Do not do Your Righteousness before Men
Message by Pastor Eric Chang.
Matthew 6:1-8 & 16-18
Now let us look into the riches of God’s words here and see what it means. First, let me share with you something of the structure of this chapter. Matthew Chapter 6 is going to direct our attention to our relationship with God. In Matthew Chapter 5, there has been a concern of our relationship with other people, i.e., how does a true Christian behave in relationship to other people? But in Matthew Chapter 6, the attention is now turning to our relationship with God, and it is in these few verses that [there is] a kind of transition towards our coming into a deeper relationship with God. Today we might say that the subject of this passage is: What is the motivation of a true Christian? What motivates a true Christian? And how does his motivation differ from that of a non-Christian or a nominal Christian or a hypocritical Christian, and unfortunately, there are many of those around. And God help us that we may not be one of these!
We saw that the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of ethical teaching, which just tells us how to be good, but it is a declaration, a constitution of the kingdom of God, which tells us what a spiritual teaching is. What is the difference between ethical teaching and spiritual teaching? Ethical teaching simply tells you to be good and exhorts you to strive to be good. That is ethical teaching. When I say to you, “Don’t do bad things! Try to be good”, that is an ethical statement. But spiritual teaching is much more than that. It is not just saying to you, “Be good,” but it is saying to you, “You must be utterly changed and transformed by God’s power.” The Sermon on the Mount cannot be applied apart from God’s power. This point I hope that by now, now that we have come to Chapter 6, has become perfectly clear to everybody. This is not mere ethical teaching; this is spiritual teaching. It is the teaching of Jesus, which says to us: “This is how you must be, but you must be this by the power of God. You cannot be this by any other way.” Unless you are transformed, regenerated, born again, whatever term you like to use, you cannot fulfil such teaching; it is impossible. Spiritual teaching is impossible to fulfil because it is not just telling you to be good; it is telling you to be different. It is telling you to be new. It is telling you to enter into a new way of life.
The Seven Do Not’s in the Structure of the Passage
Notice the structure of this passage. V1 says, “Beware of practicing your piety...”. This does not bring out the force of the original well at all because it has left out two important words by a paraphrase. This is not ‘translation’, but ‘paraphrase.’ What the original says is like this: “See to it that you ‘do not’ practice your righteousness before men for them to see.” These are important - the words ‘do not’ - which the RSV [the Revised Standard Version] has left out by simply translating it as ‘beware’. Why do we emphasize the words ‘do not’ in the words of the Lord Jesus here? It is because this is essential to understanding the whole structure of Chapter 6 and the early part of Chapter 7. Let me show you what we mean. Mt. 6:2 - here is how the original puts it: “When you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you...”. The RSV has simply translated it as: “sound no trumpet. The words ‘do not’ have been left out again, but in the interest of a smooth, flowing English, I know that it sounds nicer to translate it this way. But now, in expounding the Bible, I have to tell you what the original was saying. It says here in v2 then, “Do not, when you give alms, sound a trumpet.”
Now, you will find seven times ‘do not’ coming. A perfect structure! Expounding what the first ‘do not’ means, seven ‘do not’s’ begin to follow and you must see the beauty of that structure. The first ‘do not’ - to expound the ‘do not’ in v1 - the first ‘do not’ appears in Mt. 6:2, “Do not sound a trumpet”. And then [come] another two ‘do not’s’, which are related. In fact, in the original (it is a bit difficult to expound, but anyway) the second ‘do not’ is this [and] it is in Mt. 6:7: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases....” Here the RSV has the ‘do not.’ This is related, of course, to the ‘do not’ in Mt. 6:5, which is different in the original, but is also translated as ‘do not’, or “must not” in the [RSV]. So the first ‘do not’ is in v2; the second ‘do not’ in v7; the third ‘do not’ is in v16: “do not look dismal when you fast...”. The fourth is in v19: “Do not lay up treasure for yourselves on earth....” The fifth is in v25: “...do not be anxious about your life....” The sixth ‘do not’ is: “Do not judge that you be not judged”, in Mt. 7:1. And the seventh ‘do not’ is: “Do not give dogs what is holy...”, [which is] in Mt. 7:6. What all that means we shall study in due time. Today we will look at only the first three ‘do not’s’ in the passages that we have to study.
After the Negative, the Lord Jesus Gives the Positive to Tell Us What to Do
This is not to say that the teaching is negative. No! You see, the Lord Jesus says ‘do not’ and then He goes on immediately to say what we ought to do. Having seen the ‘do not’ is like putting a black cloth to give a contrast to the white that is in front. So the ‘do not’s’ are not negatives, but the negatives are there to show up what the positive is. He says, ‘do not’, and then He says, “I tell you what you should do, what you must do, when you have become a new person.”
Now, having looked at these, the Lord Jesus immediately goes on to say what we ought to do. Please notice the word ‘secret’ that appears again and again in this passage. The ‘secret’! This is going to contrast what we should not do as a matter of display and what we must do as a Christian - everything is done in secret. Now do not misunderstand me. Do not misunderstand what the Lord is saying. The contrast is, of course, the difference between those who like to show off and those who are concerned for the deep spiritual life. This is what is meant by ‘secret’. The word ‘secret’, of course, you will have noticed many, many times by now. You will have noticed that two times in v4, two times in v6, and two times in v18. So, notice when you study the Bible the pattern of things. There is a beautiful pattern. In everything that God makes, there is a pattern. If you look at a leaf, you will see a beautiful pattern in the leaf. When you look at the Lord’s teaching, you will find there is always the same pattern. When we looked up Romans, you noticed a pattern coming up. There is the mark of God’s handiwork. So, here we see the beauty of God’s pattern.
What we need to notice here is that what is contrasted is motive: the motive by which Christians - a true Christian - does things. The motive is very different. In v1, notice these words: they practice piety “in order to be seen by (men)”. It is so that people can see, “Oh, what a good man he is! What a righteous man!” Thus, they give glory to the man, “Oh, he’s a marvelous guy!” How nice we feel about it when people pat us on the back. That is how the natural man feels. And the measure of your spirituality is that when people praise you, it does not make you happy. If somebody praises you and it makes you feel very good, it shows that your spiritual roots are not very deep yet. It shows that we are still very carnal. But when people praise you and it does not bother you very much, i.e., it is just like so much water off the duck’s back [as if to say], “Praise the Lord! It is from Him!” and it does not greatly affect you, then you can see that your spiritual life is getting deeper because the secret of the Christian life is in the secret place of God. It is a secret! It is the ‘secretness’ that He is concerned about. The motivation then - contrast these two - is the difference between wanting publicity and praise, and the other that only wants to have the secret relationship with God. So, the Christian has deep roots and he is concerned about those roots.
The Hypocrites - They Desire the Applause of Men
Notice that the word ‘hypocrite’ comes many times here in this passage, e.g., “Don’t be like the hypocrites...”. [v5] What is a hypocrite? How do you define a hypocrite? Well, the definition is given us right in this passage. A hypocrite is somebody who lives with the desire for man’s praise. He does everything so that people can praise him. That is all he wants. You know, I will share with you, brothers and sisters, that there are some professions which seem to me to be very dangerous for a Christian, for example, an artist. An artist seems to live on people’s applause. He cannot live without people’s applause. It is the thunder of the applause that he works for, that he labors for. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous sort of profession. You sing for the applause at the end. Do they sing because they do not care whether you applaud them or not? [Do they say,] “I am doing this for God’s glory”? There must be few singers who are like that. They play the piano well because they want the applause; the orchestra plays for the applause; the actress or the actor plays for the applause. Everything depends on the applause of men. Such professions seem to me to be exceedingly dangerous for Christians because the whole motivation is looking for glory from men.
Now a Christian is not to be an actor on a stage of life to be applauded by people. Live your life in such a way that you know your relationship with God is good. Of course, here there are temptations that we need to be careful of. I was at times so careless of people’s opinion that when they criticized me, I did not bother in the slightest. Even though the criticism was false and untrue, I did not bother. I am learning to change that a little bit because it can be bad to be careless of people’s criticisms. I remember many times Helen [my wife] used to say to me, “Look! The things they said about you is unfair. Why don’t you make a defense, make a public statement?” I say I do not worry in the slightest what they think of me. She said, “But what about your witness? If it’s untrue, then correct it.” And often, as she knows, I refuse to bother. I did not mind at all; they can say what they like about me. It did not bother me at all. It only concerned me what hurt the church, what hurt God’s work, what hurt my Lord, what hurt His glory. That concerns me! But what they say about me does not bother me. They can say what they like. And that, we have to also, sometimes, be careful in case we give the impression that we do not care about other people at all, and that would be wrong. So, we aim only to please God and do so wisely, but never to live for man’s applause.
So notice then that a hypocrite is somebody who plays to the public. Examine yourself! We all have some inclination to do that and we must be very careful. Let me say to you at once that the greatest threat to the Christian life is hypocrisy. That is why the Lord Jesus says that again and again. He warns about hypocrisy - the leaven of the Pharisees and the scribes! He says watch out for that. You see, hypocrisy works slowly into the Christian life and erodes away the whole of your Christian life. In the end, you will find that as your spiritual life goes down, you play more and more to the public. Sometimes you will find Christians have all on the outside; nothing on the inside. We have got to be going into the secret place of God. The secret place - oh, that is wonderful! How many know the secret place of God?
Leaf-Christians Versus Root Christians
The Bible has a great deal to speak about the secret place. Just now, in Psalm 32 we read those words, “Lord, You are my hiding place.” [v7] “You are my secret place - the place that I retire to.” Do you feel at home with God? Is He the One that you come to every time, but especially at the end of the day? You rest with Him! You rest in Him. [Here are some references:] Ps. 31:20; 27:5 and 91:1. What wonderful verses! God is our secret place: the place that we withdraw to, the place that we delight to stay in.
Thus, this indicates the difference between two kinds of Christians: [those] who are what I will call ‘leaf-Christians’ and [those] who are ‘root-Christians’. What kind of Christian are you, the leaf-Christian or the root-Christian? You know, leaves are beautiful. Oh, I have come to appreciate the beauty of leaves more and more, especially in Canada. The maple trees - I do not see those in England. [Their leaves] turn so beautifully red and the designs are so exquisitely nice and beautiful. Leaves are beautiful! The trouble is they have a tendency to fall off before too long. They fade and they fall. The leaf-Christian is the one that is all on the surface. You look there and it is so beautiful. Wow! Marvelous Christian! Look at it! He even turns red, like the maple leaves, glowing with fervor, not realizing that when he starts glowing, that is the most dangerous time. That must be pretty close to the time when he is going to fall off. I am so worried about some Christians. Brothers and sisters, I am so worried. [I am worried about] the ones who get more and more active. The more active they get, the more worried I get because it seems to me that it is coming to the point where they are going to drop very rapidly after that. Anyone who has worked in a church for any number of years will have noticed that. Oh, dear me! Those fervent people, those active people, where are they? It is so frightening. The leaf-Christians - they really worry me. They are so beautiful, so nice to have fellowship with at that particular time. They are so active. They rustle - make a lot of noise - like the leaves when the wind blows. Ah! They are so good Christians at the time, but they do not last. That is the problem with leaves.
But the root-Christians, ah! They go deep - quiet and deep! You cannot see the root. The secret place! They are the ones who live in the secret place, drawing in the nourishment, helping others, blessing others. The root gives life to all that is on top. It gives life to the leaves. It gives life to the rest of the tree, but no sound, no fuss, no display, no publicity. It is beautiful, isn’t it, the root-Christian? Unlike the leaves, the roots do not change in a tree. The roots just go on year after year. They grow and they grow and they grow. They do not change. They do not fall off. They do not wither in winter. They keep moving on, they are live. The secret place of God! These are the root-Christians. They have got their roots ‘behind the screen’ that [the book to the] Hebrews speaks about: behind the veil into the secret place, the holy place of God. [E.g. Heb. 9:3]
What kind of Christian are you? Have you got your roots down? Or are you a leaf-Christian for everybody to see, everybody to applaud? They know you! Oh, you are the big guy - the big character in this organization and in that organization. Let me tell you this, as I look back on the lives of those people I have known, I have noticed the difference between leaf-Christians and root-Christians. The [root-Christians are the] ones who are quiet and deep, but powerful. You take those root-Christians away, I tell you, and the church just collapses. You take the leaf-Christians away, nothing much happens. The church does not look so nice. There is less decoration, but the life is still there. You take the roots out, then you are finished; the church is gone. The church depends for its spiritual life on the root-Christians. I remember a brother in London. He was not significant. Nobody noticed him. He was not popular. He was not flashy. Nobody took much notice of him, but I noticed him. I said that this guy is a root-Christian. His roots go deep. He is steady as a rock. Steady as a rock! At Bible studies, at any job there was to do, he did it flawlessly. Quietly, no fuss, no display - it got done! A root Christian! When all the others, in the intervening years, have fallen back into lukewarmness, what about him? I get reports of him after all these years. Steady as a rock, he goes on with God. No change! The seasons do not affect him. Nothing bothers him! The leaf-Christians are the ones who are affected by the seasons. Springtime they start blossoming. Summertime they feel good. Autumn time, [it is] still bearable. In winter they are gone. When the trials and tribulations come, [they are] no more. The root-Christian takes it all in stride. They do not complain. They do not mutter. They go on from strength to strength.
Which kind of a Christian are you, brothers and sisters? I say - particularly to those who are being baptized - I pray to God that each one of you will be a root-Christian and not just a leaf-Christian, [with your] roots going deep down! Deep down into the secret place of God! You want life, abundant life? You are going to find it only in the secret place. Where else are you going to find abundant life if not in the secret place? So I share especially with those being baptized, observe carefully the difference between these two types of Christians, and pray to God, “Lord, make me a root-Christian, one that abides in Your secret place, that delights in fellowship with You.”
Be Rooted in the Secret Place with God
Here I want to warn young people, especially, of getting involved in too much superficial activity. I say that also particularly to those being baptized. Do not imagine that a good Christian is one who is involved in everything that is going on. At every outing, you rush with the outing! If there is a Bible study, you rush to the Bible study. [Whatever it is,] it does not matter! At everything, you go. Everything! You go into every Bible study. He is the super-Christian; he never misses a meeting! Let me tell you, you go to so many meetings, you have got no time to pray. You have got so many meetings, you have no time to go to God’s secret place and spend time with God. You are too busy - too busy doing God’s work that you have no time for God! Strange! What kind of a mixed up situation [is that]? Too busy for God that you have no time for God! It is all on the surface. Do not think the super-Christian is a hyperactive Christian. There might be something wrong with your spiritual thyroids. They are too hyperactive. The spiritual thyroids are over functioning; they will wear you out physically. It is no good!
So, you must be a Christian that knows, first and foremost, the secret place of God. If you have no time for God, it can prove spiritually disastrous, not only for a Christian, but for every man of God. Every man of God, let me tell you this, will only survive when his roots are deep down in the secret place of God. You will notice that every man of God is, by nature, a rather quiet man. You will notice that as you go on. Why? It is because he spends much time - he delights in - in the quietness of God’s presence. He does not care much for noise. He may be very busy, but he wants to be quiet. I tell you that my own inclination is always to withdraw to the quiet place. After the meetings, after the hustle and bustle, I just want to be quiet with the Lord - to recharge the spiritual power. Without that power, you cannot serve. And that is why so many people are so busy serving God that they run out of power. You have got to find your root in the secret place. And so, you will find that many times, I quickly retire after a meeting. I just want to be quiet with God, because there only you have the power.
Some people find John Sung very strange. He never talked much to people, never mind visitation; he never did such things. After a meeting, he disappeared. You could not even find him for counseling. He does not counsel people. He has no time for that. You say, “Where has he gone to?” Immediately, after the meeting, he retires into a room and he locks the door. He does not talk to anybody. You say, “Strange guy! Surely [if] I have got problems, you are going to counsel me!” Do you know why? People who think you are strange do not understand that no man can serve God without spending long, long times in the secret place. You have not got the power to go on. And so John Sung would spend virtually all his time between meetings in the secret place, and then come forth for the next meeting. He seldom talked to people in busy times of meetings.
Thus, every man of God is a man who has spent much time in the wilderness. And if God drives you out into the wilderness sometimes, brothers and sisters, do not murmur, do not grumble. If you are wise, what God is doing to you is telling you, “Look! You have got too much leaves! What you need is the root. Come into the secret place!” He will drive you out into the wilderness. Moses was a man of God, and God trained him for 40 years - 40 whole years in the wilderness looking after sheep - before He sent him into Egypt and said, “Take My people out!” You say, “Why were those 40 years wasted?” The 40 years were never wasted. The 40 years were spent in the secret place of God, getting to know God, drawing on His power to fulfil the job, which without those 40 years in the wilderness, he could never have done. Paul tells in Galatians that he himself, after he came to the Lord, spent 3 years in the wilderness. You say, “3 years wasted!” Not at all! It is putting the roots down. I tell you, brothers and sisters, I have spent many years in the wilderness - many years in the wilderness - where God taught me to put the roots down. Without that root, you have no power. Without the power, you accomplish nothing! Utter waste of energy and time! Again I say to those who are being baptized, put your roots down. And when God puts you aside for a time, leaves you in a ‘quietness’ and you seem to be in a period of spiritual wilderness, thank God for it! He is teaching you to put your roots down into the secret place.
Practice the Lord’s Teaching - Avoid Being Bogged Down by Literalism
Now, let us come to our final point. Having understood the principle here about the secret place, the joy of abiding in that secret place we will look at in a moment. We look at 3 things - the 3 ‘do not’s’ very briefly - and see how does a root-Christian behave in these practical ways. Notice how practical the Lord’s teaching is. It is never floating around in the clouds, and you do not know, “What has that got to do with my practical life?” Jesus’ teaching - having laid down the principle - immediately applies it into the practical, everyday life. That is the beauty of Jesus’ teaching. It is never impractical. It is never just floating in the air, but always coming down to earth.
Firstly, from vv2-4, notice the difference how in this matter of giving the 2 kinds of Christians behave, or the 2 kinds of religious people behave. The one kind gives in order to achieve publicity. Of course, blowing the trumpet in front of you is picture language. It does not mean that the Pharisees actually pulled out a trumpet and began to blow it, saying, “Look! I’m going to give money now!” This is picture language. When you read the Bible, do not be carried away. You know, I sometimes find that the Lord Jesus is so ‘witty’, if I may use that word. He is so scintillating - so sparkling - in the way He presents His words, and so amusing sometimes, that I think the Lord Jesus had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really wonderful! You try to picture that part when He said to the Pharisees, “You strain out a mosquito and you swallow a camel.” Ha! You try to picture that in your mind; it is really so beautiful a picture. So striking! And the Lord Jesus had the wit to say, “Look at that picture of somebody trying to swallow a camel” and you can’t help laughing. It looks so ridiculous! And here, of course - [the Pharisee] blowing a trumpet while he is dropping his money in - the picture here is so witty! It is so sharp and it is piercing! While you are laughing, the message you have got right down into your throat.
I remember a teacher in Bible college. He was such a witty man, such a godly man. And he used to teach church history, which generally, many people thought was the most boring subject on earth. But not when he taught it! If ever you hear a class in which you hear roars and peals of laughter going on, that must be Dr. Fawcett teaching church history. And this is so wonderful. He did not do that to entertain the people. It is simply because what he said, he put it in a way that is so fascinating because it helps you to remember better. Jesus put these pictures there - these witty pictures, these very interesting and humorous pictures - really to help you to see that picture in your mind. It is so easy to remember a picture that is humorous. It is so hard to remember a picture that is pedestrian [i.e., dull]. But while we were all laughing in the church history class, he never missed the opportunity [that] while our mouths were wide open, the truth went down. It went down very quickly, you see. So while we were thinking of this witty picture and we were laughing about this, God’s truth just went right down into our heart.
So here we see that there is this picture of this hypocritical person who is doing this thing to gain some publicity. What does he want? What is his motive? He wants the praise of men. But the Lord Jesus says, “When you are doing this, don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” Now let me explain to you at once. You see, so many Christians do not have the wit of the Lord and they become all literalistic, “How can I give without my right hand knowing what the left hand has done? It is too difficult! I mean, surely if I give with my right hand, my left hand knows, because they are my hands.” So, they are working this thing out in their minds. Now, don’t be so literalistic! This is impossible! My right hand always knows what my left hand is doing. My left hand knows what my right hand is doing. I mean, it cannot be - it cannot be done!
Now here, of course, is simply a picture of secrecy. So let us not be absorbed in this strange literalism. Some people apply this in such a way also in the church. They take the literalism so far, that for example, when they give an offering in the church, they think it is unscriptural to pledge anything. Now, what is unscriptural about pledging, I do not know. But they say, “You see, by pledging, somebody will know what you have given, so you must never let the other person know.” Well, this is taking the literalism also much too far. Notice we have seen by now, I hope, the principle that being a true Christian is a matter of the motive. It is the motive in giving that you do not have the motive of getting publicity. It is not that when you give it, that nobody has seen you give it, so that when you are putting some money in the offering box, you had better hover around while nobody is watching, pull your jacket open and put it in there. You say, “If I had put it then, somebody has seen me putting money in the offering box.” This makes life very difficult for us. Maybe we have to put a secret chamber somewhere with the offering box inside. And that does not solve the problem either, because if you go into that chamber, people will think, “Aha! You are putting money into the offering box!” So how you ever can do it, that the right hand does not know what the left is doing, there is no way to do that. We cannot carry this out literally.
The teaching is simply that the motive must be one that you do not seek publicity. So there is nothing wrong with pledging in the church. Some people have been worried about this, and said, “Well, maybe pledging is not Scriptural. I just have to give. I put it in anonymously in a box.” But as you put it in, somebody has seen you put it in already. [You think,] “Unless I wait for everybody to go,” but the problem then is that maybe everybody else is also waiting for you to go. So everybody is waiting and saying, “Are you going down now (so I can put in the money into the offering box)?” No, this is not the point. The point is motive.
Give to Him Who Is in Need
There is one quick question I need to deal with in connection with the matter of giving, which rose in relation to a previous message in Mt. 5:42, in which the Lord taught, “Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” Some people have said to me, “I am puzzled by this teaching. Does it mean that anybody who asked from me, then I must give it to him?” No, it says, “Give to him who begs from you”, and here I have no time to expound this in detail, but it refers to those who are beggars, i.e., people who are in desperate need. Now, of course, you do not give indiscriminately on the basis of this verse. It does not mean that anybody who comes to you and says, “Give me $5.00”, you give him $5.00. If somebody comes to you and says, “Give me $100.00”, you say, “Well, the Bible said, ‘Give to him who asks’, so, I give him $100.00. That’s it! If I do not give him, I am not fulfilling the Scriptural teaching.” No, no! This is to miss the point. In understanding the Bible, you must understand everything accurately. What it means is: give to the person in need.
The person in Israel who begs were those who had no profession. They had no profession not because they were not allowed to work or did not want to work, but because they were not able to work. There was only one kind of people in Israel who were beggars. These were the crippled people, the blind, the maimed. They could not have a profession. People were not allowed to be professional beggars. The people who begged [did so] because there was nobody who would employ them. There was no job for a person who was blind, who had one arm missing or one leg missing. There was no job for them to do. Thus, they were reduced to begging.
And the Lord Jesus says, “When they ask of you, give to them,” because they had no other means of living. So when you understand the Bible, you must understand it clearly and correctly. So, if a drug addict comes to you, and says, “Can you give me $5.00?” and you say, “The Lord Jesus [said to withhold nothing]; this guy asked for $5.00,” so you say, “Sure! Here you are!” You are not loving him; you are hurting him. He is going to go and buy drugs with that. And that next dose may kill him. When an alcoholic comes and he says, “Will you give me $5.00” and you give him $5.00, he is going to get stone drunk, and that drunkenness may result in his death. He might be hit by a car, and you were the one who gave him the $5.00! No, no! The Lord’s teaching says nothing of the kind. He says, “Give to him who begs in his desperate need from you.” If you do not give it to him, he may starve to death that very night. Give to every person who is in need. That is what it means.
On Prayer - Our Motive Is of the Utmost Importance
Secondly, [we move on to] the matter of prayer. Again, in v5f, here it says: “Prayer is not to be seen. Don’t pray in order to give other people the impression of how holy you are, how good you are.” You know, it worries me that there are some Christians who pray only at one time. Do you know when? At prayer meeting or when he is giving thanks at meals! Now if that is a kind of Christian who goes from one prayer meeting to another, it is because it is easier to pray in a prayer meeting if you are that type of person because, of course, there are other people around. That is, you know that if God did not hear you, at least somebody else heard you. At least you are not talking to the wall. So, somebody heard you praying, and they might at least appreciate how nice your prayer was. Now that kind of Christian is very dangerous. You may not deliberately do this sometimes, but remember, there are some people who only go from one prayer meeting to another, but their personal prayer life would not stand up to any kind of examination. Some people have very little prayer in their life.
But there is also the opposite of this that I must also mention. There are some people who go to a prayer meeting and they never pray. Do you know why? Their reason is exactly the same as the other person. It is because they are concerned what other people think about them, “Maybe my prayer does not sound nice! The other person can pray better than I can. So, when I pray, it does not sound nice. When he prays, oh, it sounds so nice - a smooth, sleek prayer. When I pray, it is stumbling. All my sentences are wrong; I put everything upside down. My points are not very theologically correct. Oh, no, no! I cannot pray!” But do you notice then that the person who prays and the person who does not pray in the prayer meeting are guilty of exactly the same thing? Now I find that among our Chinese people, we often have the guilt, often, on the second point. In a prayer meeting, we do not dare to pray. [We say,] “That is for the other guy.” And so, we find it is always the elders who pray, the Bible study leaders who pray, the chairman who prays, so where are the others? They do not pray, because they are too afraid of other people’s opinion.
Now, again, this shows that you have not entered into the deepest secret place of God. You pray because you want to pray to God! And you pray to God in the congregation of His people - what for? To be heard by Him? To be heard by them? No! You pray because you know that a united prayer is often far more effective than a single prayer. That is what the point of a prayer meeting is, not to pray for other people to hear, but that to what you pray for, other people can say, “Amen, Lord!” “Where 2 or 3 of you have agreed on any one thing, it shall be done for you.” [Mt. 18:20] That is the point of a prayer meeting. When I am praying, or when somebody else is praying, and you say, “Amen, Lord!” that means, “I stand with that prayer! I agree with that prayer.” That means to say that that prayer is going to go through to the throne of grace. That is why there is a value of the church, that the united prayer has a power beyond that of a single prayer. Otherwise, we do not need a church. We can all pray by ourselves. That is why we need the church, that when we pray together - [in terms of] the force, the acceptability of that prayer - [it] will be more quickly answered, more readily answered by the Lord, because of His promise: “You have agreed in this matter.” He wants to bring us together in this way. It is not because He does not know what we need; it exactly tells us: He knows what we need! He wants to see what is our attitude to our need. That is very important.
Prayer Must Be from the Depths of Our Heart
Finally, we notice here also, in v7, that prayer must not be babbling. You know some people try to impress others in prayer; and what is worse, they try to impress God. And so, the Lord Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t pile up empty phrases.” These are nice-sounding words - not much meaning, but nice-sounding words. All piled up! All says exactly the same thing, but said in a different way. And so we pile up phrases as though we can impress God, and God might say, “Wow! That is a nice prayer. I think I had better grant him his request.” The Lord Jesus says, “Don’t pray like that!” Don’t come and try to impress God. Forget about this business of impressing people. God is not impressed with that. Just pray from your heart!
Let me tell you something, brothers and sisters, and especially to those being baptized and all those who are young Christians. The prayer that God loves is a prayer that comes from the bottom of our heart. A ‘thank you, Lord’ from the bottom of our heart is something so pleasing to God than a long speech that is presented to God. Sometimes you do not know what to say in prayer. Just be quiet before Him, and find a ‘thank-you’ right from the bottom of your heart, and say, “Thank You, Lord!” That prayer is just wonderful. It will echo all over heaven. It is so pleasing to God because it came from the depth of your heart. God answers prayers that are stumbling prayers sometimes. But the eloquent prayers of the religious people He does not want to hear. He is tired of that.
When I first came to the Lord, I remember sitting in that prison camp under the tommy-gun, under the submachine gun of a Communist soldier. I offered a prayer from the bottom of my heart. I did not even know how to pray. I was not even a Christian. I just talked to God, and said, “Oh, God, if there be a God, have mercy upon me, a sinner. Save me out of this circumstance, and by Your grace, I will serve You all the days of my life”, right from the bottom of my heart! And God answered. Bang! Like a flash of lightning, the answer came without keeping me waiting for a few seconds. It came right away. The presence of God surrounded me. Immediately, I was in His secret place, right there in the prison camp. [It was] the kind of prayer God wants to hear and that was what God taught me. My first Christian lesson in the Christian life is this: Don’t babble to God! He does not want to listen to that! Just say it from the depth of your heart. It may not sound nice and the way you put it was not grammatical. Your grammar was no good. Your English was no good or your Chinese was no good - He is not there to give marks to your Chinese! He is not a literature teacher. Offer Him a prayer! Everyday, it is not how many hours you spend in prayer; it is how much you can offer Him from the depth of your heart. One sentence, brothers and sisters, at the end of the day or the beginning of the day, or whenever you pray, is better than a long speech to God. He does not want to hear the speeches.
Imagine if my daughter came to me, and she presented me with a speech. I would blink at her and say, “What’s going on here?” All she can say is, “Daddy, I love you!” Well, that’s wonderful! That is all I need. What else does God want from you? Why do we treat God as though He was some kind of person who just wants speeches? If at the end of the day you just say, “Lord, I just love you!” or, “How much You have loved me!” - that is the most beautiful prayer. That is it! And that is what the Lord Jesus is saying: pray from the depth of the heart! That is where the secret place will always be. From the root upward - that is the kind of prayer to offer to God.
God Loves a Cheerful Giver
And finally, when we do something for God, such as fasting, v16f, let us never do it for display. Never do that for display. Whatever you do, offer it with one desire: that it will be pleasing to God. You know there are some Christians who really worry me. I think of a Christian in Liverpool and I felt tired every time I talked with him. I was so tired. Do you know what he says every time I see him? He says, “Do you know how much I gave up for the Lord? I gave this up for the Lord and I gave that up for the Lord - my time and my energy and my strength.” By the time he has gone on like this for half-an-hour, I feel exhausted. When did he ever remember what God gave to him? He seems to say that all this time, God must owe him a tremendous debt. Think of what he had given to God: his time, his energy! Of course, he is always complaining about the ungrateful Christian, because he gave. But what did [he] give it for? For the gratitude of the Christians or for God? I began to realize that he gave all these things up desiring praise from men! When he did not get the praise from men, he was so disgusted and disappointed that he turned bitter on God, that is, whatever he knew of God before. That is questionable.
When we offer anything to God, do it with joy! And let me say this to all you who are young Christians especially, what you cannot do with joy for God, forget it! God loves a cheerful giver! What you cannot give cheerfully, don’t give it! He is not going to drag it out of your pocket. If you want to give something in the offering, do not say, “Well, here, Lord, I have paid my taxes. Take it!” You cannot give it cheerfully. Keep it! He does not want your money. When you offer yourself to the Lord, don’t say, “Well, I have been dragged by the scruff of the neck. I have no alternative now. My circumstances force me to offer myself to the Lord.” Who wants you to be forced to offer yourself to the Lord? If you cannot offer yourself or anything to the Lord cheerfully, what you cannot give to the Lord cheerfully, do not bother to give.
Spiritual Christians Look for Spiritual Rewards
And so, finally, there is one last point we must look at as we close, and that is, you will have noticed that the word ‘reward’ comes very frequently in this passage. It is in vv1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16 & 18 - so many times! In fact the whole of 7 times the word ‘reward’ comes in this passage. In closing, I need to mention about this, too. The Lord says a great deal about reward not only in this passage; but in all His teaching, He has a lot to say about reward. That is strange, isn’t it, because Christians today always think that the super-Christian never looks for reward. Well, you are wrong! Let me tell you, where there is no reward, there is no motivation. Nobody does anything for no reward, and the spiritual Christian looks for spiritual reward! That is the difference. It is not that the spiritual Christian looks for no reward, [but that] the spiritual Christian looks for spiritual reward. The carnal man looks for a carnal reward. The earthly man looks for an earthly reward. The heavenly man looks for a heavenly reward. Why are you thinking that a super-Christian never looks for a reward? Or we think, “We don’t want a reward.” Let me tell you, there is not one grain of truth [in this]. This is another one of those sentences that sounds religious but has no truth in it whatsoever. Nobody ever does anything for no reason, and to do something for no reward is to do something for no reason. A reward is a reason why you do it.
What are you studying for? Well, so that you have a profession. You are working so hard so that you have a profession. That profession is your reward; that is the end of your labors, for so many years’ study. Now how good would be a Christian who says, “I’ll just study, but at the end, I don’t want a profession”? [He says,] “I’ve finished! Okay, I’ve finished my Biochemistry. Bye-bye now! I’m never going to practice Biochemistry because I’m a super-Christian, you see.”? You would say, “What is wrong with him?” Do you call that spiritual thinking? That is absolute nonsense. You work in order to achieve something. What you achieve is a reward. A spiritual man wants to achieve something, too. What he achieves is a reward. So, never believe the saying of some Christians. They say, “I serve the Lord. I don’t want a reward.” Nonsense! Nobody serves the Lord for no reward. And those people who say that are generally found to be doing very little for the Lord, if anything at all. I tell you that every man of God serves God because his eye is on the reward - a spiritual reward! And the Bible has a lot to say about rewards.
You see, the principle is very simple. If you love somebody, or you love God, love always claims the object of its love. Always! There is no exception to that. Love always claims the object of its love. That is why people love one another and marry each other. Otherwise, you have super-Christians who love one another but never get married. No, no! [They would say,] “I love for no reward. You know, I just love you. It’s okay. Finished! Fine!” I think in the church, we will never have anybody getting married because we are so full of super-Christians. That means only the carnal Christians get married. My! Never go to a wedding anymore, because all these carnal Christians are getting married there. The super-Christians never get married because they love no reward. It is okay. Of course, I may not take a reward from you because I love you, because I am looking for the spiritual reward, not the reward from you. But it does not mean that I do not want any reward. Love always claims the object of its love.
Now, if it is human love, you claim the other person. If it is carnal love, you claim the other thing. For example, ‘people who love the world’ means they love the things that are in the world. They love a car; they love a radio; they love a gramophone. What do you mean by ‘loving a radio’, or ‘loving a car’? You say, “Oh, nice looking!”, then, “Bye!”, and then you walk out [of the shop]. Of course, you mean you want it. That is what it means. Love means that you want to claim this thing. Love always claims what it wants - that is the principle of love.
When I love Jesus, what does that mean? That means I want Jesus. I am unashamed to say that I want Jesus. What is wrong with that? I love Jesus so much I want Jesus. He is the One that I want. I am not going to pretend to you that I [want] no reward, that I gave up everything to serve the Lord because I do not want any reward. That is sheer nonsense. I love Him. Paul says that He is the one [he wants]: “I want to win Christ! I have lost everything.” What for? For the reward - “to win Jesus! That is what I want.” [Phil. 3:8] The spiritual man looks for spiritual reward. And if that is not motivating you, nothing motivates you. Nobody serves God for no reason. He wants God!
Ps. 42:1-2 is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. What does it say there? Ps. 42:1-2 reads: “As the hart - that is, the deer - pants after the water brooks, O Lord, so my heart pants for You.” Here is somebody who loves God, who longs for God. Like two people in love, oh, they long for each other. You know, when you do not see each other for 2 hours, it looks like 2 years. When did you last see each other? “Oh, 2 years ago!” No, it was only 2 hours ago. And if you have to separate for a while, the days become years, and years become like decades. Oh, it is unbearable! Your heart longs - longs - for the person, to be with that person. Sure! And so here, the psalmist says, “My heart longs for God!” You see, the human love claims the human object. The spiritual love claims - what do you mean the psalmist longs for God? Is it just so that he longs for God as if to say, “I don’t want You, but I am loving You. I am longing for You, but I don’t really want You”? Nonsense! Of course, the psalmist says he longs to have God, to have fellowship with Him.
True Love Not Only Claims, But Also Gives to, the Object of Its Love
But there is the other aspect about love. True love not only claims the object of its love, but gives itself to that object. A person who loves a car not only claims that car, but devotes himself to that car. Look at him! On Sunday, he is polishing the thing. His arm is sore and he is still polishing. Ah, he climbs underneath and his hands are all dirty and clothing all full of oil. He is carefully fixing the car, putting new oil in, changing the oil filter. He devotes himself to the car. He does not mind how many hours he spends. His hand is sore at the end of the day. It is cut as well. He does not mind. He devotes himself to the car.
So, love always has these 2 aspects. It claims and it gives to that same object. In the same way, when we claim Jesus, we give ourselves to Jesus. No true love only claims; it also gives. Now if it only claims, that is not love. That is merely greed. And that is not the same as love. You know there are some parents who love their children in that way. They only claim that child, “This is mine. Mine!” What do they give? Of their love, of their understanding, of their time, of their patience, what do they give? That is not love; that is greed. Possessiveness! We are talking about love. And all love is both claiming and giving.
The Greatest Reward the Spiritual Man Desires - God Himself!
Thus, we conclude then in understanding this: the spiritual man looks for spiritual reward. And what is that spiritual reward? It is nothing less than God Himself. What else do we want in this world? What is more precious than Jesus Himself? What is more precious than God? What else do we want in this world? Abraham looked for one reward. See Gen. 15:1: “that God would be his reward.” He does not want any other reward. In the Psalms, you see again and again that God is the reward that the psalmist looks for - his inheritance, his portion - that he labors for. [See] Ps. 16:5, for example. In Ps. 73:25-26, [we have] those beautiful words: “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” Who do I desire on earth but Thee?” He longed after God! It goes on to speak about also the secret place. And then, [we have] Ps. 119:57, 142:5 and so on and so forth. You see that both in the Old Testament and in the New, the reward that godly men looked for was God Himself. And so the reward they looked for was the praise that comes from God, not the praise from men. So, we saw that today’s talk was about the motivation of the spiritual man. He looked for God. He has seen the beauty of God, the glory of God. He wants - he longs - for God. He knows that God abides. Everything in this world passes away, but God abides forever. There is nothing and no one else more desirable than God.
In Rev. 2:28, the Lord Jesus said that he who overcomes, “I will give him the morning star.” But what is the morning star? Well, the question is not, “What is the morning star?” It is: “Who is the morning star?” And those of you who sang the hymn just now - the one we sang, “He is the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star,” should know the answer to that question. Jesus is the Morning Star! When Jesus said, “I’m going to give him the morning star”, [it means] I’m going to give the reward. It is Himself! He is the Morning Star. In Rev. 22:16, Jesus is “the bright, morning star.” Oh, it is so wonderful to have Jesus!
God Is the Source of All Beauty
Last night, I was meditating on my bed. The bed is a good place to meditate. The psalmist did a lot of that. I was meditating on my bed and I was thinking, “There is nobody more beautiful than God. Nobody more beautiful than Him. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than God.” Do you know how I came to see that, as I worked it out in my mind? Do you remember in Romans Chapter 1, we were studying the two principles by which we know God? You apply those principles; you will see. Look at the beauty of God’s creation - the wisdom and power. And ask yourself, “Where does the beauty come from?”
Now when you look at a beautiful painting, and you say, “Oh, that painting is beautiful”, what do you mean? Is there anything original in that painting? No! It may be a ship; it may be mountains, it may be water, and yet you say, “It is beautiful!” In other words, that painting is beautiful only because it reflected God’s creation. That is all it did. Or you look at a sculpture. You say, “Oh, that sculpture is beautiful.” Why do you say it is beautiful? Maybe it is of a human being or whatever it is, then you say, “Oh, it is beautiful!” Why do you say it is beautiful? Simply, it is because it reflects God’s beauty - the beauty of God’s creation. In other words, all our beauty stems from - derives from - God’s beauty. We have a picture to follow. We have a model to follow. But then ask yourself, “Where did God get the beauty from?”
You see, a painter does not have to be beautiful to paint a beautiful picture, does he? He may be very ugly, but he can paint a beautiful picture because he is not painting himself. He is painting something else. Maybe when he paints himself, he paints himself beautiful, too. But he paints - he has something else to follow. That is where he got the beauty from! Where does God get the image - the standard of beauty - from? Where? It is not from somewhere else, not from some other person. It is not from some model sitting there. It is not from some picture in nature. It is from Himself! He is the origin of all beauty. How beautiful He must be Who is the origin of all beauty! Look at the rose, or a carnation, any flower - it is so beautiful! How did God design that? Where did He get the idea of this beauty? Did He have somewhere else to copy it from? No! He is the source of beauty. Beauty comes out of Him. So when I look at creation, I say to myself, “O Lord, how beautiful You are! How powerful You are! How wise You are!”
God is Beautiful Because He Is Love
But secondly, His beauty is seen in love that we saw in the Gospel. I love God because of the beauty of His love. Love makes everything beautiful. You take away love and everything becomes ugly. Put in love and everything is beautiful. As I said right at the beginning of the meeting, take love out of a family and the family becomes ugly. Nobody wants to live there. Nobody wants to do anything with that family. Put in love, and it is so beautiful. Take a person - you put in love and the person becomes beautiful. Did you know that? I have known people who are physically supposed to be ugly, but when I looked at them, I thought, “They are so beautiful!” Do you know why? It is because the beauty of Christ was coming out from them to love. The love of Christ was radiating and it made them so beautiful. It is incredible! I remember a lady in Shanghai that I often shared about, who was unfortunately, humanly speaking, so ugly. And yet, I always found her so beautiful, and I wondered, “How can an ugly person be beautiful?” Oh, yes, they can, because they radiate the beauty of Christ, so that you do not even remember what they themselves look like. You only see the beauty of Christ.
But take a beautiful person and take the love out of them. They are so ugly! So ugly! The movie stars are supposed to be all handsome and so beautiful, and they all marry each other. They have the highest divorce rate in the world! What is the matter? Is the beauty not attractive enough? No, it is because you see the object of beauty, once there is not love in it, it becomes ugly. There is nothing more to look at. Everything is gone. And now think of God. The Bible tells us, “God, as to His nature, is love.” Oh, how beautiful God is! When you see a beautiful Christian, by which I mean a Christian who radiates the love of Christ, you get an idea of how beautiful God must be. But God is both literally beautiful, and morally beautiful and spiritually beautiful. If an ugly person can be made beautiful by God’s love, wow, what must God be like? It boggles my imagination. By a process of deduction and induction, I can see how God is so wonderful, that people like me, not worth loving, He loved with an everlasting love.
We almost cannot even understand that love. Our minds are boggled by it. But He loves us! And that is why I look for this reward, because I see that everything in this world passes away, but He abides forever! God is so exquisitely, indescribably beautiful! Oh, He is wonderful! Men will pass away, human beauty will fade, everything in this world goes. But God never changes. How many people spend so much money as they advance to the 40th year or the 50th year, that the makeup becomes more and more profuse on the face? I mean it is to patch up what is not there. Everything is done desperately. Maybe some of you have heard of Li Li Hua, a famous Chinese movie star. Well, I happened to see her once in Hong Kong Airport. A great cry, a great fuss was going on. I said, “What is going on here?” and she walked past right in front of me. I did not know she was Li Li Hua you see, because I never look at movies. I am afraid to say, I never had time for movies. And she walked past right in front of me, and somebody said, “That’s Li Li Hua!” I said, “Really? Oh!” And you know what? Oh, dear! In her advancing age, she was so covered up that I am not sure I could see Li Li Hua at all. I could see her tilt, but I could not see her, and she had operations to stretch the skin up under her hairline and do all kinds of things. Plastic surgery can do amazing things nowadays. But you see human glory - this is the point - human beauty fades away. The idols we once loved in this world, they fade away. The beautiful car turns rusty. Everything is gone. But God is the same yesterday, today and forever. [Heb. 13:8] He never changes.
So, I say, what is my motivation? What is your motivation? You work so hard in your subjects, or whatever it is. Great! Great! By all means! Your textbooks will all be out of date in a few years’ time. You study that stuff, huh! Maybe your children will look at your textbooks, and say, “Wow! That belongs in the ancient history library nowadays.” It is all gone. It is all finished! They study “New Mathematics” or something like this. You say, “What is this ‘New Mathematics’?” I did not seem to study that before. All the things - the fashion of the world - the Bible says, passes away, but God abides forever. What kind of a reward are you looking for? Are you a spiritual man or a carnal man? And so again, I should share with you, if you want the abundant life that we talked about earlier, then your desire is to have God! Nothing less than God! Let us then be clear of the motive of being a Christian. Have our roots go deep.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church