Now, let’s look at the second issue He addresses, ‘cause you might say, “Well, wait a second. That’s wonderful – grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace. That feels really good. But what about all those teachings we went over about spiritual activities and disciplines? Aren’t we commanded to pray? Aren’t we commanded to give? Aren’t we commanded to fast?” Yes. Jesus’ solution was not to stop spiritual activities, but to ensure that we do them out of grace and relationship, not performance and obligation.
It was that we would do them out of devotion and see them as what they are. They’re just a driveway. They’re just a conduit to get to where you really wanna go. Giving, praying, fasting, media fasts, Scripture memory, accountability groups – none of that is the deal! They’re just the driveway to get you where Christ can make His home and have freedom and manifest His life in your heart.
That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3, that Christ would take up residence, that He would dwell – and the word dwell, there, means He would feel comfortable and be at home in you.
And by the way, the whole Christian life, in one word – abide. What do you need to abide? I don’t know. I mean, Scripture gives us some basics, but whatever you need to stay connected to Jesus, just stay connected to Jesus, and let His life flow through you. I mean, if you really wanna get it simple. And what we know is that there are certain practices that help us abide. They’re not an end in themselves; they help us abide.
In chapter 5, Jesus corrects our belief, our misguided beliefs about performance, orientation, self-effort, guilt manipulation, obligation, and duty. Now, in chapter 6, He’s going to correct our behavior. He’s gonna teach us, well, how do we do the right thing – right? – but how do we do it in the right way?
And so, I’m gonna give you a quick overview, here, of the first part of chapter 6. And what I want you to notice, here, is that He’s gonna say, now, in our pursuit of seeking first the Kingdom and His righteousness, there’s also the danger of deception. In Matthew 6, He will give three most common practices of the Christians, the followers, the religious leaders of that day, and what He will do is, He’ll show you, “Now, look, your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. Let Me show you how to use those practices that do something to your heart and your relationship, rather than tries to impress people.”
So here’s His application – chapter 6, verse 1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you’ll have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the [synagogue] and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their 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 your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
He’s not saying, here, that if anyone ever finds out what you give, it’s a problem. What He’s saying is, if your motive, when you give, is to make sure people find out what you give, you got a problem. And He’s saying you can have a reward. Plan A: People think you’re hot stuff; God’s unimpressed. Plan B: God thinks you’re hot stuff and, in secret, wants to reward you, and people don’t know about it. You got it?
The key, here, is our motive. The key issue is our motive. Giving guards your devotion. Your heart just always follows your treasure. So, if you want your motives and your devotion to stay true to God and not an idol –what did Jesus say? Well, Jesus said this wild thing, He says, “There are only really two gods: Me and mammon.”
What’s mammon? It’s materialism. And He says, you can’t serve both. And so, giving isn’t this obligation: Oh, my gosh, who made up this 10 percent thing? And oh, gosh, I went to that seminar. They’re into this proportional giving. Mine, I’m doing 10 percent; it took me forever. Now, they want 12, 15, 22, you know . . . Boy, I’ll tell you what, I don’t know where these people are coming from. And, well, okay, I paid my taxes, okay, PG&E bill, oh, gas bill, mortgage bill, Jesus bill. Ummm! Golly.
He said, “You missed. Giving is My opportunity to remind you that I own everything, and your breath is from Me. And what do you have that you don’t receive? And your heart is a very precious thing to Me, and so I’ve instituted this practice that, every time you receive some things, you take a portion of it and – actually, I’m quite generous, since it’s all Mine, and I just ask for a portion of it, not because I need it. I can do anything. But I’m asking for a portion as this reminder for you to take your little claws, because you always wanna hang on to stuff, and let go, and love other people, because I’m the most generous being in all the universe. I love so much, I gave My Son. And so, I wanna teach you how to love.”
And you know what? You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.
And so, it’s a practice, not to say, “Oh, gosh, I’m really making progress. I used to only be a 10-percenter. I’m up to 12.5.” “You’re up to 12.5? I’m giving 30 percent of my income now, and you – oh, oh.” It’s, “God has more and more of my heart, and I give cheerfully, and I give as His son says, ‘Oh, God, thank You. And all this is still to bless me and to richly enjoy. Thank You, Lord.’” I encourage you to give from the heart, first, then, by the way, what many of you don’t do, pay yourself. Save second. And then, live on the rest.
In the next practice, He goes to the motive, again, the key issue in prayer: “And when you pray, [don’t] be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray” – how do they do it? – “standing in the synagogues . . . on the street corners” – why? – “to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, [they’ve] received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room” – it’s the idea of the inner room – “close the door . . . pray to your Father, who’s [seen in secret]. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” And then, it goes on and talks about when you pray and how to pray and the right way to pray, not babbling, and He gives us what’s now known the Lord’s Prayer.
But He gives us in prayer - what? It’s, again, motive, and it guards your discernment. A lot of the issues you have are discernment issues: What should I do? I just don’t know. And you know what? No one does, but God. And He has an agenda for you. And we always want someone to tell us what we oughta do and what percentage should we give, and, “Should I do this, or should I do that, or –” you know what? God wants to tell you. He wants to tell you. But you gotta sit still.
And I pray in the car. I’m gonna keep praying in the car. I practice the presence of God. I have quick little prayers here. I have short ones over here. But I have to stop, go into my inner room, shut off the world, sit before Him, and get clear. And, often, I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, so that it’s not just needs, or it’s not just worship; it’s, “Our Father” – it’s relationship – “who art in heaven” – holy, this is who God is – “I want Your kingdom to come, Your agenda, not mine. I’m gonna ask for my needs; I’m gonna deal with relational issues and forgive anybody You bring to my mind. I’m gonna ask You to guard me from temptation. You know what’s coming today. Then, I want Your kingdom and Your power and Your glory.” You see?
So, He says, “I want you to pray, not because if you” – “Okay, I did it 15 minutes; I’m spiritual.” “I did it 20.” “I did it 25.” “I pray for an hour every day.” I’m not sure God has a clock or watch up there. I think He’s looking at the heart and the honesty and the openness, and where you say, “Lord, speak, Your servant is listening,” where you’re the Mary: “Lord, be it unto me according to Your Word. Lord, if You’ll show me, I’ll do. I need to know.”
Because, see, the – the – the real goal of all those issues you have – your agenda is, you wanna know, like me, so you can do this and do that and know what to do. You know what God’s agenda is? Hanging out with you, enjoying you.
And the more you rub up and enjoy Him, you won’t even notice it happening, but it’s kind of like – when Moses was hanging out with God a lot – ‘member that? Like, 40 days, no food, no drink, just talking. When he came down, what was he like? [Sound effects] Right, man? He’s glowing. Why? Because you always become like the people you hang out with. And when you learn to hang out with God, it’s not like some mechanical deal. You just become more and more like Him.
And so, the third area Jesus says about this internal righteousness, He talks about fasting, and we pick that up in verse 16: “When you fast, [don’t] look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men [they’re] fasting. I tell you the truth, [they’ve] received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it [won’t] be obvious to men that [you’re] fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, [and He’ll] reward you.”
Fasting is a motive, again, and it provides perspective. It allows you to disengage from all the stuff, and it may not be a big deal, but during my breakfast time – for some of you, that’s not good; you don’t eat breakfast anyway. But at least do lunch, and shut the door, and spend that time with God. And try a day or two occasionally, so when those hunger pangs come, you know, drink a lot of water, and you say, “God, I wanna be reminded. I wanna be reminded that all the busyness and all the pull and all the demands –” You’re just sort of backing up. And I will tell you, as you do that, you get perspective. Your spiritual sensitivity goes up when you fast.
And, finally, the summary of this is pretty clear: Spiritual disciplines are essential. Okay? Spiritual disciplines are essential but become dangerous when they become a means to gain the reward of men, rather than deepen our relationship with God. Isn’t it amazing - the heart behind Jesus’ teaching, here? Do you need to have personal discipline? Yeah. Do you need to get your priorities right? Absolutely. Do you need to get a handle on your time and your money? Yes. Do you need to look at those six things that are misplaced priorities and say, “I need to address it”? But you need to do all that with a righteousness that’s exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
I have a final application, here. It’s that secrecy is God’s method of keeping our motives pure. And this isn’t a legalistic, “Oh, no one knows.” If someone finds out you’re doing this or that or – “Ahh! Someone found out I was fasting.” Big deal. That’s not the issue. The issue is if you have a sign: “By the way, did you know I’m spiritual, and I’m fasting today?” That’s what’s being prohibited.
It seems like God lets me do all kind of really silly, dumb things, and looking back now, to help other people, I guess. But it took me a long time to lock in, to really wanna be a follower of Jesus. And then, when I did, I can remember the day I woke up and thought, I am a modern-day Pharisee. I came up with a group that was really into Scripture memory, so I memorized hundreds and hundreds of verses. And then, I went to chapters. And then, I went to memorizing whole books. And boy, was I spiritual.
And I remember bumping into someone who had known me about four years earlier, and we had a really good relationship. I liked her, and God really used her. She was not a believer. And we passed in a common area outside where this school was, and I said, “Hi, how you doing?” And she said something; you know, I said something, and she said something, and I quoted a verse, you know, appropriately, being the spiritual giant that I am. I mean, you got all these verses, you gotta use ‘em, and people gotta know how holy you are, so I mean, bang, bang, [sound effect], bing, whoo! Boom, boom. You know. Hey, you got a problem? I got a verse. [Sound effects] I mean, I was bad, man, you know. So, I’m – anyway. So, she makes some comment, and I quote a verse.
And then, the Spirit of God speaks through this gal, and she looks, and she goes, “You know, Chip, I knew you about four years ago. And you were a really neat guy.” And she said, “You know, I don’t know what the right word is, but you were easygoing; you were fun to be around. You know, I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I – I ‘member thinking, I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but you seem to have a song on your heart. You treated people in a way, and . . . I thought, You know, man, if I ever wanted to be a Christian – and I’m not sure I ever would, ‘cause I’m not sure what it’s about – I think I’d like to be one like you.”
And she said, “Chip, you know, I’ve just kind of watched things, and right now, you’re just a Bible-spouting person that, you know what? Every time I talk with you, I always leave feeling less of a person and guilty. And what I realize is, I don’t like to talk with you, and I don’t like to be around you.”
And I’m, you know, obviously aware that her lack of spirituality is – she’s unable to discern the higher things of God. And you know what? I wish I was joking. When I walked away, I remember thinking, Well, obviously, you know, she doesn’t have the Spirit – ‘cause the verse came to me, “Those who,” you know, “don’t know the Lord, the Spirit of Christ is not in them, then they can’t understand the things of the Spirit of God, for they’re spiritually discerned, and if they don’t have . . .” You know?
And then, I got almost back to where I was to be, and the Spirit of God said, “You Bible-quoting hypocrite. All you have is the righteousness of the Pharisees. And you are a driven, focused, disciplined guy, and all you did is change uniforms from thinking basketball or impressing people or getting good grades or making money would make you somebody, and all you did is exchange it for religious clothes.”
And during that time, I had a guy give me a three by five card, after being at a little training program for three months – and ‘course, I thought I was doing great, ‘cause I always got my stuff done. I had more verses memorized. I did all that you’re supposed to do. And all he did was give me a card with these two verses. And I thought, Maybe there’s a message here. Luke 16:15. It says, “[Jesus says], ‘You are [the ones] who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your [heart] . . . that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’” And just in case I didn’t get his point, he had Galatians 1:10: “Am I . . . trying to win the approval of men,” Paul would write, “or of God? . . . If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a [bondservant] of Christ.”
And I would like, as your little application, go in your notes, a page or two back, and then, just gaze at those little tests, your pop quiz, and look at objectives, and look at priorities, and look at schedule, and look at discipline, and look at accountability. And now, let’s look at these through the lens of, how are you doing, as those are simply means to know and love God and deepen your relationship. Because personal discipline is a very, very spiritually hazardous endeavor. You need to be disciplined, but your discipline can always be just a driveway. The means can never be an end. God wants your heart.