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Don’t Parade Your Piety

Alfred E. Newman once said, "We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons." Sometimes it is hard to tell what (and who) is fake and who is for real. I once read about a small college town where a tavern, frequented by students, ran the following ad in the campus paper in the days just before Parents' Weekend: "Bring Your Parents For Lunch Saturday. We'll Pretend We Don't Know You." The ad was soon challenged by the college chaplain, who posted a revised version of the ad on the campus bulletin board. It read: "Bring Your Parents To Chapel Sunday. We'll Pretend We Do Know You."

It is not only college students who sometimes feel the pressure to do some pretending, or at least have somebody else do some for them. In Matthew 6 Jesus implies that pretenders show up at church — and that, if not careful, we may be guilty of a little pretending ourselves! Matthew 6:1 starts a section in the Sermon on the Mount where the Lord warns His followers to not be like some who are nothing more than religious play-actors who do right things for a very bad reason — "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven." Jesus goes on in the next seventeen verses to mention three very good and common religious practices: doing charitable deeds (vs 2-4); praying (vs 6-12); and fasting (vs 16-18). But repeatedly in the passage Christ describes a group of religious people He forbids His followers to be like — religious frauds, or to use Jesus' own word, "hypocrites." They indeed do charitable deeds — but they make a lot of noise about it "that they may have glory from men" (vs 2). They pray — but they make a show out of it so "that they may be seen by men" (vs 5). They fast — not sincerely or secretly, but in a way "that they may appear to men to be fasting" (vs 16). Mind you now, the Lord has no censure for the activities themselves — they are all good and right things — but are done for a very wrong reason! The "hypocrites" (the Greek word means a play-actor or one who pretends) pretend to be spiritual. But religion to them is show-time, Baby! They put piety on parade. What they crave is to be seen and praised — not by God, but by other people. And, according to Jesus, they get what they want. Three times the Lord said about these religious fakes, "they have their reward" (vs 2b, 5b, 16b), meaning they are already paid in full. The upshot is that if our religious deeds and devotion are no more than a performance to be seen, lauded, and applauded by other people, then our faith is fake, our worship is hypocritical, and "you have no reward from your Father in heaven" (vs 1). Take this point home — our's is an age of entertainment-oriented worship and high-powered religious concerts and performances aimed at keeping religion user-friendly. One result is that churches become more concerned about pleasing people than pleasing God. Jesus reminds us that ultimately God is the only audience we need to please. Our aim in religious service and worship ought to be to perform to gain His pleasure and applause. Piety ought not to be put on parade. Think about it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ