, actors, that was a stinging indictment. What was the problem? They performed their good deeds in order to be seen by men. That's what Jesus is condemning.
Now, if you remember the Sermon on the Mount, you may be a little bit confused, because Jesus in Matthew 5:16 just a little bit earlier said, "You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Let your good works be seen before men, that they may glorify your Father in heaven". Wait a minute, Jesus. You just got through saying, "Let people see your good works". And now you're condemning those who practice their righteous acts before God? Which way is it? Which is it, Jesus? It's all in the motive. Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:16, "Yes, practice your good works, not so that people will say what a glorious person you are, but what a wonderful person God is, for the glory of God". If that is your motive, it's a good thing; but if you are practicing your worship, your righteous acts in order to be seen by other people, that's a bad thing.
Now, before we get into the specific examples of this in worship, let me just say a word about the causes of hypocrisy. Why is it some people appear to be what, in fact, they aren't? Now, sometimes it's because the person is unsaved. There's nothing inside of them, because there's nothing inside of them. They really aren't saved. And Jesus addressed this issue of fake Christians, people who appear to be Christians, in his famous parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. We don't have time to look at it in depth, but you remember the story. Jesus talked about a man who had a field, and he planted wheat in it; but at night, his enemies came in and planted tares, fake wheat, the darnel seed that at first looks like wheat when it sprouts up, but it bears no fruit, and it strangles out the real wheat.
The Bible says in the world today there are genuine Christians and fake Christians. Billy Graham said one time he estimated that 50% of the people sitting in pews are fake Christians. They're not truly saved. The person next to you... no, I won't go there, but you may be sitting next to a fake Christian. You may be living with a fake Christian. They appear real in what they say, but there's nothing there on the inside. A second reason somebody may engage into hypocrisy is that they are a spiritually immature person. They're spiritually immature. Yes, they're saved, but they're stunted in their spiritual growth, because they haven't practiced the truth.
Paul addressed that spiritual immaturity in 1 Corinthians 3. Remember, he visited the church at Corinth, and then 5 years later he wrote what we call 1 Corinthians. In writing to them, he said in 1 Corinthians 3:1, "I, Paul, could not speak to you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as the infants in Christ". When he came, these were baby Christians, he said. "I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, for you weren't able to receive it. Indeed even now you are not able, for you are still fleshly". He said, "Five years have passed since I was first with you. You weren't mature then; you're still not mature". We can't use the word today, it's politically incorrect, but when an adult acts like a child, we say that person is mentally challenged, okay? That's what we say today. But it's a tragedy, isn't it? When somebody who is 40 years old chronologically acts like a three-year-old, this is a tragic thing. The only thing more tragic is when you have somebody who should be a mature Christian acts like a baby Christian.
And he said, "That's the problem with you Corinthian Christians". How did they become spiritually challenged? Why didn't they grow? The writer of Hebrews answers that in Hebrews 5, beginning in verse 12. "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need for somebody to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you've come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is still an infant, but solid food is for the mature who because of practice had their senses trained to discern good and evil". Of course, one of the greatest dangers of hypocrisy is what it does to unbelievers who look at us. Christian writer Brennan Manning said, "The greatest single cause of atheism today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle".
Now, I realize, I mean, people can misuse that. If you're not a believer in Christ today, believe me, complaining about hypocrites in the church is not going to get you into heaven one day. God's not gonna be impressed by your complaint. When anybody complains to me, when I invite them to church, and they say, "Oh, I can't go to church, there are too many hypocrites in the church," my first instinct is just to say, "Well, come on, you'll feel right at home". I mean, the church isn't a museum for saints; it's a hospital for sinners. None of us is perfect. We go to the grocery store in spite of hypocrites, 'cause we need the food, you know. Nevertheless, many Christians who act one way and profess another way of living are a detour for some people into heaven.
Now, after denouncing hypocrisy in verse 1, he gives us an example of hypocrisy in worship. Remember, hypocrisy is either pretending to be something you're not or practicing your righteousness for the wrong motive, to be seen by others. Now, look at what Jesus says. He's going to talk about giving in verse 2. Everybody hold on to your wallets. Verse 2, "So, when you give to the poor, don't sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly, I said to you, they have their reward in full".
First of all, there's a wrong way to give. When you give to God, don't sound the trumpet, verse 2. What does he mean, don't sound the trumpet? Well, I think he was speaking, first of all, literally. The Pharisees carried around, many of them, a little silver trumpet. And when there was a big crowd, and they thought they could, you know, attract some attention, they would blow that silver trumpet, and that was an immediate signal to those who were destitute: the poor, the lame, the blind, to gather around. And they would gather around that Pharisee blowing the trumpet. And once the Pharisee had a crowd, he would scatter money on them, and everybody could see that.
Now, that's what Jesus was condemning. Literally, don't blow the trumpet. Now we don't do that today, literally, but we do it figuratively. He's saying, "When you give, don't toot your own horn". Now, after explaining the wrong way to give, to be noticed by others, he explains the right way to give. Look at verses 3 and 4: "But when you do give, give to the poor, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you". Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. He's talking here about a magician's sleight of hand.
You know, every good magician is really a master at distraction. He's able to get your attention with one hand over here to distract you from seeing what he's doing, really, in secret with the other hand. And Jesus is using that imagery here. He's saying, when you give with one hand, focus people to God. Have them focus on the great God you serve, so that they won't even notice what you're doing with your other hand, which is giving. Make the focus the glory of God. And if you do that, if your giving is in secret, your Father will reward you.
Now, in hypocritical giving, you can either pretend to give what you really haven't given. That's one way to be hypocritical. The other is to do it for the praise of others. I think about that couple, Ananias and Sapphira. They illustrate both those aspects of hypocritical giving. Remember, they pledged to give money they didn't actually give. They said, "We're gonna sell this real estate and give it all to the church," but they didn't give it all. They lied about what they were giving. And secondly, they did it for the wrong reason: to be praised by others. One commentator put it this way: "They were not giving, but buying. They wanted the praise of men, and they paid for it".
If you want men's praise for your giving, you can get it. Just make it public. Let everybody know what a generous person you are. But remember, once you've received that praise, you've been paid in full. On the other hand, if you give for the right reasons and give in secret, your Father will reward you. How does he reward you? There are a lot of different ways God can reward you. C.S. Lewis said one time, "Whatever gift we give to God is immediately touched with immortality". Isn't that an interesting thing? That what we do here in the few years God gives us on earth reverberates in the halls of heaven forever and ever.
I don't say this this morning, I'm not preaching on this to get you to give any money. I'm saying to those of you who have given, and so many of you have given so generously through the years, you can rejoice in what you see happening. I think when Jesus said, "Your Father will reward you," he wasn't primarily speaking materially. He was talking about the joy we receive from being a part of God's kingdom's purpose. And you know the best thing about God's gifts? They're not one-time gifts. When God rewards us, it's a gift that pays dividends year after year, day after day for all eternity. That's what Paul had in mind, I think, when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one of us may be rewarded for what we've done in this life, in this body, whether it be good or worthless".