Oct16WedOctober 16, 2019
At the end of last week, our family had the opportunity to explore around the St. Louis area. Our journey took us to the Gateway Arch Monument (or the “big hill” as our twins described.) We took the opportunity to load our family of six into one of the tram ‘pods’ and take the four minute ride to the apex. As our pod was ascending, I could occasionally see the inside structure of the Arch through a window. I was amazed by how empty the structure was in various sections! Our family loved viewing Illinois and Missouri from hundreds of feet in the air, but the ride got me thinking about Matthew 23.
Matthew 23, which has been part of our Daily Scripture Reading, is a portion of Scripture in which Jesus warned the religious leaders of Jerusalem. He lamented about how these knowledgeable individuals had turned Judaism into an act of religious pretending. He described them as outwardly adorned, but inwardly empty (like white-washed tombs). They had become actors (or in Greek, hypocrites).
There seems to be a common temptation towards religious pretending even among devout Jesus followers. We can see evidence of it among the New Testament epistles. My own journey with Christ and work among Christians also confirms this spiritual reality. Since all of Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuke, correction and training (2 Timothy 3:16), we must conclude that Matthew 23 has been recorded so that we can identify this in ourselves and learn to navigate away from this dangerous lifestyle.
Here are a few of the ways in which Jesus described the signs of religious pretending.
One sign is holding unequal standards. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Mt 23:4). It can be easy for a religious pretender to set a standard of righteousness for others which they have no desire to keep.
A second sign is self-centered attention. “They do all their deeds to be seen by others…and love the place of honor at feasts” (v5a,6). It can be easily for a religious pretender to try to fill the empty void with praise or attention from others – often seeking it out in very unhealthy ways.
A third sign is selective generosity. “You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice, mercy and faithfulness” (v23). It can be easy for a religious pretender to separate Sundays from Mondays and subconsciously think, “I attended worship and gave to the Lord yesterday. Therefore, I don’t need to show mercy to others today.”
In the midst of this challenging indictment, Jesus also offered words of loving direction. He said, “The greatest among you must be your servant…whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). There are two instructions for us here.
One of the ways in which we can go to battle against religious pretending is to approach God with humility. This kind of attitude is important on Sundays, but it is equally necessary on the other days of the week.
Likewise, Jesus also invites us to serve others. Actively serving others, out of a Christ-centered heart, does much to battle against prideful pretending.
Consider these questions:
Is my posture towards my co-workers on Wednesday, my family on Thursday and my friends on Friday one of serving them out of Christ-honoring love?
Am I living that way because I have truly humbled myself before God?
Honestly, I struggle with religious pretending Matthew 23 is helpful for me. How about for you?
Let’s continue to flee from the temptations towards religious mask-wearing by serving others and coming humbly before God Sunday through Sunday.