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About this series
Balancing Life's Demands
Biblical Priorities for a Busy Life
Are you busy, tired, stressed out, and stretched to the limit? Does life seem a little out of control? Are you running long on "to do's" and short on time? In the series, Balancing Life's Demands, you will learn how to put "first things first" and find peace in the midst of pressure and adversity. This isn't about cliches or quick fixes, just practical biblical insights to help you order your personal world.More from this series
If some of you have struggled with keeping your commitments in the past, that last teaching we did on accountability I think’ll really help you. If, however, you find yourself being one of those people who say, “You know something? I’m really trying to be all God wants me to be, and I am pretty intense in pursuing Him. And yet, I have these waves of guilt, and I never know whether I’m doing enough. And as I’ve processed some of this, I’m trying to be real discerning, but I’m just not sure,” then I think this message will be very helpful.
We’re gonna look at two warnings from Jesus. You’ll notice, even the title of this message is “Personal Discipline Can Be Hazardous to Your Health.” “Warning” – flashing lights – “Personal Discipline” – and we talked about how important it is, that it’s from the Spirit of God, that we need to be disciplined, right? Now, it’s time out, before you get too focused, too fired up – personal discipline can be hazardous to your spiritual health. There are two great dangers in becoming a highly focused, highly disciplined, authentic follower of Christ.
Danger number one is the danger of distortion. Jesus warns that we can easily distort the purpose of spiritual activities. He was up on a mountain, had prayed all night, according to Luke 6, and He knew that He was gonna turn over the ministry to a select group of men, not a group of men that most of us would have chosen. Most of them blue-collar workers, exception of maybe one. One was a former revolutionary, a couple of guys with anger management issues. One, a strong leader with a very big mouth; one, a betrayer; one, a crook. And He goes up into the mountain, and it’s very clear, the parallel. He’s going to – even as, you know, Moses was the great Old Testament hero, and as Moses laid out God’s economy for the children of Israel from the mountain, now, Jesus – the Rabbi, the Teacher – goes up into the mountain, and He prays, and we will hear what’s commonly called the “Sermon on the Mount.” But He’s talking to His disciples, and the crowd is overhearing. And as the text opens up, it says He sits down, which was, when a rabbi was speaking authoritatively, he would sit down and say, “This is the way it is.”
You’ll notice that you have, in your notes, Matthew chapter 5. And then, in your notes, you also see a structure, or overview, of Matthew chapter 5. The context is verses 1 and 2: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up [into the] mountainside and [He] sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying . . .”
Now, before I read through it, obviously, in our time together, I can’t go through all of this in much detail. But I want you to see the structure. Verses 3 through 12, He’s going to say the reward and the character of true followers look like this. You wanna know what a true follower in the kingdom of God, from the Son of God is - we commonly call it “the Beatitudes.” And then, in verses 13 through 16, He’s going to say when that kind of character is lived out by the grace of God, in relationship with Him, you are literally the salt and the light of the world. He’s saying be worthy examples. And then, after that, then, He’s gonna – He’s gonna have to tie it in, because they’ve spent all their time as little boys in the synagogue listening to the Pharisees teach. And Moses is the great teacher. And so, now, He needs to say, “What am I saying, and how does that tie in to what you’ve always heard?”
And what they’ve always heard is not only the Old Testament teaching, but there’s the Mishnah, and that was an oral tradition that I think someone has said there are about 614 or 13 commands in the Old Testament, clear commands. Well, add two or three more thousand that came out of this oral teaching. They had commands about how many steps you could take on the Sabbath, about this, about – I mean, every detail of life. A Pharisee would fast twice a week. They would tithe on their money, and Jesus would even say, later, down to the herbs and spices. They were legalistic, down to the minutia.
And so, Jesus is declaring Himself and His message and His followers. And then, He’s gonna say, “Where do I, in My teaching, fit with what you’ve heard all your life, with Moses?” And He’s gonna make a very radical statement in verse 20, and He’s gonna talk about true righteousness.
So, have you got the structure? So, with that, just listen. Let’s listen, first, to the reward and character of His followers: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they [shall] see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [the] sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [In fact,] blessed are you when people insult you, [and] persecute you . . . falsely [and] say all [kind] of evil [things] against you because of Me.”
You see the role He’s taking? “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And so, He gives a character quality – the poor in spirit, someone who sees their need before God – and then, He gives the reward. The character quality, the reward; the character quality, the reward. He says, “This is an authentic follower of Mine.”
And then, He goes from that to impact: What’s the role? How do you live? “You are” – He doesn’t say “become,” He doesn’t say “do.” “’You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? [It’s] no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. ‘You are the light of the world. A city [set] on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light [so] shine before men, that they may see your good [works] and praise your Father [who is] in heaven.’” And in their minds, when He said “good works,” the good works that would immediately come to their mind would be the good works of the Pharisees. I mean, all the good works, all the duties, all the rules, all the stuff.
And so, He begins to build the structure, first of the reward and character, then, be worthy of examples, and now, we’re gonna get to the part where you’re gonna really get in trouble if you’re the Messiah. He says, “Do not think” – because, “Who are you? Are You the one? Shall we expect another?” Even John the Baptist was asking. He’s a teacher like no one else. He speaks with authority. The lame walk. The blind see. The dead are raised. He feeds 5,000. So, where do you fit in the economy of God?
And He’s gonna just lay it out: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, [nor] the least stroke of [the] pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks . . . the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands” – did you notice the emphasis? Practices and teaches. What’s His problem with the Pharisees? What’s His problem with the religious culture? It’s duplicity. It’s the problem we have today. Everyone says, “I’m born again.” Everyone says, “I love Jesus.” We just don’t live that way. “[Anyone who] practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of [God]. For I tell you” – and this is the one where their jaws dropped – “I tell you . . . unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, can you imagine hearing this sermon, and getting to that part and going, Are you kidding? I mean, these guys are squeaky clean, squeaky clean, squeaky clean. I mean, they have these things on their head, that goes down their robes, and the hundreds or thousands of verses that they’ve memorized. They pray at certain times. They give their money; they fast twice a week. I mean, if righteousness is doing the right things, I mean, these guys . . . And now, this new Messiah tells me unless my righteousness exceeds theirs, I can’t even get in. Right about now, I’m thinking, There’s no hope for me. And then, Jesus begins to make the distinction between external righteousness – activities, spiritual activities, good activities, doing the right things, however, for the wrong reason.
It’s a very silly illustration, but it helps me. Can you imagine if someone – maybe it took many, many years, and, by just great fortune, they were able to build the house of their dreams? And after the house was done, there was a little brook, and so they needed to build a small, little bridge, and – and then a driveway to get into it, and then, they invite you over. And the last thing they worked on was the driveway, and there are different kinds of stone and the little white fence and landscaping. And they bring you over, and they say, “Look at this. Can you believe this driveway? Look at this driveway. Do you know where we got these stones? Look at this driveway. Look at this driveway.” And for, like, two hours, they describe the driveway, the driveway, the driveway, the driveway. And then, afterwards, they say, “Well, it’s been really great to have you here. I’ll see you later.” What’s the purpose of a driveway? To get to the house. It’s only a means.
What Jesus was saying, and what He’s going to teach, is, the practices of good works and religious activities are merely the driveway. True righteousness is always a matter of the heart. True righteousness is always an issue of relationship, not performance. What He was saying to them is, “Your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees, because they’ve got all the external religious activity, but their hearts” – ‘member what He’d say? “Your lips profess this, but your hearts are far from Me.” They weren’t poor in spirit. They didn’t see their need. They weren’t merciful. They weren’t pure in heart. They weren’t seeing God. They weren’t being persecuted; they were persecuting Him!
All the things about the character, did you notice that every single thing of those beatitudes, they were “be,” not “do,” attitudes? They were issues of who you are inside, who you are that only God can see, who you are when no one’s looking. What are your motives? What matters? Jesus says genuine righteousness is always a matter of the heart.
And then, we’re gonna pick it up, and notice, in your notes, it says “true righteousness.” And then, He’s gonna take their oral commands, and this phrase is gonna be repeated, and He’s gonna apply it to murder and adultery and divorce and oaths and retribution and enemies. But He’s gonna say, “You have heard it said,” and what He’s gonna say is, “Here’s the external righteousness that you’ve been taught since you were little boys and little girls. But I say to you, behind that external thing, this is the Spirit, this is God’s heart, this is what He was always after.”
And so, just so you can see it, the Pharisees – each one, He’s gonna, “You have heard it said” – the focus is external. Jesus’ll say, “No, no, the focus should be internal.” With the Pharisees, it was always about doing. Jesus’ll say, “No, no, no, no, it’s really about being.” The Pharisees were pounding people and making people greater sinners than themselves. It was about duty, duty, duty. Jesus said, “They missed it. It’s about devotion.” The Pharisees would say, “It’s performance. Are you doing this? Are you doing that? Are you doing this?” Jesus said, “Performance – no one can be justified by the Law. It’s about your relationship.”
On the Pharisees’ side, they manipulated and controlled people with guilt. Jesus said, “I want to introduce you to grace.” They were focused on the letter of the Law. Jesus said, “No, no, it’s not the letter; it’s the spirit of the Law. The letter kills; the Spirit gives life.” Finally, Jesus said, “They’ve got it all in their head. I want you to know that I’m looking for the pure in heart.” And so, He applies it. And so, we can’t go into it in great detail, but let me give you taste, okay? Let’s go through how He applied it.
So, He starts with murder, and now, remember, the context is, your righteousness – if you were listening to the sermon by Jesus – it needs to be exceeding that of the most religious, squeaky-clean, got-it-together, disciplined folks that you could ever imagine.
And so, He starts. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, [I say, if] anyone . . . says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone . . . says [to his brother], ‘You fool!’ [is] in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, [I say to you,] if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there . . . [at] the altar . . . [and] go . . . be reconciled to your brother; then come and [present your offering].” And then, He goes on and talks about settling matters.
The command was about, don’t commit murder. What’s behind murder? Murder is the last thing you do when you have relational conflict that’s unresolved. And where does it start? It starts with anger. It’s when I’m angry. I mean, people don’t have casually wonderful feelings and say, “Hey, I think I’ll kill you today.” It starts with a resentment, and there’s anger or a hurt or injustice, and the anger builds, and it ends up in the action of murder. And so, Jesus says what’s behind that are some relational issues. And He’s talking about the value of human relationships.
And so, He takes it from murder, to saying – we don’t have time to explain what He meant, there, but – “You fool” – very strong word in that culture. And then, He goes, “Wait a second. In fact, if you don’t have something right with a brother, hey, don’t come here and give your offering with God. This stuff that you’ve observed most of your life, where there’s hatred and the breakdown in relationships, and yet, people do their perfunctory religion” – He says, “You’ve missed the heart of God. Make things right with God.”
And did you notice, He didn’t say, “If you blew it”? “If you are aware that there’s a problem with your brother” – it may be his problem, it may be your problem, maybe 50/50, might be 90/10, might be 99 percent them, one percent you. He says, “[If you come before] the altar and there remember . . . your brother has something against you” – what’s His point? Relational reconciliation and human relationships are the heart of that command.
Well, He applies it to the next area, and instead of talking about murder, He’s gonna talk about the sanctity of sex. He says, “[You’ve] heard . . . it . . . said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I [say to] you . . . anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out . . . [It’s] better for you to lose one [eye from] . . . your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . .” A hyperbole, here. He’s making a metaphor to say the gravity of what you need to do, but what’s His point?
They got to the point where, hey, did you commit adultery or not? Is it legal? I’ll tell you what, Moses gave a certificate of divorce – and at this point, there were two schools of thought. But, basically, the average guy could say, “You know what? She doesn’t look very pretty anymore. I don’t want her anymore.” A woman had zero rights – Ehhh! – “You’re out. I’ll get a new one.”
And Jesus said, “Wait a second. It’s not just the external behavior. I’m telling you that when your loyalty moves from the fidelity of an acovenant marriage to even mentally going to another person before God, you’ve already missed.
In fact, if you have a problem, be as drastic as you need to be. I mean, if you gouge your right eye out – men, how many of us could just lust with one eye? I could. Right? I could be a left-eye luster, right? Or, if I cut off one hand, do you know what He’s saying? He’s saying, in a figure of speech, be as drastic as you need to be to deal with the issue of the sanctity of sexuality.
He goes to the next area, which is having to do with divorce. He says, “[It’s] been said [among you that if] ‘anyone . . . divorces his wife [he] must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you [if] anyone . . . divorces his wife, except for marital [infidelity] causes her to become an adulteress .” And, again, it’s the sanctity of the family. It’s not just the legality. It’s the covenant. It’s what you committed to. It’s the relationship.
He skips down to oaths: “Again [I say, you’ve] heard . . . it . . . said [from] people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths [that] you have made to the Lord.’ But I [say to] you, [Don’t] swear at all: either by heaven, for [that] is God's throne; or . . . the earth, for [it’s] His footstool; or by Jerusalem, for [it’s] the city of the Great [God]. And [don’t] swear by your head, for you [can’t] make even one hair [be] white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' [be] 'No'; anything beyond [that] comes from the evil one.” And this was a time when they would do business deals – they wouldn’t have a lot of written contracts – “I swear by this,” and, “I swear by that,” and, “I swear by this. I swear by that.” Had this whole system of swears. And Jesus said, “You know what? Here’s the deal. Just try integrity. If you say, ‘Yes, I’ll do it,’ you do it. If you say, ‘No,’ just mean it. Stop playing these games and negotiating and trying to attempt to work around religious loopholes. Be men and women of integrity from the heart.”
And then, He gets to retribution and, you know, that classic “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” “But I [say to] you, Do not resist . . . evil person [or resist] if someone strikes you.” And by the way, the striking, here, on the right cheek, most people are right handed. This is more of the offense. It’s the slapping.
And then, He says, “If someone [asks] you to go one mile” – the Roman soldiers, by law, could come to anyone and say, “You carry this for a mile. You carry my equipment for a mile.” And, basically, what He says is, “You know your pride and your rights, and when you get offended” – “Well, they did that to me. I’m gonna do that to him.” He said, “You know something? There’s some law, how ‘bout grace? How ‘bout we show the world how different and wonderful God is? Let’s give people what they don’t deserve.”
So, a Roman soldier says, “Okay, I command you now, in the name of the emperor and the Roman government, you must carry my equipment, by law, for one mile.” And then, they had markers. “There’s a mile.” And you look up and say, “Hey, do you mind if I go one more?” And that soldier goes, “What?” He says that’s a Kingdom citizen. You see the heart? You see the difference?
Then, finally, He said, “You have heard . . . it . . . said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your [enemies].’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and [then]” – listen to this – “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” And the idea of sons, especially in Hebrew culture, it has family likeness as the idea. You’ll be like your Father in heaven. “He causes [the] sun to rise on the evil and the good, [He] sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you” – duh! You know – “what reward [is that]? [don’t] . . . tax collectors [and sinners do] that?”
And so, He makes this point. He says, “I want you to demonstrate to the Romans, mercy and grace.” And then, He says, “What do you do to your enemies? You don’t give them what they deserve.” Grace is giving people something they don’t deserve. Mercy is withholding what people do deserve. And so, when your enemies… He says, “I want you to withhold what you would normally give them, and I want you to overcome evil with good. You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”
And do you see? I mean, He is turning the paradigm of what it means to be an authentic follower of Yahweh completely upside down. This is a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, because this righteousness is a matter of the heart. This righteousness requires supernatural help. This righteousness is not a religious system of rigid, personal discipline, of doing the right things. And we can do it ourselves! “I go to church; I’m on the missions committee. I’m in a small group. I give ‘X’ amount of dollars. I’ve got my little checklist – Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! – and I am doing great. I must be right with God.”
And then, it develops two things: number one, a very tired, weary Christian, with not much joy, and usually, a self-righteous person who looks down on other people who aren’t doing as much. Jesus was the most winsome human being on the face of the earth, and His life of love and grace and mercy and truth and strength and courage caused prostitutes and sinners and people to be drawn to Him, like bees to honey, and it caused people who genuinely wanted to know God to see the Father as He really is, and it caused people who were religious and self-righteous and controlling to wanna kill Him.
And sometimes I ask myself, If I lived in that day, I wonder which one of those groups I would be in? I tend to read the New Testament like I’m always one of the disciples. Try reading it sometime like you’re one of the Pharisees. My righteousness, your righteousness, must exceed that.
And so, here’s the summary: Jesus condemns external righteousness, spiritual activities, when it does not flow from internal relationship with God. True spirituality is always an issue of the heart. God’s love is never dependent upon your performance. If there’s one thing, if we could be set free, God’s love is not dependent on your performance.
I remember, early on, I was helping out with a school, and part of trying to negotiate some tuition for my kids was coaching the basketball team as I pastored this little church. And I had a group in one of those big vans, 15-passenger vans. I had the whole team, and it was about an hour and a half away, we played the game, came back. And you know, the highlight, for some of the guys, was stopping at McDonald’s on the way home, regardless of the game.
And so, I’ve got about 10 or 12 of these guys, and we’re eating at McDonald’s, and there was a very, very old lady there. And she watched these young men bow and pray, and a conversation started. And I just had a little prompting from God. I wasn’t trying to be ultra spiritual, but got in a conversation with this lady, and I asked her about her spiritual roots: “Oh, yes,” and, “Yeah, very spiritual,” and “I love God,” and this and that. I said, “Well, tell me a little bit about – would you explain to me” – and I’ve got all these guys here, and I’m thinking, This is a good window of opportunity – “Would you explain to me, how do you develop a close relationship with God?” Because she a lot of jewelry and things that would tell you that she’s very religious.
And she goes, “Oh, yes, yes.” And she was from the Old Country. I don’t know what old country she was from, had a little bit of an accent, but she was from the Old Country. She says, “You need to understand that there’s this great God, and between me and this great God is this huge boulder of granite. And every day, I get up, and God gives me a little hammer, and He gives me a chisel. And I chisel a tiny piece of that boulder away. And I do it with a good work here, and I do it with a prayer here, and another prayer here, and another good work.” And, I mean, the lady’s, like, 90.
And I said, “Well, how’s it coming on the boulder?” You know? You know? Like, You had a lot of time to work on this one, you know? And she goes, “Oh, well, I’m not through yet, but I just pray and hope desperately, some day . . .”
And she began to share a little bit of her life, and I will tell you, it is one of the saddest experiences I’ve ever had. She knew a lot of the Bible. She quoted lots of verses. She was a modern-day… her theology was the righteousness of the Pharisees. And that’s a vivid picture, but I think, at least subconsciously, there are a lot of us that think that way: Ooh, I missed my quiet time. Oh, I haven’t prayed in a couple of days. Oh, I’m giving “X” percent, but I oughta be giving “X” percent, and there’s this unconscious, Oh, I feel okay and I’m doing okay, and God loved me, when I perform, perform, perform, and when I don’t.
Now, we’re gonna learn in a second our spiritual activities – you’re thinking Wait a minute, Chip. You just told us – man, you’re giving all these sessions about how important it is and to be disciplined and all this, and now, you’re just messing with my mind, Ingram. No, no, no. Jesus is. Okay? Everything we’ve talked about so far is absolutely true, absolutely of a necessity. But it’s the difference between doing those things to walk into the house and meet with the person, than to get focused on the driveway. It’s those spiritual activities.
And just a quick FYI, in case it never got clear - ‘cause I lived in America, and I went to church, though it be not a good one - I never heard it. So, just let me take two minutes, before we go on. I wanna explain, the Good News of the Gospel is this: God loves you, and there’s no way, no effort, no good work, no means you can ever have to earn His favor, and there is no boulder between you. It’s a chasm that’s impossible to cross. From the eternity past, in the mind of the Triune God, they predetermined that the Son of God would come to the earth and take on human flesh, being fully Man and fully God. Fully Man, He would have the ability to die. Fully God, He would live a perfect life, and His sacrifice would have infinite value.
And after revealing, by His life and His words and His teaching, the very character of God – truth and grace – it was preordained, from the foundation of the world, that the Son of God would be unjustly accused of many crimes, and He would hang upon a cross. And He would hang upon the cross, not for one single thing that He did, but for the sins of all men, for all time. And as He hung upon that cross, He would be the offering for you and for me, and all the sins of all people of all time would be absorbed by Him. He would become sin, a sin offering on our behalf. And, because God is holy and God is just, He would, because He can’t see sin, for the first time – and this was the agony –He would take His just wrath and pour it on the Son of God, so there would be separation. And Jesus would receive that, and why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Because in that window and moment of time, for the first time in all eternity, your sin and my sin was paid for, completely, by Him.
And He gave His life, and He now offers a gift to every human being on the face of the earth, that is free, for by grace you’re saved through faith. That’s not of yourself; it’s a gift of God, not of works, least any man should boast. And then, three days later, not by a dream, not by a prophet, not by a religion, not by something in the sky, He would rise from the dead, and for over 40 days have personal interaction with 500 eyewitnesses documented. And just to throw a little icing on the cake, God had a number of other people be raised from the dead, and they went around and talked about what was happening. In space, time, history.
And the offer and the message of Christianity is not be a nice person, go to church, clean up your morals, and be a little bit kinder and nicer than other people. The message is, we are lost in our sin; we’re separated eternally from God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me,” Jesus would say, and He makes an offer to you and to every single person: “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Eternal life isn’t something that happens after you die. It is a quality of life where the chasm is closed. Your sin is atoned, or covered, for. You are taken out of this kingdom of darkness, ripped out of it, by faith, through His grace, planted in the kingdom of His beloved Son, in the kingdom of light. The Spirit of God enters your physical body. You’re sealed with the Spirit, He deposited spiritual gifts in you, and His purposes now, is Christ lives His life out through you. That’s the Gospel, the righteousness of Christ. And living the Christian life is not hard, and it’s not about trying hard. It’s impossible.
When Paul explains it in the Book of Romans, he will tell us the first three chapters is the problem. Chapters 4 and 5 is the solution. Then, chapters 6, 7, and 8 are how the supernatural righteousness is achieved. It’s achieved, first, by reckoning that you died with Him; you rose to walk in newness of life, that there’s a battle of the flesh and the spirit – chapter 7 – but, praise God, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It’s the Spirit of God that manifests the very life and presence of Jesus inside you. And He lives His life through you, before God, manifesting through your personality and your life, the righteousness and the life and the love of God.
That’s what it means to be a Christian, and that’s what Jesus came for and that’s what He was explaining. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. And so, He condemns external righteousness if it doesn’t flow from internal relationship with God. So, you got it? Good.
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.