Kingdom Piety

February 25, 2024 | Brandon Cooper

Brandon Cooper preached on avoiding hypocrisy and seeking public praise in acts of personal piety like giving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus taught that true righteousness is practiced secretly before God rather than for the praise of others. The sermon emphasized examining one’s motivations to determine if they are self-oriented or seeking to help others. True intimacy with God through secret acts of devotion was encouraged over exhibitionism and grandstanding. Believers are called to imitate Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith and sincere devotion to God alone.


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

Good morning church. Want to go ahead and grab your Bibles? You can open up to Matthew chapter six will be in verses one to 18. This morning, Matthew six starting in verse one, as you’re turning there a couple of weekends ago, my wife and I were having one of those weekends, very busy, felt a little less like a married couple and a little bit more like roommates who run a chauffeur service. And so, like, just no connection, really. And you know how that goes where after a while, physical distance can kind of start to feel like emotional distance in a marriage. And so it was right after journey group, probably because we do some heart-level stuff. And during a group that I just sent a text to my wife kind of saying, like, I know there is this distance between us, I’m aware of it, you know, I want to close it. Sorry, we haven’t had that. And again, I think because I just love Journey group. And we were doing this heart-level stuff. It actually made me pause for a moment after I sent the text. And I kind of went, why exactly did I send that text? Did I send it for the love of Amy or for the love of myself? Because it meant a lot to her? Certainly, it was a good text, you know, but on the other hand, it also made my life easier. Like I looked good in her eyes when I did that. And that’s always a good thing. And then also, I knew that that meant there was a hard conversation coming later about that distance that now would be much, much easier. And so I wondered what that means, of course, is that even when we’re doing good, we can’t trust our hearts. Like I’ve asked myself that question, why did I send that text? And to be honest, I don’t know. I’m sure my motives were mixed if I’m being honest. Like we’ve got the temptation to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Maybe helps us understand what the Russian novelist Ivan Virginia has said. He said, I do not know what the heart of a bad man is like. But I do know what the heart of a good man is like, and it is terrible. And that’s exactly where we’re headed. today. We’re looking at the good we do. But the temptations that come with it where the behavior might be good, but the heart might be off. As we look at this course, we’re still unpacking the greater righteousness that Jesus calls us to if we’re going to be part of His kingdom. That was the thesis statement for the whole sermon on the mount back in chapter five, verse 20. And then we spent the next three weeks unpacking that greater righteousness in relation to the law. We’ve done that for a while now. But we’re shifting. We’ve got a new movement in the Sermon on the Mount. At this point, we’re going to look at that greater righteousness in relation to our personal piety, garb, religious acts of devotion. So what’s this going to look like Jesus is gonna give us the main idea in verse one. And then it’s gonna give us three areas to consider. And these really are illustrations, these three areas, ALMS prayer and fasting. Just kind of interesting these three areas they deal with, with different broad categories. So you think about ALMS that’s our practice of piety in relation to other people. Prayer is our piety in relation to God. And then fasting is really our piety in relation to ourselves. And so these are, again, meant to be illustrative examples here, so here’s the lesson we’re going to learn. This is the big idea. What we’re going to take away this morning is that beloved children don’t need to show off. Beloved children don’t need to show off. We’ll see what that means and why it matters as we go. But for now, let’s dive into the first section here, looking especially at alms. And the question is, are we grandstanding or giving good? Our thesis statement, our main idea here, as well may read chapter six, verses one to four. Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets. The hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received a reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. So that you’re giving may be in secret, then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Alright, as I mentioned, verse one gives us the main point. And Jesus is telling us here to be careful with our personal piety because we can do very good things for very bad reasons. Now, we do want to be careful and make sure we’re reading the text closely here. Jesus does not say don’t do these things in front of others, although that might be necessary, as we’ll see. But he says, do not practice your righteousness in front of others, to be seen by them. That’s the key phrase to be seen. The purpose of our doing it is that others will look at us and then honor and glorify us. So there’s this great danger here, especially coming out of what Jesus just said, if you were here last week, you know, we wrapped up chapter five with a saying, Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. And so Jesus here, get there no chapter divisions in the original or anything like that, right? So Jesus is just moving right on. It’s almost as though he said, be perfect, but be careful. But be careful at the same time. After all, we are trying to practice a greater righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees; greater than, or means it’s a comparative, which means now we’ve begun comparing ourselves to others. And there is some danger there. Of course, like I can remember this clearly, in my seminary days, we’ve got a large, moody contingent, you guys will probably recognize what I’m talking about here, where there was this sense of, like, we’re all going into ministry, right? So let’s see who really loves God the most, who prays more, who’s memorized more scripture, or who’s got a limited disdain for learning theology because they just want to love Jesus. And so there were these comparisons all over the place. That’s the danger we all have. That’s not just for seminary students. By the way, in striving to rise above the scribes and Pharisees, we can actually descend to their level because we’ve got the same motivation, which is to win glory from others. So here’s the danger. It’s that our desire for public praise perverts our practice of personal piety. Splendidly alliterative, right? I only had to add one “P” there. That’s just actually what this whole thing is about: our desire for public praise perverts our practice of personal piety. So we have to guard against that temptation. Temptation that Don Carson describes, he says, you know, “the demand for genuine perfection can be lost in the lesser goal of external piety. And the goal of pleasing our father is traded for its shrunken cousin, that of pleasing other people. Now, we do have to deal with the seeming contradiction in this passage, too, and is the contradiction with chapter five, verse 16, where Jesus says, and thankfully, our young man from the CAP testimony already referenced this verse, we want to hide our light, right, you gotta let your light shine, so that other people may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. So we’re supposed to do it so that people can see it or so that people can’t see it, which one is it? It is a seeming contradiction, but it is a superficial contradiction at the same time because there is a radically different purpose here. And the purpose is all about Glory, whose glory, people are going to see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. That is a good purpose versus glorifying us for what we have done. So we’ve got to live in such a way that people can’t help but see that there is something that makes us different, but we don’t make a show of it. It should be an inevitable viewing. Now, that is a really delicate balance, I get that this is like walking on the balance beam, right? You can fall off the left or the right. I like the way AB Bruce put it. He said, oftentimes, we must show when we’re tempted to hide and hide when we’re tempted to show that’s about right, isn’t it? I’ll just give you an example. I play soccer most weeks and play with guys who are not Christians. And I don’t generally just introduce myself immediately as a Christian or something like that. But people find out. They asked me what I do. Usually, that’s the dead giveaway. But it’s interesting to always see them kind of go, “Okay, that makes sense, actually, like when we make corse jokes, you don’t participate, you don’t swear or yell at people in quite the same way.” So there is that sense of right was making a show of it, but it is there to see at least,
I think that’s what Jesus is calling us to. But resisting this temptation–that there’s a temptation for public praise matters because Jesus reminds us we’re in danger of losing our reward. Otherwise, we’ll come back to rewards in a moment, but just worth mentioning that, yeah, there are rewards. There are rewards even in heaven. And I know that messes with some of us, but it’s okay. Jesus talks about it. Paul talks about it. We’re pretty sure this is real. So we’ll come back to that in just a moment. But think of how terrifying that is the idea that we can lose our reward. One commentator kind of says, you know, you could give your life say to a compassion ministry and overseas missions where you are there, you know, caressing lepers. You know, ulcerated, a hand, you know, it all counts for nothing. In God’s eyes, counts for nothing in God’s eyes. Why? Because you’re doing it for people’s praise and not God’s approval. And if that’s all you want, and that’s all you get. So Jesus says, like if you’re just doing it for the photo app, so you can post it on Facebook and you get your, you know, dopamine hit when those likes start coming in, I hope it was worth it because that’s all that you’re getting. And so that’s the main idea, then Jesus gives us the first illustration here, which is giving. Notice, he says, when you give, it’s assumed you will be giving to relieve the needs of the people around you. Especially necessary in this culture necessary in a subsistence culture with no social safety net. And so things go bad there, you don’t have insurance, things like that, you know, that’s it, you’re destitute almost immediately. So of course, we have to help each other out, you could open almost at random to a page in the Old Testament and find some sense of how we should be caring for the poor. Here’s proverbs 1917 is just an example. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward them for what they have done. There’s our word reward again. So we’re going to be giving for this purpose this cause but but why exactly? Are we giving alms? Is it truly our compassion for the poor? Or is it a desire for praise? I mean, you know what this looks like, right? We’ve all seen PR stunts. When corporations make a big show of what they’re giving, you’re like it was gonna get polluted the river like we know what’s happening here. You’re not fooling anybody. But that’s what some did, then, to make a show of it. A PR campaign, they would give with trumpets, it’s possible that was being talked about here is that when there was a big need, they would actually blow the temple trumpets. And then you can imagine what what happens, everybody in town can hear the trumpet going. And if you grab your money bag and start running off, everybody’s got Oh, he’s very godly. And that was the idea. Maybe that’s what’s going on? If not, I mean, we got the same sort of language in English. Today only were we talking about this as somebody who’s tooting their own horn. There’s the trumpet idea. And the problem is, of course, that it is hypocrisy. Jesus says, hypocrisy. No, hypocrisy means play acting. It’s a theater term play acting. And that’s what this is because you are pretending that you care for people when really you are just loving yourself, and your own glory. But it is a very subtle hypocrisy, isn’t it? Like most of us, when we think of hypocrisy, we are picturing the TV evangelist who’s railing against sexual immorality while sleeping with his entire staff. That’s what hypocrisy means for most of us. But this is much subtler. This is the kind of hypocrisy that you might not even be aware of. Think about that, in the same way that I wasn’t sure what was going on in my heart when I sent my wife that text. And worse, still, the recipient is grateful. They probably don’t even care if you’re being hypocritical, they just need their bills paid, right? So this is a really confusing situation, a subtle hypocrisy model I should mention, as long as we’re talking hypocrisy, some people, including perhaps some in this room, reject Christianity, because of hypocrisy in the church. And I think what we’re seeing is you are so right to hate hypocrisy. But I would not throw Jesus out with the bathwater here, the whole reason you don’t care for hypocrisy is because of Jesus. Because pretty much every other religion, it just matters what you do not why you do it. Jesus is the only one who takes us to the level of the heart. And he’s on your side. He also doesn’t like this. So his hypocrisy is a problem, the hypocrites. They are hypocrites because they’re in it for personal praise. And as we said, That’s then what they get. That’s all they get. And that is so puny. That is not a good enough reward. So there is a better option. Jesus says, when you give, there’s that word, “when” again, not if you give – when you give, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. So what Jesus is saying here, and this is a startling image, of course, that’s not actually possible with how our brains work, I don’t think, but Jesus is saying, Not only should you not tell others, but in a sense, you shouldn’t even tell yourself, what you are doing when you give that as we are not to give self consciously, maybe even conscious not just of our giving, but the fact that we’re doing it in secret. You could imagine how this would look when you’re at a banquet, and somebody mentions, you know, the matching grant was $50,000 from an anonymous donor, and you think that’s me? I’m the anonymous donor. These people don’t even know how Yeah, so our secrecy has devolved into self-righteousness yet again, which is a helpful reminder for us that secrecy does not earn you merit. It’s just a safeguard against one temptation, the desire for public praise use, but it is a safeguard against just one temptation because the ultimate desire here is, of course pleasing yourself. And you can still do that in private. Hence, we are to be self-forgetful in our giving. Which reminds us this is a question again of motivation, not just action. And that is good because there are times to talk about giving. We see this in Scripture, Second Corinthians eight. For example, Paul holds up the Macedonian church as an example of generous giving. So, apparently, he knew what they had been giving. There’s a time and a place to talk about it. And you understand why because we look at Second Corinthians eight, and their example is good for us. So I’m glad it got talked about. I think 1  Corinthians 11: 1 also when Paul says, Follow me as I follow Christ, or imitate me as I imitate Christ. And so there is a sense of invitation. You can imagine being in a discipleship relationship with a young believer new to the faith and just kind of walking through what giving might look like. You’re saying, I’m like, you know, what, for our family, at least, you know, here’s what we do. We just 10% immediately goes to the local church, there’s no discussion, there’s no How do we do this month, it just automatically goes there. And then we look for opportunities to support missions or compassionate organizations, or if there’s a greater need at church, and we just see what more we can do, you can see how that would be a helpful conversation to have with somebody who’s learning what it means to give. But we don’t need to have people see. We’re not doing it so that people could see. In fact, we don’t have to have people see what we’re doing for others. And that is a good reminder, by the way, we’re just talking about what we’re doing for others giving us one area we could think of serving as another good example. You could do that in secret. Also, not always. Sometimes you’re like, my name is on a volunteer list. Everyone knows him down there. But you know, there are times where you could do something, and you still have people like, oh, yeah, well, you know, I put all the chairs away. Okay, that’s the same idea, right? But we don’t need to have people see what we do for others. Because, as Jesus reminds us, God sees God sees it all. Kyle and I, some years ago, were on a missions trip down in Columbia and Paco’s a cute little town there. And the hills above Paco, written in giant white stones, are the words “Dios Bay”, God Sees. What a reminder, I would love to have that on a hill, we don’t have hills here. So there’s nothing we can do. It is a great reminder that we’re at, and so of course, you think most of what that is going to do the the reminder that God sees it’s going to keep us from doing hidden evil. Like God sees the deeds done in darkness. But it also keeps us hidden. Good. Because he sees it, and he rewards it. Which now brings the big question, of course, if we’re doing it for a reward, isn’t that just as bad? Isn’t that just as self-serving, almost mercenary in our goodness? But here’s the distinction. The reward is not the goal. A reward is just the result of what we do. And it is tied to the act itself. There’s a natural connection there. CS Lewis talks a bit about this. And he kind of says we understand this natural connection idea. So, for example, money is not the natural reward for love. So when somebody marries a girl for her money, we go, that’s not right, that is mercenary. What is the natural reward for that kind of love between a man and a woman? marriages. And so someone gets married, you don’t go “Well, that was mercenary”? He was just trying to get a wife. Like, no, that’s what, that’s how it should go. It’s not mercenary to desire that, and CS Lewis says the proper rewards are the activity itself in consummation. That’s what Jesus is describing. So one obvious reward here, of course, is seeing the need relieved, seeing that person lifted from truly desperate circumstances, as well as intimacy, of course, with our Father who sees so it’s time for self-examination, then, when you meet the needs of those around you giving to the benevolence fund today, for example, are you just grandstanding? Or are you truly giving? That is, are you self-oriented? Or are you others oriented? A quick reminder, as we examine ourselves, we’re not to judge others here. Kyle’s going to talk about that in two weeks, chapter seven. So if what’s going on in your mind right now is, yeah, like that guy. He’s always talking about it. Okay, go ahead and stop and then confess that sin, repent of it and do some self-examination. The only time I will give you that reminder, but that’ll be true for all three sections here. Let’s turn to the second section though prayer. The question here is exhibition or intimate See, verses five to 15. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you they have received their award in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen, than your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because there are many words do not be like them. Your father knows what you need before you ask him. This then is how you should pray. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sinned against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, their sins, your father will not forgive your sins, sounding an awful lot like the Beatitudes. Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will receive mercy. But what are we doing here? So prayer, our second topic again, this is our piety before God. And the warning here, by the way shows us just how terrible sin is, is sin stocks us not just in the far country, where the prodigal runs away to squander his wealth on wine and prostitutes. Sin stocks us at the very gates of heaven. In fact, we’re not for God’s power, sin would come right on into heaven with us. So if I were to ask you to think of a sinner, you might picture a drunk, stumbling out of the bar at closing time, or two cars pulling into a seedy motel at the noon hour, or maybe even a corporate board meeting, where you got a group of people willing to exploit their workers and despoil the environment all for the sake of a bottom line. But what Jesus says here is, yeah, that might all be sin. Absolutely. What do you think of a sinner, you should also picture your pastor at a prayer meeting. That’s what Jesus just said. Here’s how Martyn Lloyd Jones puts it he says, speaking of sin, right, this, this thing of sin that has entered into our very nature and Constitution as humans is something so polluting, that when man is engaged in his highest activity, prayer, he still has a battle to wage with it. And so we have to consider one more time just the exceeding sinfulness of sin. But this is a temptation common to all what Jesus describes here. And it’s a temptation to pray differently in front of others than we do alone before God. Now Jesus is not here prohibiting public prayer. He prays in public, for example, and we do want to imitate him. We see the early church regularly gathering for prayer. So our quarterly prayer meetings, you know, like, you don’t need to start coming in ski masks or anything like that, like it’s a good thing. But certainly this tax means we got to ask ourselves some diagnostic questions as we look at our prayer lives, like do you pray with more fervency and frequency in public? Or in private? Do you love the secret place of prayer? Being alone with God? In fact, is your public prayer just the overflow of your private prayer life? Because otherwise, it is. Well, it’d be like a dad who, you know, when he’s at home with the kids, he’s constantly yelling at them, just sitting on the couch trying to watch TV, like, get away from me kind of thing, right up until other people show up. And then he’s wonder Dad, right? He’s playing with the kids. And I’m like, and you’re like, that’s gross. That’s gross. That is what’s hypocrisy, right? And that’s what Jesus is talking about. It is play acting again. Because the desire is public praise, not personal intimacy with God, which is the whole purpose of prayer. We already saw what prayer is. Robert, read it for us. So I’m 27 Verse eight, My heart says of you seek His face. Your face, Lord, I will seek. That’s prayer, the desire for intimacy. I mean, you read this, this sounds like two lovers on a date, just desperate to be with each other. That’s what prayer should be. And yet James Montgomery Boice pastor from last century said he thinks not one in 100 prayers offered in churches is actually offered to Almighty God. He says no, they’re made to people, or even to the praying one himself, so that he can pat himself on the back right. When Jesus adds another point, he Hear though, the sections a little bit longer a little different than the other ones. He says, We also must not pray like the pagans, who are trying to manipulate their false gods for selfish ends. If they pray a lot, and get loud, maybe cut themselves or something, well, then this God is going to have to be responsive. And so I’m going to do it until I get what I want. It’s very much a quid pro quo kind of exchange. And Jesus says, No, our prayers can be simple and direct. Because we know God’s will revealed to us in Scripture. And so we can simply seek it in prayer. Now, this is not all Jesus says on the subject. We also have to be careful here, right? We don’t want to get one or we need to know the whole counsel of God, because you’ve read this, you would think, okay, one or two sentences and plenty, when you think Jesus also teaches the parable of the persistent widow, to remind us that we should not give up in prayer. So the point again, is, it’s what’s going on in your heart. It’s not the outward action. It’s not the length of a prayer, but the heart behind it. Are you praying a lot, because you want to talk to God a lot. You know, if you’re praying a lot, because you think your wordiness is impressive, okay, check your heart. But at the same time, if you give up easily in prayer, because you don’t think it’s going to do okay, check your heart. That’s what Jesus is saying. And then he says, instead of pagan, or hypocritical prayer, do this. And Jesus teaches us how to pray. And let’s not miss the implication that Jesus has to teach us how to pray because prayer is by no means an obvious or unnatural act. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, we have to learn how to pray. It does not come naturally to us, A quick word to parents by law, really, anyone in a discipleship relationship with parents especially? Have you taught your kids how to pray? And by the way, doesn’t that complicate the whole discussion? Because how are we going to teach them to pray by praying in front of them? And so, of course, we don’t only pray in secret. We have to pray with others. But we want to make sure that our heart is in the right place as we do it.
What does Jesus teach us about prayer, I’m just gonna give us three broad ideas here. Why I’m going to skim across the Lord’s Prayer, not because it’s not important, but because it was so important that we already did a series just about it. And so go back and check it out if you need to, if you miss that. How important is the Lord’s Prayer? It’s interesting. The Sermon on the Mount is a tightly constructed sermon. The structure is remarkable, you know, beginning an introduction in three major sections, and we’re in that middle section right now. And in that middle section, there are three illustrations, and we’re in the middle one right now. And the middle of the middle one is the Lord’s Prayer. It is the center of the center of the center of the Sermon on the Mount. That’s how important it is. So go back and listen to this series again. But what are the three broad ideas we’re going to draw out of it? First of all, prayer is to be God-centered. That comes across as quite clearly hypocritical. Prayer is selfish, and self-centered, but Christian prayer is, we could almost say, God obsessed me. You look at how we pray, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, Your will be done. It is all about God. Which is good because that would be exactly the opposite of the exhibitionism that Jesus condemns. Because it’s not about my glory, I am laser-focused on his glory when I pray. Second, the broad idea: prayer is to be intelligent and thoughtful because the pagans babble, but Christians interact thoughtfully with God’s word. We’re not trying to convince him because we pray in accordance with His will. So what are we doing in prayer in so many ways, we are reorienting our own hearts. As Luther said, we are instructing ourselves more than him. Especially because verse eight, he already knows what we need. We don’t need to inform God of anything he knows. And he cares, which is the third broad idea. How we pray is determined almost entirely by our image of God. So just think for a moment about what sort of God would be interested in selfish, mindless prayers. Certainly not the God of the Bible, the God that we meet here, even in this passage, because Jesus reminds us we are praying to our Father in heaven. The father who is with us, even in the secret place, it’s interesting, you know, it keeps saying your Father who is unseen. It’s the exact same words as in secret. In the in the hiddenness. You know, what you do in the hiddenness, your Father who is in the hiddenness sees he’s with you there in the secret place, how that changes how we pray, quote, Martyn Lloyd Jones again, he says if only we realize that we are indeed his children and that whenever we pray, Just like a child going to his father, he knows all about us. He knows our every need before we tell him as a father cares for his child and looks at the child and is concerned about the child and anticipates the needs of the child. So is God with respect to all those who are in Christ Jesus? And if that’s our God, why would we ever choose exhibition over intimacy with Him? The last section, then fasting. A question here is display or discipline? Let me read verses 16 to 18, when you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting, Truly, I tell you, they have received their award and full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. So last area is fasting, which again is our piety practice in relation to our cells. Notice again, when you fast, not, if you fast. When you fast there is the assumption that kingdom people will, on occasion, fast. Fasting is not well understood nor much practiced today. So let’s talk about it a little bit here. From an Old Testament perspective, it was actually only commanded on one day out of the year Yom Kippur War, the Day of Atonement. But by this time, when Jesus was walking the earth, the Pharisees at least fasted twice weekly. And so you can understand how this became a little bit more of a temptation. This is another way to show that you were a little bit better than everyone else around you. Even in the Old Testament, God cares how we fast. you’d read Isaiah 58, for example, one of those blistering chapters in all of Scripture, and it is all a denunciation of hypocritical fasting. You know, they’re fasting, they want God’s help, and they’re going to God, how come you’re not noticing how much were fasting and God dose is this the kind of fast I chose, really, you’re actually exploiting people even more in your fasting, what you should be doing in your fasting is dealing with poverty and injustice. So there’s a danger with fasting, but still, we were too fast. Joel chapter two, which we’ll get to in August, the prophet is calling Israel to repentance, and it says to return with fasting. So fasting is one way we express the mourning over our sin and the desire for repentance. We know that fasting is another way to seek God’s guidance and acts for example, the church prays and fasts before commissioning Paul and Barnabas on their mission trip. So these are times when we might consider fasting. I’ll give you a good recent example, when COVID first hit, our proper response should have been fasting. Because that’s what you do when a day of disaster comes. Alright with prayer, what’s fast? What is the Lord trying to teach us here? What do we need to repent of? So what do you do in fasting, you abstain from food, maybe drink, depending on how short or fast it is. Don’t abstain from water for too long. You will die, just want to make sure I get that public service announcement in there. But you abstain from food, or perhaps something else that is necessary and bodily for a season, in order to devote yourself more fully to the Lord. And that is key it is for a God-centered purpose. And I mentioned that because y’all heard of intermittent fasting, right? That’s not what we’re talking about. That’s a diet. Okay? That’s not anything to do with God. We’re talking about the God stuff here. Why would we fast though it is, to discipline ourselves in so many ways? Paul talks about this, he says, you know, often compares the Christian life to a race. And he says, you know, think of training for a race. You don’t just train a well, you, you got to actually train they’ll just run aimlessly. And so he says that in First Corinthians nine, and he wraps up that paragraph by saying this,  No, I strike a blow to my body might actually even be referencing fasting there. But if not, it certainly would fall under that umbrella. I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I’ve preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. He says, We got to practice self mastery. We need to be self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. And so it is good to discipline our bodies. Some of you might have given something up in this particular season. We’re in Lent right now. Why would you just give something up so that you show it does not have mastery over me? keeps us from gluttony, and intemperance and all the rest. So it’s a good thing. Fasting is a good thing, but it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because self-discipline becomes an opportunity for self-righteousness. And how would we do that? Well, we could let people see just how much we’re suffering while we’re going without food. And so what would the Pharisees do, they would make sure they looked as disheveled, as sunken hollow-eyed as possible so that everyone would know again how awesome they are. It’s a good reminder for us again. Fasting is an illustration. It’s not the only area. There are a lot of things that we do outwardly that are meant to represent something internally, but the external signs can corrupt the internal purpose. So for example, we lift our hands in worship, and to express something or you know, our desire for God, it’s a good thing, I lift my hands in worship. to misquote Paul, I think God that I lift my hands worship more than all of you. It’s a good thing, right? But man, you understand how I could get cell focus pretty quickly, right? I’m one of the you know, people who really into worship, or on the opposite end, because everybody’s a sinner, right? You get to people, but I don’t need to lift my hands in worship, I know that it’s about what’s going on internally. Right. So we’re all you know, prone to hypocrisy, of course, or here’s another example. This is a bygone example. But not too long ago, people used to dress nicely. For the worship service as a sign of respect. As a sign of look, we are coming to meet the king. But how quickly that became our Sunday best, which then became my Sunday better than the person next to me? Did you all see my new hat kind of thing? Versus No, I’m here for the so that’s the issue that’s being dealt with here. And the thing is, of course, that then defeats the purpose entirely. Like look at fasting, the the idea is to discipline yourself.
But instead of disciplining yourself in order to demonstrate repentance, you’re actually worshiping yourself and practicing idolatry at the same time. So we must do better. And Jesus says, when we fast, we don’t let others know. And what’s being talked about here are the, you know, putting oil on your head, washing your face is basically just saying go about your normal routine. We would say it today, you know, shower, comb your hair, like that’s what Jesus just said, go through your normal routine. So that people don’t know that you did anything different. Obviously, this probably means you shouldn’t complain about how hungry you are all the time. So no one else knows. But God knows. And he sees, and he rewards. We deny food to ourselves as a way to deny ourselves. Why do we deny ourselves so we can have more of him? Alright, I must decrease He must increase. That is the natural reward for our fasting. So let’s wrap up and kind of pull these threads together. Say it again. We said at the beginning, the desire for public praise perverts our practice of personal piety, the temptation is always there. Secrecy helps overcome that temptation. It doesn’t guard against every temptation, but it does help. At the same time, absolute secrecy is impossible, and probably ill-advised. Right. So even take the fasting example. When I fast from dinner, at least my kids see. And usually I gotta let my wife know, so she doesn’t make a portion for me. Okay, so absolute secrecy is impossible. But even more than just Yes, we should probably involve some people in some of these conversations, at least, absolute secrecy is impossible, because we always have at least one spectator, God, or loving father, who is looking for opportunities to reward us. So the question we have to keep asking ourselves in our devotion is which spectators? Which spectators is interesting, the word for to be seen, is where we get our word theater from. That’s helpful, isn’t it? Because so often our religious actions can just be putting on a performance. But Christians know we’re being watched. And the audience we care about is God, and God alone. And a different audience, will lead to a very different performance. Why is that? By the way, it’s because we can fool other people. We could even fool ourselves because we don’t always know what’s going on in our hearts, but you cannot fool God. And that’s why the different audience is either going to degrade or dignify our performance. We can go even deeper than that, though, because practicing piety before God alone moves us to consider who this God is. And if we mentioned already He is father. I don’t know if you caught that in He’s 18 verses the word Father shows up 10 times. It is the major theme here to the sermon on the mount as a whole, but certainly to the center section, He is father. So as we practice our devotion, we are reminded of the wonder of our adoption, and the reward of our intimacy with Him. Which, by the way, is exactly what we’re trying to get in public. Anyway. What are we after approval, love, we might even say. So what we’re trying to get in public, and all it gives us is a little dopamine hit with our couple of likes on Facebook, we could have perfectly if it’s practiced in secret, the actual intimacy we desire only is better because he sets his love on us in Christ irrevocably. So that we don’t need to keep performing. Keep measuring up, you know, it’s like everybody claps for the singer right up until she misses the high note. You know, so often how it feels for us. But if we remember that our Father loves us, in Christ, will lead to despair on our bad days, we don’t need to boast on our good days. Why? Because beloved, children don’t need to show off. Love and children don’t need to show off because they know that dad already loves them in Christ. And that in Christ, peace is so important. Because you remember that Jesus is the only human who ever gave a perfect performance, no hypocrisy, right, no distinction between his public life and his private life. And yet he was on the cross rejected by his father cries out My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why he was rejected so that we could be welcomed. Because when we trust in Christ, God gives us Christ’s performance. We sing about it in the first song, All-Sufficient merit, right? I put on Christ, His righteousness. And that means I receive Christ reward a welcome my father’s arms, which means there is an invitation in this passage than invitation to all of us. But especially I would say, to those of you who are here, if you have not yet trusted in Christ, the invitation is come, come to receive that approval, and to experience that intimacy for which we all desire. And it has granted us it is it is given us as a gift. It’s not heard, and it’s certainly not faked. If you come trusting Christ, He will adopt you as his own. As we’ve seen, a piety like this. Piety that is a whole that is pure that is at the heart level. It is impossible for us. Sin stocks us even in prayer. And so when we think about coming to God in Christ, we have to remember what Jesus told Nicodemus, right, you must be born again. That is the invitation not to try harder. That is not what this passage is teaching us. You must be born again. That’s the invitation to be given a new life to be made new that changed heart, the perfect intimacy all which awaits those who come to God, through faith in Christ. I don’t know about you, but I would so much rather that than pretending than grandstanding, exhibitionist displays of a false piety, who would so much rather be a beloved child of my father, wouldn’t you? Let’s pray. Lord, we confess our sin, we confess our hypocrisy, we confess How selfish and self oriented we are, even when striving to do good things. And so we recognize that we must be born again. We need you to change us to take our Hearts of Stone and replace them with hearts of flesh that can respond to the love that you lavish on us. I pray for those Lord who have never made that exchange yet and even now, would you lead them to repentance and faith? I pray for those of us who have come to you through faith in Christ already. Would you make us more like Jesus even in our acts of piety, or prayer, or fasting or compassion? Lord, would you help us to know who you are as father and allow that precious precious truth to change everything about how we live our lives? If your namesake Amen.

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