Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Devotion
Topic: Sermon on the Mount Passage: Matthew 6:1–6:18
Sermon on the Mount
Grace Community Church
Oct. 2, 2016
Turn with me to Matt. 6 as we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount.
Due to the proliferation of lawsuits, many companies now feel the need to post warning labels on their products. Forbes Magazine compiled a list of some of the dumbest warning labels and here are a few that made that list:
Nytol Sleep Aid: "Warning: May cause drowsiness."
Marks and Spencer Bread Pudding: "Product will be hot after heating"
Rowenta Iron: "Do not iron clothes on body" - actually, I've done that!
New Holland small tractor: "Avoid death" - with a helpful drawing of a guy getting crushed by the bucket. "Ok, I guess I'm not supposed to do that."
One of my favorites was a Staples letter opener that had this ominous warning on it: "Caution: Blades are extremely sharp. Safety goggles recommended." Somehow having to put safety goggles on every time you open a letter seems a little extreme. Turns out, that warning was a package mislabel that they quickly corrected.
Some warnings are just plain dumb. But it's also dumb to ignore certain warnings. Last year a 28 year old Texas man ignored a sign that warned: "No swimming. Alligators." After ignoring the pleas of a marina worker and mocking the alligators he jumped off the dock and seconds later was attacked and killed by a large alligator. It is foolish to ignore some warnings. Several years ago, our family and the Perl's hiked to the waterfall at Taughenock State Park. At the end of the path, there is a spot to view the waterfall, but there is also a sign warning not to get any closer due to the danger of falling rocks. We talked about how nice the little pool under the waterfall looked for swimming but the warning sign stopped us from going any further. Two weeks later, a family ignored that warning sign and a rock fell and killed the mother. It is foolish to ignore some warnings.
Chapter 6 opens with a warning. The first word is "beware!" - the word means "watch out! Danger ahead!" - and Jesus goes on to warn us of a particular danger. It's a warning we want to hear and pay attention to. Let's read Matt. 6:1-18 together and then let's pray.
The danger Jesus is warning us about is found in verse 1: practicing our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. To help us understand how this warning applies to our lives, Jesus gives three examples: giving, praying, and fasting. This list isn't meant to be exhaustive, it represented the primary disciplines associated with a religious person in that day. We can add to this list things like, reading the Bible, going to church, witnessing to people about Christ, and so on. These religious activities are good and necessary for expressing devotion to God, but Jesus puts a warning label on them.
We need to make sure we read the warning right. Jesus isn't telling us not to practice our righteousness with acts of devotion. Sometimes people, especially if they’ve been disillusioned by someone who professed to be a Christian, or by a church, can throw the baby out with the bathwater and decide these things, prayer, reading the Bible, going to church, and so on are not important to their spirituality. They correctly understand that spirituality is centered in being, not doing, but then incorrectly conclude that doing isn't important. The truth is, being always leads to doing.
Jesus assumes that we will give: he says, when you give to the needy, not if. Jesus assumes that we will pray. He says, when you pray. Jesus assumes that we will fast. He says, when you fast. Being spiritual will always lead to doing spiritual things. Faith leads to works. Love leads to obedience. Being leads to doing. Jesus isn't warning us not to practice our righteousness.
And Jesus isn't warning us not to let anyone see us practice our righteousness either. When I worked on a landscape crew many years ago, there was a very committed Christian on the crew and there would be times when he would fast. And it would be funny to see how hard he would try not to let anyone know that he was fasting. Lunch time would come around and we'd all be starving and pull out our lunches and he'd sit there drinking water, and we'd ask, Andy, don't you have lunch? Do you want some of my sandwich? I've got some extra chips. And he'd try to act like he just wasn't hungry, and then we'd know: "oh, you're fasting, aren’t you?" God's not saying, "bummer, Andy, they found out. You practiced your righteousness before men. There goes your reward."
Jesus doesn't say beware of practicing your righteousness before other people. He says, beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. (vs. 1). It's not, don't do these things, it's don't do them to be noticed by people.
The danger is that our religious activities become a way of showing off, a type of image management. We begin to worry more about managing our image than cultivating our inner connectedness with God. Our inner life becomes disconnected from our outer life. God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, put it this way: "these people honor me with their lips (outer life) but their hearts are far from me (inner life)."
Lance Witt tells about an old, dilapidated YMCA building located across from where he worked. Word came that they were going to tear it down and replace it with a skyscraper, but weeks went by and nothing happened. Every now and then a worker might be seen going in or coming out but no crews, no wrecking balls, no bulldozers, and no changes. Then one Saturday there was the sound of a muffled explosion and the walls began to crack, the bricks began to crumble, and everything came down in a cloud of dust. Lance writes this: All those weeks when we thought nothing was going on, when nothing was changing on the outside, a systematic dismantling was taking place inside. Weaknesses were being exposed, and skilled demolition experts were working their magic. The end result was a total collapse, an implosion.
He then writes: This image has served as a warning to me. When I practice image management I am headed toward an implosion.1
A lot of lives that looked good outwardly have imploded because their inner life disconnected from their outer life. It's a spiritual principle, we can't outrun it or outsmart it. If our inner spiritual world isn't healthy, it's only a matter of time before our inner world will crumble and take the outer with it. We can only keep up appearances so long.
But still there is a temptation to keep up appearances, to make it all about what people see, for all of us. There are ways that this is a temptation in my life, and ways that this is a temptation in your life. Jesus gives us the remedy: do what you do to be seen by your heavenly Father. In each of these three illustrations, giving, praying, and fasting, Jesus says to do what we do in secret and our Father, who sees in secret will reward us.
What does Jesus mean, in secret? What does Jesus mean when he says "your Father, who is in secret"? We don’t normally think of God as “in secret” – He’s the one true God, the King of heaven, the Creator of the universe, the heavens don’t whisper the glory of God, they shout His glory. So what does Jesus mean your Father who is “in secret”. I think what he means is that true giving, true prayer, and true fasting is a private exchange between a man and his God or a woman and her God. It's not done for show, it's done out of devotion to God. The reality of our relationship with God is best displayed in secret when no one else is looking. In that sense our Father is in secret - in our lives, in our devotions, it really is between me and God and no one else, and you and God and no one else.
A reward upgrade
Jesus motivates us to practice our righteousness in secret by encouraging us to seek a better reward. When we give to be noticed by men, when we trumpet our generosity, and enjoy having a reputation of being generous and enjoy being admired by people for how much we give, Jesus says we have received our reward in full. When we pray or fast to be noticed and applauded by people, we have received our reward. That's it. Enjoy the admiration because it's all you're gonna get. No reward from God. Because it wasn't really giving, it was a sales transaction.
I stopped at McDonalds the other day. Don't judge me - I don't eat there often. But I went through the drive through and after ordering was told to go to the first window. There I gave the woman $6. She took my money and told me to have a nice day, but that was it. She didn't praise me for being a generous person. She didn't call her co-workers over to point out that I had just given her $6. Because I was going to drive to the next window and get $6 worth of food. Well, ok, maybe it wasn't worth $6 but I agreed to pay that price. It was a sales transaction, not a gift. That's what Jesus is saying. When we give to the poor or to God's work in any way or we pray or fast just in order to be seen and admired by people it's not a gift of devotion, it's a sales transaction. We give at one window, then we drive to the next window in order to get people's admiration and applause. And that's all the reward we will get, Jesus says.
But when we give, or pray, or fast, not to be seen by people, but as much as possible in secret, Jesus says that our Father who sees what happens in secret, will reward us. Some people say we shouldn't seek a reward, Jesus says we should seek to upgrade our reward. Don't drive to the next window, drive to the heavenly window. Devotion to God is best done in secret. Even when it can't be done in secret, the heart can still be motivated by a desire to please God, not people. My landscaping friend Andy could admit that he was fasting, but not find joy in us knowing and thinking "what a spiritual guy" but find joy in the fact that his heavenly Father knew he was doing it out of love and devotion to Him. That's true devotion, that's kingdom devotion.
What I'm talking about takes faith to see. If you don't have faith, or your faith has taken a hit and is hurting, this will probably sound like nonsense to you. Why would I want to wait for an eternal reward? I want my reward here and now! I want to drive 20 feet and get what I paid for. That's what makes sense in the natural. Faith sees beyond what we can see with our eyes. It believes in God, but more than that, Jesus has made it possible for us to call God our Father. In Christ, we have been brought into a loving, intimate relationship with God as our Father. And so devotion and piety result in action done out of an inner relationship with our heavenly Father. We don't do it for show, we do it for God.
And when we find our inner world disconnecting from our outer world, the remedy isn't to try to keep up appearances. There is a secret place where we can meet with God. There is a secret place where we can do for God. Not out of a desire to earn His favor - that's legalism, but out of a desire to express our devotion.
Get alone with God, spend time alone with Him in secret. Try to find ways to do things out of love for Him and not let anyone know. Enjoy the secrecy, that no one knows. Instead of being bummed out that no one noticed, no one thanked you, no one gave you credit, enjoy that - just between you and your Father. Enjoy doing things that no one sees except your heavenly Father.
If you're tempted to do things to be seen by people, and I can relate to that, Jesus tells us there's a better way. There's a better reward to be had. There's a secret place where it's between you and God, and that's so much better. To hear our Father say, "well done", to sense His pleasure, to care more about what He says or thinks than the person next to us - that is true devotion. That is what devotion in the kingdom of God looks like.
Maybe you find yourself on a treadmill of performance. Am I doing enough? Am I spiritual enough? Maybe you're tempted to call the trumpeteers every time you do something praiseworthy or spiritual. Recognize that and confess it to God and ask Him to help set you free from that performance treadmill. Get alone and love the secret. Between you and God.
If you're struggling on a different level, and you've given up on the basic doings that help cultivate our spiritual health, it could be that the Lord wants you to add some doing to your being. Someone once said that God calls us human beings, not human doings, and that's true. But being always leads to doing. There's a political ad out now - I don't even remember who put it out or exactly what it said, but it was something like, you're not a teacher if you don't teach, you're not a builder if you don't build, you're not a leader if you don't lead. God made us such that being always leads to doing. What we are will always be expressed in what we do.
The solution isn't to jump on the performance treadmill but it's not to do nothing either. It's to practice your righteousness - to do things that express devotion to God. God has a secret place where He wants to meet you. There might be a time for doing nothing in the presence of God, to just be still and know that God is God. But then it will be time to do righteousness: give, pray, fast, read, witness, fellowship, sacrifice, risk. Sometimes the answer to spiritual stagnation isn't going deeper inside ourselves, it's getting going. It's doing.
Finally, it's important to say to anyone here who is not a Christian, that practicing acts of righteousness isn't how we get right with God. We can't pray our way into heaven, or Bible read our way into heaven or attend church our way into heaven. There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ. He paid the price so that any who believe in him might not perish, but have eternal life. The question is simple: what will you do with his offer of eternal life? Will you reject it? Ignore it? Or accept it as a gift? I urge you to accept it.
Let's close in prayer.
1 Taken from the article, Image Management by Lance Witt