Somehow the warnings in the passage hardly seem relevant.
When was the last time you made a show of giving, praying or fasting?
When was the last time you noticed another Christian making such a show?
However, the warning is worth heeding because the dangers extend well beyond giving, praying or fasting.
You know how it all started:
- God created everything and it was very good
- He created man and woman, placed them in his perfect creation
- He set them to rule over the creation, to care for it and tend it.
- Then the snake asked the question, “Did God really say…?”
- Ever since, even when we know what God said, it gets turned into what God “really” said, or what we think he should have said, or what we think he really meant, or what God said reinterpreted in the terms of our modern culture and knowledge.
- Ever since, the craftiness of Satan has led to good things soiled, useful things even made harmful, powerful things rendered powerless and gifts being discarded.
- And he has recruited an army of people and methods to undermine, confuse and deceive us.
Giving to the Lord’s work is a good thing
- Jesus tells us to give without getting attention
- Although you can use giving to make a good impression on others and lead to you being honoured.
- But we try to follow Jesus and give without getting attention
- Which makes it much easier to give very little or not to give at all!
- Can you trust these organisations to be sure the money goes where it’s needed?
- Of course, having given in order to get a tax deduction means you had the wrong motivation so it was useless. No point doing that again
Praying is a good thing
- But praying in order to make a good impression on others is hypocrisy
- Jesus tells us to go out of sight to pray to your Father privately
- Does that mean that if you pray for someone, you shouldn’t tell them
- Doesn’t this mean praying out loud in a group is wrong?
Fasting as a spiritual action is a good thing
- But doing so in a way that makes it plain to others how spiritual you are is also hypocrisy
- So smarten yourself up so people won’t know you are fasting.
- If I fast to lose weight does that count?
- But I can’t keep my fasting a secret while everyone else in the household is having their meal – which is why I don’t fast.
The Father of Lies, the Accuser frequently raises his question…”did God really say?”
- Then he makes use of the syndrome we all suffer from: The Jack Horner Syndrome… “what a good boy am I”.
- It’s in our nature: we will naturally desire the approval of others and of God for our religious practices such as giving.
- There have been times when we have been told that giving will earn us credit with God and this credit has been sold to people.
- There are still plenty of people who can’t resist the falsehood that giving wins them credit with God even when it is clear in Ephesians 2: 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9not by works, so that no-one can boast.
Even when we give in complete secrecy, we hear the suggestion, “God will be pleased with you for giving. Especially when you did it so secretly. You have done God quite a favour with that donation. That’s surely going to get you a place in heaven!”
Are we going to let Satan win? That’s just what Jesus was urging against in this passage!
In the previous chapter Jesus warned us
Matthew 5: 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Be careful of the neat and manipulative arguments that would move us in the direction of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and of the modern teachers who would distract us from Jesus’ intentions – instead let us surpass their form of righteousness.
Your response to Jesus is, at its 1st level, between you and him. It is a relationship.
It’s not for reward, for self-glorification nor is it even for self-satisfaction nor is it even to get you into heaven. It’s because you know who Jesus is to you: Saviour, Lord, brother and friend. We will not let that relationship be defiled; we will not allow ourselves to be deluded. It’s because you want to live your life as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Because Satan is prowling around at all times we need to check our motivations at all times as well as our actions.
Satan does not get left behind – he devises new varieties of deceits to cheat people of their money, to use what we call scams to fool us so even more caution or scepticism is needed.
Jesus wants you to use your money for his purposes and your purpose is to give him credit and glory. All you have done is be an obedient disciple, as you should. There is no point in saying who cares what other people think because, since they don’t know what you’ve done, they have no opinion on it and if they did know it’s not their opinion that matters.
What you are doing is living out your Christian religion, a word used in only a few places in the New Testament.
James 1: 26Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Then in turn:
1 Timothy 5: 3Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.
In their letters the apostles give some practical guidelines as to how a Christian is to be religious and it has to do both with ourselves and with those we seek to help.
A consistent, religious Christian will exercise the fruit of the Spirit, including self-control, being careful about what they say and avoiding the polluting behaviours the world around them would tempt them with.
Then that Christian would be discerning about their giving and whom they support. Those in greater and real need would receive their help first and family members would look out for each other.
If we don’t give prayerfully, thoughtfully and with discernment we find ourselves confronted with needs so great we are overwhelmed and in despair.
There is much the Bible teaches us about giving and also about prayer.
- We are urged, taught to pray. Responding to a request that he teach the disciples to pray Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
- We are told to avoid empty repetitive prayers.
- That long prayers are no better than short ones.
- That praying in a way that is meant to be seen and admired is hypocritical and,
- on the other hand, private, personal prayer should be a standard practice for each of us.
- We know Jesus prayed with and for people in a way that was seen and heard – and that in each case the aim was to glorify the Father.
- We read how the disciples met for prayer as instructed and how the Holy Spirit came on them.
- Paul, especially, tells us what he prayed and why he prayed and what he expected as a result.
- We should follow the teaching and example of Jesus and his apostles in our private prayers, when we pray with and for others, with each other in our homes and in our times of fellowship.
- Prayer is a more than a duty – it is a blessing and a power.
The lesson from Jesus in this passage about giving, prayer and fasting is don’t let Satan steal it from you, spoil it or misuse it with deceitful arguments.
Don’t be confused after all that!!
Satan’s at it again already! Already we are hearing his whispers: “After all that, what are we supposed to do? Have we just given ourselves a new set of laws to follow? How can we know if we will ever get it right?”
And if we leave it at that Satan the deceiver, the confuser has won a point!
No! Let’s tell Satan to get behind us! In fact, I am comfortable in telling Satan to go to Hell!!
And in so doing let’s proclaim that we live in the love of the Father, love poured out in the blood of Jesus the Son and guaranteed in our lives by his Holy Spirit.
And that love is powerful, victorious, cleansing, encompassing, reassuring and eternal.
That love has given us eternal life and brought us into the kingdom of heaven.
That love sets us free. Let’s celebrate that freedom. Freedom from condemnation and the powers of evil, of the gods of this world, the idols of this world; money, sex and power.
We will not be slaves again to these idols, these false gods, the principalities and powers of this world.
In the name and authority of Jesus the King of kings we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures and then affirm and reaffirm the teaching our Lord has given us. We urge not only ourselves and each other but those around us to repent of failure, to reject whatever contradicts Scripture.
As followers of Jesus we have no choice. A central part of our vocation is, prayerfully and thoughtfully, to remind ourselves and people around us that there is a different way to be human. A true way. The Jesus way. To do what Jesus did with Pontius Pilate and confront them with a different vision of kingdom, truth and power.
Bellingen Christian Gathering 22 September 2019