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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