Eight Woes 4: Weak Oaths

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 24, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’” ~Matthew 23:16

This is the only one of the woes in this chapter in which Jesus did not call out the Pharisees and scribes by name, nor directly call them “hypocrites.” In order to put this into this scathing statement against the religious hypocrisy, Jesus must have seen and heard this statement numerous times. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it simple to not even swear oaths, but to simply let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”

Oaths in Biblical times were much more than merely “I give you my word.” They were legally binding. When Jacob tricked Esau into selling his birthright for a bowl of stew, Esau swore with an oath to give it up. It was only when he didn’t get it that Esau realized his folly, but he was never repentant of his sin regarding it.

Vows made today are similar to the oaths made then. Today, when people made a vow, they do so upon something they hold dear. A witness in court or a politician taking the oath of office is typically asked to place their hand upon a Bible and told to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (though today, things are changing for the worse). The idea is that the thing being used for the oath is what would hold that person accountable for breaking that oath. A person who lies on the witness stand or fails to uphold their duty in office is held accountable to the judgment of that which they swear upon. To lie upon Scripture is akin to lying to God, and those who know Scripture knows what can happen when you lie to God (just ask Ananias and Sapphira).

Many people tend to take such vows flippantly because it is ultimately just tradition and the serious implications are never really brought to mind. This is part of what Jesus is addressing. Integrity is no laughing matter. Any time God makes a promise, He is obligated to keep it, lest He deny Himself. And as God is the standard by which all righteousness is judged, any person who says they will do something and fails to do it is a liar. They failed to keep their word. Not following through on what you said you would do involves multiple sins: lying, hypocrisy, double-standards, disrespect, disobedience… shall I continue? That’s why God takes it so seriously.

What the people would do here, however, is arbitrarily place values upon the “down payment” or the standard upon which the oath is made. To swear upon the temple or the altar was dismissible because of how nonchalantly it was treated. But if you swore upon the gold of the temple, now you are making a vow upon what makes the temple so valuable. If you swear upon the sacrifice, then you are serious about what you are doing. Jesus didn’t take that well. Gold and sacrifices can be found anywhere; what makes them special is where they are found. God gave specific instructions on how He was to be worshipped. So, when Christ died, not just any altar would do. It was a specific altar, which the whole book of Hebrews describes as being in heaven, upon which God’s wrath would be carried out. And only Jesus could be placed upon that altar.

Jesus set the record straight that it is not the gold that is special, but the temple that makes it special. It is not the sacrifice that is special, but the altar upon which it is placed that makes it special. The altar is what made a sacrifice atone for sin. Anything else could be a sacrifice but it wasn’t for sin.

What about us? How many promises do we make and not keep? How many times do we “cross our heart and hope to die” or “pinky promise” and actually keep our word? The Bible is filled with examples of what happens when people make rash oaths (think Jephthah, Darius, or even Joshua) and the consequences when that happens. We sign legally binding contracts, some of which are for our protection, but some of which enslave us until the terms are complete. I was enslaved to a contract, to an oath I had signed, when I went to school. I had student loans. I gave myself one of my best Christmas gifts a month ago by paying off the entirety of the debt three years early. My oath’s obligation was fulfilled. But how many of us go take out a loan to get a house or a car just because we want the model and then are enslaved to it for 10, 20, 30 years paying it off? There is nothing wrong with having a house or car, but do we realize what kind of commitment that is when we sign on the dotted line?

We live in a culture that cherishes fickleness. The Sawi Tribe of Papua New Guinea had a culture in which the legendary heroes were the ones whom could build up the greatest friendships only to betray and eat them. When they heard the Gospel, they thought Judas was the hero. Are we truly any better in modern day America? We no longer live in a society that expects those who make vows to live by them. If so, we’d have run over half of Washington D.C. out of office long ago. And they know it too, because they truly don’t believe we’re going to do anything about them. That’s why Jesus was such a threat to the Pharisees, because he held them accountable to their word and exposed them publicly as the frauds they were. But I have news we may not want to hear: He’s going to hold us accountable for our word too.

Jesus made it so simple. Don’t even swear or make oaths. Simply live with basic integrity where anyone who hears you give your word will know you will come through. If you say, “yes” you do it. That’s all there is to it.

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A Wonderful Selfless Gift

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 22, 2020 0 comments

by Jason DeZurik

In 1997, I was able to marry my wonderful wife. In 1998, our first child came into this world - a bouncing baby boy! We were such happy and proud parents who were thankful to God for this amazing gift. My wife and I both were already believers in Jesus Christ and had decided long before our first child was born into this world that we would be praying for him every day. But how does one pray for someone not yet born into this world? Once we realized my wife was pregnant, we talked and came to a decision that we would begin to pray for our child’s salvation and sexual purity every day until this child was married. He is now 21 years old, and we continue to pray for him to keep working out his salvation and for his and for his future wife’s sexual purity, whoever that may be. As far as we all know, including him, we haven’t met her yet.

We now have six children (two boys and four girls) that range in ages from 12 to 21 years. My wife and I continue to this day to pray for our children to continue to work out their salvation in order to grow and to become mature and complete, not lacking anything, as well as for their and their future spouses’ sexual purity until they are married. We believe that praying together and coming in agreement to the Lord on this topic is very important. You need to be of one mind with your spouse, as a house divided is easily broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Friends, in a marriage the “three cords” should be God Almighty, the husband, and the wife. A marriage founded upon God as the center of it cannot easily be broken. Husbands, be willing to lead by example. Love your wife as Christ loves the Church. Admittedly, I am still very much working on this.

We prayed for our son and read the Bible together before bed, long before he even understood what was going on. Once his brother came along 15 months later, we continued in reading the Bible, praying together, and singing a blessing over them every night. Even though our sons are in college now, we continue this same routine to this very day. Have we missed some evenings? Oh, sure we have, but if we are all home, we have tried to make this our nightly routine, and it is now a tradition in our home. Proverbs 22:6 is our guide in this and we have decided to trust in God and His good and right ways: “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

Admittedly, our children are still growing up, so we are still in the trusting stage of this proverb and in many of God’s promises. Do we think our children will follow God and His good and right ways? Yes, not just because we trust God, but because we trust our children, too.

A funny thing happened when our sons moved out. My wife and I realized that they have to make their own way now. Boy, was this hard to do! Giving up control and fully trusting God Almighty and allowing your children the complete freedom to make their own decisions for right or wrong can be hard, but it is the way it is eventually supposed to be. So, as a parent you have a choice to make. You can show the children God has given to you the ways of God Almighty, or not. You are the example that your children will see virtually every day while they are growing up. Be thankful and appreciate the opportunity that God has given to you and your spouse to raise these children. Parents, take this responsibility seriously; your children will eventually leave your home and make their own lives. This is something that is very good.

So, I will leave you with this. It is not about you and your dreams; it is about following God and His plan for your life and your family’s descendants. Are you willing to sacrifice your dreams and desires for people you haven’t met yet? Your grandchildren and great grandchildren are depending on you to make Godly choices now so that they can be even that much farther down life’s spiritual road than you ever were. Please prayerfully consider giving them that wonderful selfless gift.

Blogger note: For those of you that don’t have children or can’t have children, please consider your life and be a Godly example to those God puts into your path.

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Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 20, 2020 1 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, we began to dig into Ecclesiastes 1, and we looked at how the Teacher tells us that everything is meaningless. He began by showing how nature is meaningless, and today we continue on and take a look at wisdom.

In today’s passage, we start out in verse 12 learning that the Teacher was king over Israel. As I wrote about in my introduction post, this gives more credence to the Teacher being King Solomon. We read in 1 Kings 3:1-15 that God told Solomon he could ask Him for anything, and Solomon asked God for a discerning heart to govern the people well. Because of his integrity in asking that, rather than asking for God to fulfill his own selfish desires, God gave Solomon that wisdom along with great wealth and honor. So, King Solomon was known as being a very wise king, having been given great wisdom by God.

But what exactly is that widsom we’re talking about? In Hebrew, there are generally considered to be 3 words for wisdom: sacal, da’at, and hokmah. Sacal has the idea of teaching, instruction, or knowledge, and da’at is an intimate knowing like how well God knows every detail about us. Hokmah is the word used here in Ecclesiastes (and in 1 Kings 3), and it has the idea of discernment and applying knowledge well to the situations of life. I’ve heard it said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. We have to have knowledge in order to have wisdom, which is the application of that knowledge.

So, knowing all of that, we see in Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 that the Teacher has much knowledge and wisdom. He has learned a lot over his lifetime, and his conclusion is that it is all meaningless! He acknowledges that over living things, like animals, don’t worry about meaning and purpose like humans do. Animals just go about their lives and do what they were intended to do without worrying about why they’re doing it, whereas humans strive to have purpose and understanding of every situation.

The Teacher equates chasing after wisdom to chasing after the wind. There is so much that we don’t understand, and our knowledge and wisdom will never equal God’s. We keep trying to fix things (verse 15) but we are not able to do so.

We see that even though the Teacher received so much great knowledge, it still did not satisfy him and give his life purpose (verse 16). Even when he applied that knowledge in the form of his wisdom as a ruler, it was still like chasing after the wind - a goal that can never be reached (verse 17). He ends this section with a depressing thought in verse 18: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

That thought makes it sound like we should all just give up. Why keep learning things if they just bring more sorrow? Why keep gaining knowledge about how the world works if that just gives us more grief? It does sound like all that is just a pointless pursuit that will have no benefit for our lives or for humanity as a whole.

But the thing that makes it more worthwhile is our intention and our purpose. No, knowledge won’t fix the things that are broken with this world, though our continued wisdom and application of that knowledge may make life a little easier at times. Our knowledge can help solve the inconveniences of this world, but only God can really solve what’s truly wrong; the real problem with this world is sin.

Let me give you an example. While this is not directly stated in the Bible, I would suggest that in the Garden of Eden before mankind sinned, the food there would never go bad. The fruit would never rot or have bugs that would destroy it. Everything was perfect, and there was no death, for humans or for anything else in nature. After mankind sinned and all of creation fell into sin, death now affected everything. Fruit would go rotten and spoil.

As humans have advanced in knowledge, we have applied that knowledge as wisdom and have come up with ways to preserve food for longer periods of time. I appreciate that some fruits or vegetables will last longer in my refrigerator, thanks to mankind’s knowledge on how to make refrigeration - the electricity to power it can get to my house, and all parts to a refrigerator that have all come about thanks to mankind pursuing knowledge and wisdom. But, even my refrigerator won’t make my food last forever. My food will still spoil and go bad. Even the amazing technological advances that we have learned won’t fix the real problem.

The only real solution is God. Someday, He will restore everything to perfection. While knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom are good things, they will not truly fix what’s wrong with this world. Getting an education is a great tool for making things in this world a little better, but ultimately, compared to the perfection of God, our wisdom is meaningless, as the Teacher points out here in Ecclesiastes.

Continue to pursue knowledge and wisdom as the Teacher did, but remember that the pursuit of wisdom is not our goal. Our goal is to praise God who has given us the ability to have that wisdom and who will one day fulfill all things to perfection.

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Eight Woes 3: False Converts

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 17, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” ~Matthew 23:15

Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave his disciples a command to go out to the entire world and make disciples of all peoples and of all nations. While many in the church have had no problem with this task, very few understand what exactly they are supposed to do with it. We are to make disciples, followers, and students of Christ, not a particular church group or denomination or teaching.

God installed the children of Israel to be His people through whom the Messiah would come and to give His message to the whole world. That was their job. Yet they missed it. They thought they were special, and that God only dealt with them. While at it, they’d let the rest of the world burn. They saw any outsider as someone undeserving of the truth. But any time someone wanted to join them, they insisted on that outsider adhering to their standards, which often included circumcision. The entire council of Acts 15 was to address this very issue.

Paul had a different approach. He didn’t care if anyone followed him or not. He just cared that Christ was preached. He even allowed those who preached Christ with wrong motives to speak because Christ was being preached. But if anyone preached a message that didn’t lead to Christ or revealed something other than Christ, he showed his “dark side.” Sometimes he got in the flesh and did not respond correctly, but he never minced words against those who preached a false message.

Jesus was likewise incensed with the Pharisees and scribes. They had the truth because they had the Scripture, but they missed the whole point of it. They made it all about them and getting people to believe their model, their teachings, and their traditions. If they found any potential convert, they went all out to get that convert to join them. Yet, because it was about their religious tradition rather than the truth which leads to Christ, they didn’t make any disciples; they just turned a sheep into another wolf.

In my family, I have seen the attempts of this woe in action. My parents are being actively recruited into the Mormon church by another family member. They aren’t buying it, but it is what Jesus is addressing here. That family member was himself recruited into the Mormon church and they went out of their way to see that the conversion was made. It worked for that one family member, but fortunately it’s not working on my parents.

But what about us? How are we making converts? Are we so concerned that people believe what we believe that we miss the point of why we believe it? Again, being such an intellectually-driven type of person, I see the susceptibility to this issue. I write about origins often in part because of how well it showcases the issues we face. Yet, I find myself so focused on getting the origins part right, that I can miss the point of getting origins right: to reveal Christ. There is no point in believing in a 6-day creation taking place 6000 years ago, only for it to be wrecked up by a global flood 4400 years ago, without taking it all to its logical conclusion: Christ and the cross. Yet it is easy to fall into the trap of getting people into believing the Bible on Genesis without getting them to Whom the Bible reveals.

In martial arts circles, there is a general saying: “There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher.” There is actually a lot of truth to this. Why students are responsible for their actions, when they misbehave it is often because a teacher or authority figure either teaches them to do so or lets them do so. As a teacher myself (officially for about a year now), I have been realizing how true this is. I have students who are lazy, refuse to do their work when I tell them to do it, but scramble to pull it off at the last minute to save their grades and pass. Some of that is on me as I am truly learning what the trade of teaching requires. I know my content, but I am learning the process of how to get students who have those characteristics to break those habits and become good students. If I do not figure it out, am I turning out students who are truly educated or students who just get through the system and never actually learned anything? It’s one thing to teach a Bible study or write a blog post, but to teach 170+ high school students is another matter. Am I going to be the teacher these students need to break out of the spirit of poverty my school has? Or am I going to blame the students and those around me, contributing to the problem?

When we go teach others (and we all do teach someone in some way, shape, or form), what kind of students are we producing? What is our fruit? Is a person growing closer to Christ because they’ve been with us, or are they running away and hardened from their time with us? I’ve produced both. And in the future, I will still produce both. But may those being brought closer to Christ be more numerous and more common than those being chased until the latter is removed completely. What will each person say about us in the end? Who will be able to say, “I met Christ because of Charlie Wolcott”? Or will they say “I wanted to know about Christ, but Charlie Wolcott showed me something I didn’t like”? Now, each person is going to be held responsible for how they handle the truth, but I am responsible for how I say it. My tongue is sometimes a source of life and other times it is a source of death. And Jesus does not like the mixture. I want those who listen to me to be zealous for the truth, but it is not good if I turn them into witch-hunters in the process, searching for every possible flaw in others for the purpose of searching for flaws. I do not believe I am doing that, but I can see how someone might become a “two-fold son of Hell” if they follow part of me too closely. If they imitate me as I imitate Christ, they will be just fine, but I must imitate Christ by allowing Him to imitate Himself through me. That requires dying to self.

How are we doing in our self-examination? Hang in there with me, because there is a message of hope in all this. Jesus never gave a message of judgment without a warning or a hope. But for the hope to mean anything, we must recognize the bad news and face it. Then we can receive the good news.

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Parents Are Not the Problem

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, January 15, 2020 2 comments

by Jason DeZurik

I have worked with students and their parents since 1995. I have heard teachers, youth pastors, and many others who have worked with students proclaim the phrase, “Parents are such a problem.” To that I would like to say, “No, they’re not.”

It has been such a blessing for my wife and me to work with students and families since 1996, and as of this writing we have also been blessed to have 6 children of our own. I can assure you that youth work is not only faith work but family work as well. Our oldest is currently 21 years old. Having been on both sides of this relationship now, I understand more than ever why some parents are the way they are in regard to their children. Even if I disagree with parents in their parenting style and some of their tactics and decisions, I believe that as a youth worker, in order to be effective, the one working with students must make a decision if they are going to believe the Biblical mandate of parents teaching and raising their children or not (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

If God has indeed put parents over the children that He has given them, then as someone who works with students, you must be okay when a parent decides to do something regarding their child that you disagree with and might even go against Biblical teaching. These children are not your children. They have been given to their parents by God Almighty. For instance, if a parent decides not to send their child on a mission trip or to church camp, you must be okay with that and not take it personally. There may be things going on in their lives that you do not know about or understand at the present time. After all, you are not God Almighty. The child has been put under that or those parents’ leadership by Almighty God and not you. So, trust God.

I believe we all know there are “bad parents” out there. So, I am not referring to parents that have decided to neglect their god given responsibility. With that said though, most parents, even those who are not followers of Jesus Christ, want what is at least on the surface “good” for their children. Most parents are trying their best to raise their children. Even if you or I disagree with how they are raising their children, friends, I believe it is time for us as a society to be willing to allow adults to make decisions for their own lives, even if we believe that decision is going to bring them hardship in the future. We should speak the truth in love.

One way we can do that is to share the truth with them personally or in a group setting and allow people to believe it and live it out in their own timing, realizing that they may not choose to do so at this present time. Liberty needs to win out. By doing so, we are following the example of God Almighty, who allows each individual the free will to follow Him or not. We must be willing to allow parents the same liberty with their own children. Parents can either teach their children to obey Christ or not. God will be their judge, not you or me.

We should also allow parents the freedom to make the decision of who teaches and influences their children. If they don’t want it to be you or someone you know, don’t take it personally. It just means God will bring someone else into their life to help them grow in Christ. It also could mean that God will bring someone else into your life to help you grow in Him too. Like it or not, the ministry you are a part of isn’t for everyone on this planet. Some will stay and some will leave, and that’s okay. I know I would rather have people leave and go do what God has called them to do instead of trying to whine or complain about our ministry or “shoehorn” me and our ministry into what they are called to do for the Kingdom of God. This doesn’t make me, or others who think like me, out to be ogres; in fact, this is the example of Christ, it is not? Think about it. Those who were not ready to follow Jesus Christ were encouraged to follow Him, but if they weren’t ready, they were allowed to go their own way. (Ponder the story of the Rich Young Ruler for a moment in Mark 10:17-27.)

Again, you and I don’t have the whole picture. Be okay with the fact that God is God and you are not. After all, He is the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God of the universe. Friends, God instituted that parents are to raise their children (Proverbs 1:8-9). So, if you see parents as a problem, I encourage you to stop seeing them as part of the problem but see them as part of the solution. God does; you and I should as well.

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Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 13, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, I introduced the book of Ecclesiastes, giving some background information on the author, the themes, and the purpose of the book. Today, it’s time to dig right into the text!

As I explained last week, Ecclesiastes is written by the Teacher, who is likely King Solomon, son of King David (verse 1). He gives the theme of the book in verse 2: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” Sounds nice and encouraging, right?

The word translated in the NIV as “meaningless” is hevel in Hebrew. It can also be translated as vanity (as in the NASB), vapor, or a breath. Essentially, this word has the idea of stuff that may matter for a very short amount of time but then really has no purpose. The Hebrew language likes repetition, and this verse is full of it. Of the 8 words in this verse, 5 of them are forms of the word hevel.

But what exactly does that mean that everything is meaningless? The Teacher begins to explain that further in verse 3: “What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” Mankind is continually frustrated in their laboring. When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, mankind chose the path of disobeying God. This meant that all of creation fell into sin, and in Genesis 3:17-19 we see that even the ground became cursed because of mankind’s sinfulness. God tells Adam that work will now be difficult for him, and for every human being to come.

The phrase “under the sun” here in Ecclesiastes 1:3 is also significant. This particular phrase is used 29 times in Ecclesiastes, and nowhere else in the Bible. This phrase could refer to how mankind will sweat at his work, as under the heat of the sun. As we generally think of God being up in the heavens, “under the sun” refers to things of this earth, not heavenly things. This phrase also shows us that the content of this book is not limited to just the Teacher’s people, Israel, but all of the nations on earth, as all people are under the same sun.

So if all is meaningless, what is the point of this book? The Teacher begins his search for meaning starting in verse 4, and the Teacher looks specifically to nature for meaning in verses 4-7. He looks at the longevity of the earth, the continual rising and setting of the sun and moon, how the winds blow, and how water works. All of these things just keep on going with no intervention from humans. It’s the way God set up the earth to function, all by itself, with all of its systems and processes. These things by themselves do not give life any meaning, and anyone who doesn’t believe in God will not see them as pointing to God, but merely as scientific information on how the world functions.

However, to a person who believes in God, all of these elements of nature point to the one Creator God! Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20 also indicate this to us, that the natural world points us to the one who created all of it. But, the Teacher is looking for some kind of concrete meaning to life. If all of these things just keep going forever, if they have been going on long before we lived, and if they will continue to go on long after we die, they don’t provide any meaning to our individual lives. Is there meaning to be found in nature?

The Teacher elaborates on this idea of things just continuing on and on in verses 8-10. “There is nothing new under the sun” (verse 9b). He emphasizes that no one can ever find something that is truly new; everything is just another version of something that has already been in existence. There is nothing that can truly be new in the sense of giving true meaning to our lives as humans on this earth.

Finally, verse 11 ends on this depressing note: No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” All people want to be remembered; it’s part of how we’re wired. We may not all strive to be famous for the whole world to remember us, but we all want to be remembered at least by those closest to us. But this verse implies that no one will ever be remembered at all! The idea behind this verse, however, is that we won’t be remembered because none of us will ever truly find meaning in the things of this world, in the things under the sun.

It has been said that the only way to know true joy is to experience true sorrow, and that’s kind of what Ecclesiastes does. It goes through all the bad and meaningless things of this earth in order to find the true joy of who God is and what He has done for us as His people.

God made this world perfect, and it was us humans who messed it up. We look for life to have meaning in all the wrong places. Maybe you are one who looks to science and the things of the natural world to find meaning, as the Teacher did in today’s verses. While the routine and consistency of many things in nature can be a comfort to us, we don’t find true meaning there. The natural processes all just keep going, no matter if any particular individual is alive or not. While we can and should always appreciate the beauty and rhythm of nature, true meaning is not found there.

I know the book of Ecclesiastes doesn’t sound like a very uplifting book so far, but stick with me. We’ll continue to go through all the places where we can’t find meaning, and as we rule out each one, they’ll bring us closer to where we really can find true meaning.

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Eight Woes 2: Religious Pretense

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, January 10, 2020 0 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” ~Matthew 23:14

Jesus had utter disdain for those who claimed to be following God and sought to take advantage of those under their wing. He still loved them and longed for them to repent; however, He loved His sheep even more. The Pharisees were all about public show, popularity, and their political position. They made long prayers and long cries in public, yet they constantly sought their own gain and their own wealth. When the poor were powerless to defend themselves, the Pharisees would take advantage of them. This wasn’t outright armed robbery; it was sneaky. They asked the widows to give to the temple so that they might be prosperous, when in reality, they were getting the widows to fill the Pharisees’ pockets.

Does this idea sound familiar, like prosperity Gospel TV preachers? It’s well-known and many people are right to think they are milking people for their money. And they don’t merely go to the wealthy for their money. They fly to the poor countries of Africa or Southeast Asia and gather the poor crowds into giant stadiums to preach their message and ultimately just fill their pockets. They will say loud and lengthy prayers, often in tears, but it’s all for show. While they appear to be religious, their followers are left with empty pockets while they fly away for the next “show.”

Jesus didn’t address this issue just once. When a Pharisee asked him about how to get to heaven and said he was keeping the two great commandments of loving God and your neighbor, he tried to find a loophole and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. An oft-missed thing in this parable is that it matches the point and purpose of this woe as well. The first two people to come by the robbery victim were priests and Levites. These were God’s chosen ones to lead the people and give the message of hope to the world, yet they purposefully went around the victim. Why? Not necessarily because they didn’t want to help, but because to touch blood would make them unclean and thus unable to go to worship. They were more concerned about going to church than to help someone in need right in front of them.

It is easy to point out this problem in others, but this series is about self-examination. How often are we doing our religious duty only for the sake of looking as such to others? Would we be that way if no one was looking? There is a reason Jesus called the Pharisees and Scribes “hypocrites” in nearly every woe in this chapter. It is because they were play-actors. Fakers. They did not practice what they preached. If we were honest, could Jesus say the same thing about us? You will notice throughout this series that this notion of claiming one thing and living another is the major theme behind the woes. While Jesus specifically address the Pharisees’ desire to get wealthy off their religious practices, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that few of us are practicing that. However, are we the kind of Christian that gives long-winded and empty prayers just for show?

One of Eric Ludy’s sermons that caught my attention is titled “The Amen Life” (which I also wrote about here). The sermon is about living with blazing integrity so God, who is the “Amen,” can say “Amen” about us. Amen is the exact opposite of what Jesus confronts here. Amen means “Truly, verily, let it be so, unquestionable fact.” The Pharisees and scribes were anything but “Amen,” and yet as I listened to this sermon, I was lacking in the integrity needed for God to say “Amen” about me. It was there in many areas, but not entirely. How?

Because I am such a fact-driven person, when I see someone in leadership doing something wrong, I have to be watchful to bite my tongue. I will simply speak what is on my mind, and sometimes what is on my mind is not respectful of the authorities God has placed in my life. It doesn’t make what the authority person does right, but my response to that situation is what matters. Daniel faced very poor decisions made by the king he served, but he never went behind the king’s back and talked bad about him. He instead prayed. My first instinct right now is not to pray in such instances. If I prayed more before said situations took place, maybe the authority would not make a bone-headed decision.

But perhaps the biggest area of concern in this issue is talking the talk but not exactly walking the walk. It is easy to talk theory, but how many of us could answer this question: “So in what situation did you use this practice and how did it turn out?” While I listen to sound preachers, those preachers aren’t going to get me to heaven. They aren’t going to get me closer in my walk with Christ. They can preach some valuable truth and they can warn me of pitfalls, but I have to walk the truth out in my life. The same can be said about all my readers too. I can’t carry you to my destination. I can only walk with you for the parts of our own journeys that we have in common. I have my own destination and you have yours. They rarely could take the same route and end in the same place. Yet while we are on the same path together, let us help each other, build each other up, and seek our God together.

If our faith just for show, or is it real? If it is just a show, it will only be talk. It won’t be action. If it is real, it will be followed by action. It will not be perfect, but it will be pointing towards and aiming there. I heard of one preacher saying, “If they prayed long in private, his prayers in public would be short; but if he prayed long in public, you can say his prayers in private would be short.” Now, that should not be taken as a blanket statement, but one can most certainly have short private prayer and short public prayer too. But those who have a good, long private prayer life will tend to only pray in public that which is necessary. I can’t say that about myself. Jesus is not impressed by prayers of many words or vain repetition. He honors pure hearts, child-like implicit faith, and obedience. I heard of Rees Howells one time scouring through the Scriptures to see if there was a command he was not keeping. Who is doing that today? Howells was a man whose prayers God honored. Are we praying prayers that God will honor, or are we just desiring to look good? Let us examine ourselves.

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