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Warnings About Religious Practices

What does religious hypocrisy look like? Explore three examples from Jesus in Matthew 6:1-8 and his warnings about the temptation to become a hypocrite.

Sermon on the Mount Jun 22, 2024
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  1. In Jesus’ day, what did it mean to be a hypocrite? How is this the same or different from what a hypocrite is today?
  2. Why does Jesus encourage private generosity?
  3. Whether we pray alone or with other people, what is the wisdom principle that Jesus is advocating for in his teaching about prayer?
  4. According to the video, what is the ultimate treasure for a human? And when humans receive this treasure, what is their response?
  5. Spend some time reflecting on any other themes from the video that stood out to you.

Scripture References

Matthew 5-7 Matthew 6:1 Matthew 6:2-3 Matthew 5:16 Matthew 6:4 Deuteronomy 6:4-6 Matthew 6:5 Matthew 6:6 Matthew 6:16 Matthew 6:17-18 Matthew 6:1-4 Matthew 6:16-18 Matthew 6:5-15


The Danger of Religious Hypocrisy [00:00-01:30]

Jon: Jesus of Nazareth, one of the most influential people in history, taught that the truly good life flows out of a close, intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Tim: Yeah, Jesus believed this was the ultimate treasure of human existence, receiving God’s love. And Jesus said doing righteousness is our response by giving that love back out to others.

Jon: Now, Jesus also lived in a culture where showing your devotion to God publicly will increase your reputation. So it would be easy to turn your intimacy with God into a performance to get public praise.

Tim: Exactly. And so in a group of his teachings called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his followers about that temptation.

Jon: “Be careful that you don’t do your righteousness in front of people for the purpose of being seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in the skies.”1 So acting like you're close with God might gain you social status or applause.

Tim: But, Jesus says, that’s really all you’re going to get. Jesus describes this performance as being a hypocrite, which comes from the Greek word hupokrites, which refers to a stage actor putting on a show.

Jon: So how can I know if I’m becoming a hypocrite? I mean, that seems like an easy trap.

Tim: Yeah, it’s super easy. And so Jesus offers three case studies. He uses the three most common ways in his day that Jewish people expressed their devotion to God, beginning with generosity.

Generosity [01:31-03:00]

Jon: “So then, when you give generously to those in need, don’t signal it with a trumpet as the hypocrites do in the town squares or streets. They do that to be honored by people. And I tell you the truth, they have fully received their reward.”2

Tim: So in Jesus’ culture, public displays of generosity were a way to celebrate God’s generous love, but they could also become a way to promote yourself.

Jon: So Jesus offers an alternative: “When you give generously to those in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving is done privately, and your Father who sees what is done in private, he will fully reward you.”3

Tim: So one foolproof way to make sure your generosity is really done out of love is do it in ways other people can’t see.

Jon: But didn’t Jesus also teach to let your light and good deeds shine as an example for others?4

Tim: Well, yes. When you consider all of Jesus’ teachings on generosity, we see he regularly called his followers to give generously because it displays the heartbeat of God’s love.5 But be careful and self-critical, he says. If there’s even a hint of inner hypocrisy, it’s probably wise to do your giving in private.

Jon: It would be easier if Jesus just gave one clear rule.

Tim: Maybe. But what he’s given us is wisdom, and that forces us to cultivate a closer relationship with God, trusting that he’ll show us when to give in private or more publicly. He makes the same point in his second case study about prayer.

Prayer [03:01-04:22]

Jon: “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, who love to pray while standing where people gather or on street corners so that they can be seen by people. I tell you the truth, they have fully received their reward.”6

Tim: In Jesus’ culture, most Jewish people stopped whatever they were doing, multiple times a day, and they prayed a traditional prayer from the Torah called the Shema. Jesus himself was known for his consistent devotion to prayer. But be careful, he says, because even your prayer habits can become a strategy for public praise.

Jon: Right. I can imagine the temptation to conveniently find yourself on a busy street corner when prayer time comes. I mean, people will think I’m really devout.

Tim: And if that’s what you’re after, congratulations. You will probably get people's admiration, but that’s all. So Jesus suggests a different way.

Jon: “But when you pray, go into a room, shut the door, so you can pray to your Father in private. And your Father who can see what’s done in private, he will reward you.”7

Tim: Prayer is about spending time with God, sharing your thoughts and concerns, and trusting that he will hear and respond. The easiest way to check your motives for praying is to do it when no one can see. But again, this is not a rule. It’s wisdom. Jesus prayed alone and also together with his followers. Both are important ways of connecting to God.

Fasting [04:23-05:33]

Jon: The third example Jesus gives is about fasting. “When you all fast, don’t look gloomy like the hypocrites. They make their faces look disfigured, so their fasting will be seen by others. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward.”8

Tim: So fasting is a way of praying with your body by withholding your own physical needs, like food or drink, and then inviting God’s presence to meet you in that place of need.

Jon: But even fasting can be used as a performance.

Tim: Yes. So be careful. Like Jesus says:

Jon: “But when you fast, anoint your head with oil, wash your face, so your fasting isn’t visible to anyone except your Father in private, and he will reward you.”9

Tim: Now, notice that in all three cases, Jesus does not say to ditch these practices.

Jon: Right. Express your devotion, but find creative ways to do it so that you don't treat God's love like a trophy.

Tim: Jesus knows that his followers will be most effective in the world when they care the least about their social standing, because their ultimate goal is simply to know and be known by the God of generous love.10


Looking Ahead to Next Video [06:04-06:18]

Jon: We just looked at three warnings for those committed to a relationship with God, and one of those was about prayer.

Tim: Next, we’ll look at the very center of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus teaches his followers how to pray.

1. Matthew 6:1
2. Matthew 6:2
3. Matthew 6:3
4. See Matthew 5:14-16
5. See Mark 10:17-22; Mark 12:41-44; Matthew 13:44; Luke 12:13-21, 33; Acts 20:35
6. Matthew 6:5
7. Matthew 6:6
8. Matthew 6:16
9. Matthew 6:17-18
10. Consider Matthew 23:2-12; 2 Peter 1:3; John 17:20-23
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