Text: Matthew 6:1-18
Everybody has an outside and an inside; a public exterior and a private interior. On the outside are all the things that other people can see and hear: the actions you perform and the words you say. On the inside is that collection of thoughts, feelings, motives, and attitudes that we call ‘the heart’. Yes: each person has an outward appearance, and an inner reality. But to what extent is that outer self that we present to others a true representation what we really are, deep inside? We have a name for the person who is one thing in public and another in private: we call him or her a hypocrite. The athlete who says that he is against drugs in sport but is himself a walking pharmaceutical cocktail, is a hypocrite. The politician who appeals to the ‘trusty sword of truth’ but is found guilty of concealing all kinds of corrupt practices, is a hypocrite. The man who is all sweetness and light to his partner in public but abuses her in private, is a hypocrite. The person who wants to give the impression of leading a godly and holy life but in fact has no real heart for the things of God, is a hypocrite.
Nothing is despised by the world more than religious hypocrisy. You know the kind of story: The vicar was a pillar of the local community, a good family man, a compassionate visitor of the sick and an upholder of traditional moral values. Then his congregation learns that he has been having an affair with the choir mistress for the past two years. The world rubs its hands with glee and says, “I told you so. The church is full of hypocrites.”
Nothing is condemned by Jesus more severely than religious hypocrisy:-
Mk 7.6 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.’”
Matthew 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”
In Matthew 6:1-18, we have a warning about religious hypocrisy, with three examples. The warning is found in verse 1:-
Matthew 6:1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Example 1 – Matthew 6:2-4 – Giving. They would announce their gift with a fanfare of trumpets. “Look at me. Look how generous I am to these poor wretched people.”
Example 2 – Matthew 6:5-8 – Praying. The Jewish system of praying made showing off very easy. For one thing, the Jew prayed standing, with hands stretched out and head bowed. For another thing, there were three times for prayer, 9, 12 and 3, and prayer had to be said wherever a man might be. So it was easy to arrange to be in full view either in the synagogue or on the street corners, and to pray a lengthy and demonstrative prayer.
Example 3 – Matthew 6:16-18 – Fasting. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those two days also happened to be market days, so there was a ready audience. Picture them walking through the streets with hair deliberately unkempt and dishevelled, with clothes soiled and disarrayed. They even went the length of deliberately whitening their faces to accentuate their paleness. Their fasting had become a deliberate act of religious ostentation. The very thing that was intended to represent humility before God had become a vehicle for spiritual pride.
In each case, these people are doing the right things, but for the wrong motives. And in each case, Jesus says, “They have received their reward. They were seeking the admiration and congratulation of others, and they have achieved it. The reward they were looking for has already been paid in full. No other reward will be forthcoming”
(a) Religious hypocrisy is an ever-present danger in the Christian church. We may not arrange for a fanfare of trumpets to accompany our giving. We may not pray long prayers on street corners. We may not deliberately disfigure ourselves to show that we are fasting. But too often, our chief concern is to make the right impression on other people. We are ashamed of what we are really like, so we pretend to be different. There is an element of play-acting in most of us. Stott: ‘How few of us live one life and live it in the open! We are tempted to wear a different mask and play a different role according to each occasion…Some people weave round themselves such a tissue of lies that they can no longer tell which part is real and which is make-believe.’
(b) Religious hypocrisy is easier to see in other people than in ourselves. A Sunday School teacher was telling the children Jesus’ story about two men who went up to the temple to pray. The teacher finished as follows: “And now children, let’s thank God that we are not like that nasty Pharisee!”
(c) Religious hypocrisy is subtle. Some years ago a prominent Christian leader in America became aware that he was not as humble as he ought to be. He asked a trusted Christian friend what he should do about this. The friend advised him to get a sandwich board, write a summary of the gospel on it, and carry it around the city for a whole day. Well, he did this, and at the end of the day he got back home, duly humbled. And as he sat down, he caught himself thinking, “I bet there’s not another man in Chicago who would be prepared to do what I’ve just done.” We can become proud in our humility, proud that we are not proud.
(d) Religious hypocrisy will get found out sooner or later. There was the family who invited some Christian friends round for lunch. Keen to make a good impression, the parents asked little Jimmy to give thanks. “I don’t know what to say,” he confessed. “Just say what Daddy said at breakfast-time this morning.” So the little boy bowed his head and said, “O God, we’ve got those awful people coming round tonight.” It’s hard work being a hypocrite. You can never afford to drop your guard.
So that’s the problem. What’s the answer? What can we do about it? Remember that God sees and God rewards, vv 4,6,18.
(a) Remember that God sees everything. Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Nothing is unseen or unknown to him who is the source of all being and of all knowledge. All pretence and secrecy is stripped away. There is no refuge, no dark forgotten recess, for that which would hide from God. We can hide our thoughts and feelings from our friends, neighbours and loved ones. We can even succeed in hiding our inmost desires and motives from our own selves. But we can hide nothing from God. And when we do good, even though there may be no-one else to see it, God sees it, and that is what matters.
(b) Remember that God will reward the righteous. This idea of rewards seems unworthy, almost mercenary. But the rewards of godliness are of no interest to the mercenary-minded. To the sincere Christian worshiper there is no guarantee of worldly prosperity; no assurance that other people will think well of you. So what are these rewards of which Jesus speaks? They are summed up in what Jesus calls ‘blessedness’. The poor in spirit shall possess the kingdom of heaven; the mourners shall be comforted; the meek shall inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled; the merciful shall be shown mercy; the pure in heart shall see God; the peacemakers shall be called the sons of God; those who are persecuted because of righteousness shall have a great reward in heaven.
The rewards for those who will walk humbly and sincerely with their God are such as the world cannot neither give to them, nor take away from them.
You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
(c) There will be some people here for whom every word spoken by Jesus about hypocrisy cuts like a knife. You know that your heart is a tangle of mixed motives. Sometimes you feel like a complete fraud. Anything that anybody can say about hypocrisy just makes you feel worse. Sometimes you despair. Take heart. Your very despair shows that you are not far from the kingdom of God. It’s time to cast yourself on Jesus.
The same Great Physician who diagnoses your spiritual disease also dispenses the perfect remedy. The same Lord who said, “You should be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect;” also encouraged us to pray, “Forgive us our sins.” The same Saviour who said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of those hypocrites, the scribes and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven;” also said, Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”