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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

71 - Religion Won't Save You

2)      In the last part of Chapter 5 Jesus is expanding on what the religious leaders of the day considered to be righteous behavior. Remember in verse 20 He says that “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, you will be no means enter the kingdom of heaven. He expands on this through a series of statements in the form of a limited negative ‘You’ve heard it said…but I say to you’ where he reinforces the statement but then expands upon it. He talks about murder, adultery, divorce, oathkeeping, service to others as well as non-resistance and love for enemies. In each case, he indicates that the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees was insufficient, not because what they taught was wrong, but because it was focused on the external behavior, not on the posture of the heart.

3)      Now Jesus turns his attention to religious behavior. The things he had been discussing come under the heading of “righteousness” there is a rightness and wrongness to murder, adultery, etc.

4)      Religious behavior is of a different kind though. It’s not as easily defined in terms of right or wrong. But for a Jew there were certain expected behaviors that must be performed. In the same fashion as when dealing with righteousness, Jesus once again focuses on the posture of the heart rather than on the externals.

5)      God really does know us, and I mean really, really know us. He knows our thoughts and not only our actions. While he cares deeply about our actions, it appears that this is primarily because of the impact that our actions have on other people. People who God loves. Ultimately God cares about our hearts. He wants to see if we are loyal to Him out of love for Him. He wants to see if we are genuinely caring for others or if we are just good actors. We must remember that the God who sees the innermost workings of our hearts is not fooled by what we do if our hearts are not aligned with his purposes. God’s main purpose in the world is to bring all mankind into relationship with Him. He is looking upon every person with a loving longing for relationship that will last throughout eternity. What God wants is for us to do the same thing.

6)      Religious behaviors serve two purposes.

a.      They are to be an outward working of our faith in God so that the world will receive the blessings of God.

b.      They are to impact our own reverence for God and improve our own relationship with Him.

7)      Let’s turn to today’s text:

8)      6 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

a.      Jesus begins by warning against performing acts of righteousness (charitable deeds) merely for public recognition. The motive behind our actions matters. If we seek applause from people, that becomes our reward. Instead, our focus should be on pleasing our heavenly Father.

b.      Jesus is warning against trying to cultivate an image of righteousness for public consumption.

9)      3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

a.      Jesus contrasts two approaches to giving:

                                                              i.      Hypocrites: They make a show of their generosity, seeking admiration. Their reward is the praise of people.

                                                             ii.      True disciples: They give quietly, without fanfare. God, who sees their hearts, promises to reward them openly. The emphasis is on sincerity and humility.

b.      In Jewish society the giving of alms and righteousness were practically synonymous.

c.      It’s not really possible to not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing is it? Of course not. What I believe Jesus to be saying here is that we are not to be self-congratulatory. We should not consider our giving to be praiseworthy. We shouldn’t stand back and say to God “did you see what I did there”. Rather we should still consider even these things to be as “filthy rags” and to be what they truly are, far short of the mark of full devotion to God and full trust in Him.

d.      God who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

                                                              i.      I want to reiterate here that God does see in secret. He not only sees the act itself, but the motivation that leads to the act.

                                                             ii.      We should also remember here that we can count on God rewarding these things done rightly and with right motive. The timing and extent of the reward are in God’s hands but it is as sure as the sunrise.

10)  5 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

a.      Hypocrite was a word in old world Greek that meant an actor as in the theater. Around the time of Jesus it came to be seen as those who played a role in their lives, and outward show of something that was not genuine. Today we might call them wannabes.

b.      For those who pray for purposes of being seen praying Jesus is saying that the response of the public to these prayers will be the only response they will receive. God won’t respond because the prayers were not genuinely to Him.

c.      I’m sure there are people whose primary motivation in going to church is to be seen at church. I’m guilty of this on occasion too. Sometimes I just don’t feel like I want to go and worship. Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anyone or answer any questions. Sometimes I’m frustrated with the superficialness of the conversations or the format or content of the sermons. More often I look forward to the fellowship, the corporate worship and the opportunity to learn. Usually even when I didn’t want to go but go anyway, I’m glad afterward. Regardless, there are other times I go just to go and be seen. You may never be guilty of this, but I have been.

d.      Even when I’m going for the fellowship, worship and teaching, this is often out of a selfish motivation. I want to go worship with others because I benefit from the experience, not because I want to see God enjoy the praise of His people. I’m going to receive the benefit of fellowship, not to offer the love of Jesus to the others who are there.

e.      I’ve had a couple of experiences with the prayer of others that you have probably had too.

                                                              i.      The super prayer, the person who has the overly religious and overly eloquent prayer. It seems that they are almost speaking words of scripture when they pray or even quote scripture as they do. This is often an attempt to impress the audience or even to impress God. Often the intended audience for the prayer is those who are there instead of God.

                                                             ii.      The humble genuine prayer. We often can see this when a person prays out of heartbreak or distress. A true crying out to God for help. Sometimes a true prayer of submission to His will.

f.        Prayer is intimate communion with God. Jesus advises against public displays of prayer for show.

g.       Go to a quiet place, shut out distractions, and pour out your heart to God. He hears and rewards genuine prayers.

h.      When it says we are to go into our room, the idea here is that in private we can’t impress anyone. If we are praying in a private place, we know that the only audience is God and this avoids the pitfalls of public or corporate prayer. And it doesn’t have to be in a special room. Sometimes people speak of a prayer closet. But others pray in traffic on their commute. I’ve had some of my best prayer times while hiking alone in the forest. It’s in isolation from others that we understand best that the only one listening is God himself.

i.        This isn’t to say that we should not pray together as many Christians do, but it is to say that when we do so it should not be for purposes of impressing other Christians our prayer must not be directed to the audience present but rather to God himself.

11)  7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

a.      Jesus cautions against empty, repetitive prayers devoid of true connection. God isn’t impressed by eloquence or verbosity. He knows our needs even before we express them. Our prayers should be heartfelt and sincere.

b.      Some religious traditions have a practice of repeating the same prayers over and over and keeping count of how many times they have prayed each prayer. Some use prayer beads. The Catholics call this the Rosary and it includes prayers to Mary which is a clear violation of Scripture:

                                                              i.      1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus

                                                             ii.      1 John 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous

                                                           iii.      The idea of using the prayer beads called the rosary developed somewhere around the 10th or 11th century but there was a practice of using knotted prayer cords to count recitation of the Psalms by monks that goes back to the 5th century. The rosary was popularized in the 1500’s after the Ottoman turks who were Muslims pushed into Spain. As you may know, Muslims use prayer beads to count their repetitions of proscribed prayers and it may be that the popularization of the rosary was as a counter to this Muslim practice.

c.      Charles Spurgeon said that “Christian’s prayers are measured by weight not by length.”

d.      Luke 18:10-14 we find Jesus offering this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

e.      The words of the pharisee were certainly longer and more eloquent but one of them was of value to God and to his relationship with God, while the other was a vain repetition.

12)  8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

a.      Prayer is not informing God. He already knows. Prayer is to inform us of our dependence on Him.

13)  Next episode we will dig into the model prayer also called “The Lord’s Prayer”. It’s possible that you might benefit from meditating on this in the meantime. Hint: It’s more about the “how to pray” than it is about the content of the prayer.


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