A story is told of a very wise turtle that wanted to spend the winter in Florida, but he knew he could never walk that far. So this very wise turtle convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center. The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, "Who in the world thought of that?" Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the turtle opened his mouth to shout, "I did--"
It's so tempting to take credit for the good things we do. I mean... I learned early on in my marriage... that if I was going to do the dishes, to do it when Lisa could see me doing it. You see... doing the dishes may indeed be a very good thing, but it helps to be seen doing it!
I know there are exceptions, but generally speaking... it goes against our nature to do things without getting the credit. Sure we'll help someone out, sure we'll lend that hand... but normally we want people to know that we did it. We want that glory... we want that warm feeling of someone REALLY appreciating us... we want people to KNOW just how good we are.
Maybe even worse yet, we may begin to keep track in our head. OK... I did this for so and so... now they are going to owe me something, and someday I will collect! Or if nothing else, someone will see my good deed and decide to reward me for my kindness. We begin to feel entitled... to have our good deeds noticed and rewarded.
Everybody wants to impress others, want to be seen as successful, or better than others. They want the newest car, biggest house, nicest clothes, or the most land. They want to be the head honcho. This desire to be first or be the best or be admired has another name: pride. God tells us what He thinks about people who want to be first. The "first will be last and the last will be first."
Just like many people today, the Pharisees wanted others to see them as special and treat them as though they are closer to God than anyone else. They wanted others to be impressed with their piety and holiness. They were chest thumpers who said, "Hey, look at me! Look at how important I am! See how broad my phylacteries are and how long my fringes are?"
Now, phylacteries were small leather boxes containing portions of God's Word and they were worn by Jews who interpreted literally the instructions to fasten God's Word on their hands and forehead. And Moses, in Numbers 15, had instructed the children of Israel to put fringes on their garments to remember, not only the law in general, but also the smaller parts of the rites and ceremonies belonging to it.
So the Pharisees made their phylacteries broad, that is, they put more writing on them or made the letters larger and thus more visible, to appear more holy. And they made their fringes longer to show how much more they followed the finer points of the law, therefore making them "holier than thou".
I'm sure they didn't like it one bit when Jesus pointed out how these men dressed to draw attention to themselves to put themselves on a higher level than others. They wanted to appear religious without actually being religious. "...for they do not practice what they teach." Their philosophy was, "Do as I say, not as I do."
These men thought they were important to God, they thought they were important to men, but they were just a bunch of hypocrites.
A man, returning from a business trip, was met at the airport by his wife. They walked from the gate together and were standing waiting for the baggage to be unloaded. An extremely attractive stewardess walked by. Suddenly, the man came to life. Beaming, he said to the stewardess, "1 hope we can fly together again, Miss Jones."
His wife asked, "How come you knew the name of that stewardess?" The man replied smoothly, "Well dear, her name was posted up front in the plane, right under the names of the pilot and co-pilot." To which the wife replied, "Okay, so what were the names of the pilot and co-pilot?" " Ummm..."
The man's hypocrisy was uncovered. Jesus spent a great deal of time uncovering the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He told his followers, "Do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice as they teach."
A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he/she isn't. I'm sure we all know people like that. I heard a story told of a man who, when asked by a minster why he didn't come to church with his family, replied, "Because the church is filled with hypocrites." To which the minister responded, "That's okay. There's always room for one more."
And I think if we take a minute, in all honesty with ourselves... we would find ourselves standing right next to the people Jesus is condemning more often than not. And maybe it's so that each one of us stands there, side by side with the Pharisees, with table-sized phylacteries strapped to our foreheads, receiving these chiding words from Jesus.
And, just for a bit of context: Just before Jesus begins speaking to the crowds here in the passage we read today, he had been asked by a lawyer in the crowd: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" And Jesus answered him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind...and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Then Jesus ends by saying, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
In essence, Jesus is saying, "Here it is; here is the root. When it comes to following God, this is what's most important. Sure there are plenty of laws and regulations, but when it all boils down, this is what matters." After answering the lawyer's question, Jesus then turns to the crowd and speaks the words we heard a few moments ago.
And basically, Jesus is telling his followers that the Pharisees are good in their devotion to God, and that what they teach is right, and good, and pure, but that when it comes to actual practice they're not so good; they're not focused on the root.They're caught up in the mundane. They're saying one thing and doing another, they're talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
They're not practicing what they preach: In short, the Pharisees have neglected the most important things, which Jesus describes as "love of God and neighbor."
Now, it is easy for us to read Jesus' words, to nod our heads in agreement, and to think to ourselves, "those awful Pharisees." But Jesus isn't trying to throw the Pharisees "under the bus," so to speak, if he was, he wouldn't have complemented their teaching at the beginning of the passage.
And so, we too must be careful about our rush to judgment. As with all of Jesus' teachings, we need to ask the question, "What is Jesus saying to me?" That's the question we always need to ask, and today we need to consider the possibility that, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we may be more like those Pharisees than we realize.
So friends... what should we do about it? How do we move from being the bad kind of Christian that Jesus condemns... to the good of Christian that Jesus calls us to be?
Well, it's right there in today's message: The heart of today's message from Jesus is about service! Not simply doing good things... but doing good works for the right reason!
We are all called to be disciples and to do good deeds but we are NOT to do them because we feel guilty... we are NOT to do them because we seek glory... we are NOT to do them because we are seeking reward. We need to be diligent to make sure our heart is in the right place. To make sure we are in a spot where everything we do is done to worship and glorify God. We need to be prepared to give greatly, and to do it in a way that puts all of the focus on WHY we are doing it; instead of putting the focus on WHO is doing it! We need to act in such a way that when we do great works... people see Christ... and not us.
A pompous-looking preacher was trying to impress upon a Sunday School the importance of living the Christian life. "Why do people call me a Christian?" the man asked. After a moment's pause, one child said, "Maybe it's because they don't know you."
A local church asked it's members to donate money for a new building. The building committee made one stipulation: no plaques or recognition of any kind would be placed in the building to honor the givers. The response was mediocre at best. When the committee withdrew their requirement and allowed for a memorial registry with a listing of donors, the money was easily raised. What had changed? At first, the building committee was appealing solely to people's charity and generosity. Later, they offered an appeal to their egos, and the egos won.
Of course these donors didn't want others to know that they never gave a penny till they found out there would be a plaque noting their "wonderful generosity". You see, hypocrites don't like being found out. They don't like others knowing the truth about them. They're more concerned with their appearance before people than God.
Pride and our egos cause us to become hypocrites. And that hurts us. And it hurts our relationships with others. We pretend to be somebody we're not because of pride. We try to hide who we really are. ("I don't have any problems! My life is perfect! I don't make mistakes! ) Our pride and egos won't allow us to be real. We're too ashamed to admit we're not better than everybody else.
Sure we may, like the Pharisees, be able to fool other men and be looked up to. But to what gain? That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. I'm more concerned, and I hope you are too, with being honest with God and pleasing Him more than other people.
We can't fool God. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "..the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but te Lord looks on the heart." God sees through our pretending and posturing like a squeaky clean window. Our broad phylacteries and long fringes do not impress God. We need to be less concerned with titles, clothes, and who we can impress, and concentrate more on coming before God in humility, knowing that, without His grace, we are nothing. "All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted."