Words of Faith 1-11-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples,  "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Jesus was within seventy-two hours of dying on the cross. There was conflict in the Courts of the Temple. First, the issue of His authority. What degrees do you have? What qualification to speak with such confidence? Second, there was a political angle. Whose side are you one in the politics of the day? Third, there came an attempt to entrap Jesus in a theological debate.
In response to all this Jesus did a couple of things. He commented on the state of moral leadership and the problem of religious self-importance.
It is difficult to define self-importance except to say that we know it when we see it. "Self-importance" is a description familiar in the purview of politics and religion. Those who are self-important rarely recognize the problem or laugh at themselves. Jesus painted a picture of religious leaders-- the teachers of the Law-- who were terribly self-important.
This was a warning regarding spiritual leadership. His statement was pointed. He addressed what we would call "the clergy", but His criticism is helpful in exhorting both clergy and laity, any of us, who through our sense of religion, would become self-important. He pointed out four specific observations about those who are religiously self-important. Such people are:
1) Concerned with their appearances-- they "like to walk around in flowing robes"
2) Concerned with Honor for themselves-- they "love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets."
3) Greedy-- they "devour widows' houses"
4) Enjoy making a religious show-- "for a show make lengthy prayers.”
The concern was not a minor one. "Such men will be punished most severely." Jesus was warning us to watch out for preachers or any religious people who are full of pride, full of themselves, and more worried about their own financial well being than about people. Honor is a good thing but not when it is expected or required or demanded. There is severe punishment for those who are religious hucksters and fakes, especially those who prey upon the most helpless in society.
We hear the stories of religious charlatans in the news. The press is often eager to report about those who have bilked people in the name of religion. Such people may never have set out to so do such a thing but somewhere along the way, they got off track. Perhaps it was pride that entered in and they became self-important and then greedy.
The truth is that ministers and other religious people fall easily into the trap of focusing on outward appearances rather than inward realities. We begin to think that we should be honored. We begin to think that what we are doing is more important than what others are doing. We think that what we teach is more significant than others. We suppose that what we do is a priority over others. We think that we know the only way or the only solution to a particular problem around the church.
Of course, there are many wonderful clergy persons who are humble. There are even some who find their self-importance in a feigned humility while others are just blatantly self-centered. I have learned that all I can do is commit myself to be a servant and return to that commitment on a daily basis.
What are the warning signs?
1) Concerned with their appearances. They "like to walk around in flowing robes.” You don't have to wear clerical robes to be concerned with appearances. If you are overly concerned with how you look and what people think, if you do things that put on a religious show, if you cannot be real with people about your Christian walk and struggle, you may be slipping down the slope of self-importance.
2) Concerned with honor for themselves. They "love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets." If you find yourself feeling snubbed, if you are not recognized for your religious work, or honored by some position you feel you deserve. If you are concerned that no one has properly recognized your gifts and talents or you cannot serve without being honored, you may be falling for this ploy.
3) Greed. They "devour widows' houses.” This was an issue of justice and integrity. Clergy and religious leaders hold a particular place of trust. As far back as the time of Jesus, there were those without scruples who would coerce a widow to contribute even their house to their ministry. There are probably many other ways that we can fall into greed as well.
4) Enjoy making a religious show. They, "for a show, make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." If prayer is something we only do in public, then it is only a show.
There is another big lesson here for clergy and laity alike. In a nutshell: Don't take yourself too seriously. Paul wrote: "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (Romans 12:3).
Don't think too highly or too lowly of yourself. There is no need to be self-deprecating. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..." (Philip. 2:3-5).
We need to learn to laugh at ourselves. This is a real gift. It does not come easily. How do I know if I have a problem in this area? Taking myself too seriously?
Do I notice that I have to be "right" all the time?
Do I have to have the final say on truth and interpretation-- or administration?
Does everything seem to be a battle I must win?
Am I uncomfortable that there may be a different way of doing things?
Do I have a hard time "agreeing to disagree"?
Do I break fellowship or friendship over religious matters or disputes?
Can I laugh at yourself?
Can I receive loving criticism?
The answer is to pray for some humility or prepare to be humbled. God actually does have ways to bring us back into a "sober judgment" of ourselves.
The greatest gift given to me by the pastor that first truly mentored me is summed up in three magic words. The ability to say sincerely: "I was wrong." There are some people, pastors, and laity, who can never say or write those words. I have noticed that pastors who cannot say those three words often rotate to a new location fairly regularly. Laypersons who cannot say those words usually rotate to a new church fairly regularly. Those are what I would call the three magic words for church relationships-- "I was wrong." And there are three more that are like unto them: "I forgive you." Both of these are not uttered in an atmosphere dominated by pride. Be careful about the things, the trappings, that only build up pride.
Oh God, give me a sober judgment of myself. Help me to share the gifts that You have given me humbly. Help me to offer all that I am to You in gratitude. Keep me from being puffed up or critical of others. Give me the grace to serve You without notice if that is your plan. Keep me from falling into the trap of self-importance. In Jesus' name.