BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Good morning. It is good to be back in the office. Yesterday, we traveled back to one of my favorite spots on earth, German Village in Columbus, Ohio. It is such a great getaway. But, I'm glad to be back to work. Today, we will continue to look at Jesus' teaching on the mount; otherwise known as the "Sermon on the Mount."
"Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them...So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men." (Matthew 6:1a,2a)
In chapter six, Jesus discussed alms-giving, prayer, and fasting. Each was practiced by the Jews as acts of piety. (in other words "doing righteousness") Here, Jesus is exploring the motive, "Why do folks give to the needy, pray, and fast?" Are these things done in order to win praises of the people, or to have devotion with God which is to be done on secret?
Each stanza in chapter six begins with Jesus saying, "When you..." (6:2, 6:5, 6:16) Jesus then compares their motive against that of the hypocrites who desire to be honored by men. The Greek word from which our word "hypocrite" is derived is interesting. It has to do with "an actor wearing a mask" (a pretender).
While each stanza begins with "When you..." Each ends with "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you..." (Matthew 6:4, 6:6, 6:18) Jesus is saying, "When you give don't sound a trumpet." This takes away from the sincerity of the act. How difficult is this today? Well, it is not impossible, but people sure want credit for doing things. In my line of work I have to turn in reports from time to time. If I was asked, "What is your church doing to help the needy, etc." and I answered by saying, "None of your business," I would be getting a call from the district office. They want to know, and I want to tell them. The truth is, we want to look good. We are not really allowed to get by with living out Jesus' instructions on giving.
Then Jesus turns his attention to prayer. "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 men." (Mat. 6:5a) This is an interesting statement from Jesus. In his instructions on how to pray, Jesus says, "Do it in secret, keep it short, and watch your words." I like what he says: "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words." (Mat. 6:7) Oh, how I wish folks would heed the words of Jesus. I attended a training session for clergy to receive a chaplain's badge at a hospital. We were told to be respectful to patients when we visited. (Common sense stuff, but unfortunately clergy need to be reminded to use common sense) One "preacher" spoke up, boastfully, puffing out his chest, 'Well, when I pray, I want people around me to know I'm praying. They may even hear something in that prayer that will touch them and "turn them to Jesus. Praise the Lord!" Umm...yea..., if I'm sick, please send someone else. Many have the philosophy that when it comes to prayer, it is to be the same as their sermons, loud and long. Jesus says, "No!" Recently, we were at a restaurant. There was a large crowd at a table. The server was bringing their food. She had both arms full. They waited until she approached their table and one stood up, "Before our food gets here, let's bless the food! "Dear Lord, we thank you for this food...we pray for Brother John and his boil. Be it removed in the name of Jesus! We pray for direction for Sister Sally, that she know your will.....On and On and On...guess where the server was? Standing there with her arms loaded with food waiting until the prayer "session" had ended. Then, while they were eating they did nothing but complain about the food and service. How impressed would Jesus be?
The word "babbling" in verse seven means "empty phrases." Ecclesiastes 5:2 reads: "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God." Jesus illustrates the proper prayer. The prayer Jesus gives is short and to the point. It begins with a word of praise and (in Matthew) ends with a doxology. There are seven petitions with the first three focusing on God [God's name, God's kingdom, and God's will] The final four are concerned with human needs (daily bread, forgiveness, temptation, and deliverance.) We call this "The Lord's Prayer." It's interesting to compare Matthew's account of this prayer to Luke's version. We will look at Luke's later.
Jesus then turns his attention to fasting. (verses 16-18) Basically, he says the same thing, "don't advertise what you are doing." Now, let's look at this in light of the society in which Jesus lived. Again, Jesus is telling his hearers to do their acts of piety in secret. The problem; in Jesus' day to do something in private was to arouse suspicion. People lived in what was called a "high culture." No, this was not Martha Stewart living. In that day people lived their lives in the open. Everyone knew everyone else's business. (And they didn't even have Facebook) So, Jesus is asking the disciples to do something that goes against culture.
Many of you may remember the old Charlie Rich song "Behind Closed Doors." In the song, Charlie sang: "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors." Jesus says to us, "if we do what we do in the open, then the accolades we receive will be all that we get. But, if we do acts in secret, God sees and God will reward us." God does know, and sees, what goes on behind closed doors.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. May it be a blessed day for you and may you be surrounded by those whom you love. And may you also know the presence of God with you. I am thankful to have these moments to be with you, be it through technology journeying through the Bible. God Bless! -Pastor Rick