#1  The “Stumbling Blocks To Spirituality” Series




TEXT:         Matt. 23:1-14;   James 1:19-27


INTRO:       One of the toughest tests of Christianity is authentic faith on our part!


ILLUS:     The story is told about a preacher who was catching a bus one day to go into the city, as he came on the bus he paid the bus driver $1, the rate however only being 75¢.  The bus driver gave the Pastor 35¢ change, and the Pastor made his way to his seat.  Once seated the minister noticed the 10¢ error in his favor, for a moment he sat thinking about the situation, finally he got up and approached the bus driver stating that he was given too much change.  The bus driver said, "I knew I gave you too much, I was in your church last week and heard you preach on honesty, and I just wanted to see if you practice what you preach!" -- Source - Unknown


I wonder; would we always pass such tests?  The world is watching, the neighbor is watching, your family is watching, the Lord is watching ... the greatest good and the greatest evil to the Gospel is not so much what we say, rarely is that wrong, but it is what we do with what we say!


It is much easier to preach than to practice the same ... yet God calls us to be different from the world.  The world speaks lofty words of peace, but they contradict the words they speak by their actions; we must however for the Gospel's sake practice what we preach!


PROP. SENT:    The Bible teaches us that it is vital to our witness of the Gospel to live what we preach, or we will bring reproach on the Word of God!  God takes seriously the call to practice what we preach!


I.   PREACHING & PRACTICE    Matt. 23:1-4


A.   God's Word    Matt. 23:1-3a

1.   Jesus does not condemn the office of these men or their authority to preach, nor even their message from Scripture ... just their failure to practice what they preach.

a.   And many today refuse the message because of the messenger – messengers that are inconsistent with practicing what they preach ... this is wrong, but the message may still be good:

b.   This explains how someone can preach the Gospel and still themselves be lost, this has happened.

c.   But the person hearing cannot excuse himself from the message just because the messenger fails to live up to it ... we are each to live the message of the cross ... even if the one who gives it fails.

d.   It will however do harm to the ones who see the inconsistent life, and the results could be lessened by the hypocrite if they learned to obey as well as preach.

2.   Jesus encourages the people to listen and obey the Word ... but not to follow the hypocrites in high places in their hypocritical practices.   Matt. 23:3

a.   We also need to be careful not to fool ourselves about our own self-righteousness, and assume we never are hypocritical.

b.   We should guard our own life and check to be sure that we don’t live an inconsistent life.


ILLUS:     Southern Californians are always saying that they can ski on snow in the mountains in the morning and ski on water on the ocean in the afternoon.  But have you ever heard of, or met, anyone who has actually done that?  Sometimes we Christians do the same thing.  We talk about Christ controlling our lives but in fact we do as we please. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


3.   Jesus also calls them to still honor the office of those who are entrusted to preach the Word ... even though there are some bad examples ... He implies that not all are bad examples!

a.   Yes there are hypocrites in the pulpits ... but there is also a LOT of honest preachers of the Word who live what they preach and teach!

b.   You can always excuse yourself by someone else if you look hard enough, but there are many true preachers who are also practitioners of the Gospel!

4.   God's Word is God's Word ... it is true and living!


B.   Great Weight!    Matt. 23:3b-4

1.   These hypocrites teaching the people were weighing them down with so many man-made regulations that sounded so spiritual but made it impossible for the people to feel like God really loved them ... they corrupted grace!

a.   In MATT. 7:21-23 Jesus alluded to these when He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy (preach) in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”

b.   The miracles are not disputed, nor the message these people preached, just that they didn't DO the will of God, instead they did evil!

c.   In other words, they said one thing; perhaps the right thing, but didn't practice it!  They didn’t really DO the will of God!

d.   It was all show!  They looked good, but the substance was not there!


ILLUS:    The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans when it was launched in 1936.  Through four decades and a world War she served until she was retired, anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.

   During the conversion, her three massive smoke-stacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted.  But on the dock they crumbled.  Nothing was left of the 3/4-inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed.  All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years.  The steel had rusted away.

   When Jesus called the Pharisees "whitewashed tombs," he meant they had no substance, only an exterior appearance. -- Robert Wenz, Clifton Park, New York. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4.


2.   But what they themselves couldn't or wouldn't do they required others to do!  Thus they weighed others down will legalistic rules of men rather than preach the salvation that came through grace in faith in God.

3.   It was a great weight that most could not carry ... and they offered no hope to those they required to carry it!

4.   Their whole purpose in making up so many spiritually sounding rules were to make the people think they themselves were this spiritual, appearing to keep them when in fact they didn't even try, but made others feel guilty if they didn't measure up!


II.  PRIDE & POSITIONS    Matt. 23:5-12


A.   Godless Worship     Matt. 23:5

1.   Their worship was meant for themselves ... they weren't interested if God saw or heard them, only others!

a.   This is selfish worship ... for it is looking for other's praise of how spiritual they are.  Spiritually was used to enhance their life and lifestyle, not to have a real relationship with God.


ILLUS:    Years ago in Germany there was a young Jewish boy who had a profound sense of admiration for his father.  The life of the family centered around the acts of piety and devotion prescribed by their religion.  The father was zealous in attending worship and instruction and demanded the same from his children.  While the boy was a teenager the family was forced to move to another town in Germany.  In the new location there was no synagogue, and the pillars of the community all belonged to the Lutheran church.  Suddenly the father announced to the family that they were all going to abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church.  When the stunned family asked why, the father explained that it was necessary to help his business.  The youngster was bewildered and confused.  His deep disappointment soon gave way to anger and a kind of intense bitterness that plagued him throughout his life.

   He left Germany and went to England to study.  He sat daily at the British Museum formulating his ideas and composing a book.  In that book he introduced a whole life and world-view and conceived of a movement that was designed to change the world.  In the book he described religion as an "opiate for the masses" that could be explained totally in terms of economics.  Today there are billions of people in the world who live under the system invented by this embittered man.  His name, of course, is Karl Marx.  The influence of this father's hypocrisy is still being keenly felt around the world. -- R. C. Sproul, Objections Answered -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 436.


b.   The most spiritual of people are often the ones that don't seem so spiritual, those that practice basics, like faithfulness, giving, speaking well of others, speaking the truth in love, helping those who are hurting.  HOW OFTEN we think of the spiritual people being those who do miracles of a spectacular nature or those who have ministered with lots of the gifts of the spirit ... GIFTS HOWEVER TELL US NOTHING OF THE ONE WHO HAS THEM, BUT OF THE ONE WHO GAVE THEM!  It is the fruit displayed in the life that speaks how spiritual a person is ... how well they love!

2.   They made “phylacteries” (pieces of scripture worn on the forehead or arm in small boxes) also had wide tassels on their prayer shawls, sat in places of honor, had special titles they didn't live up to and reserved special seats in the synagogues, etc. (the titles themselves weren't wrong, Jesus had used the term “rabbi” before, and in verse 1 "teachers" ... but He wanted them to live up to them!)  

a.   It was all for show!

b.   To elevate themselves in front of men!


B.   "Greatness" Worshipped    Matt. 23:6-12

1.   The point of all their work was to honor self!

2.   They loved titles, and honor by men.

a.   They wore robes to separate themselves from the "ordinary" people ... trying to elevate themselves as being more spiritual.

b.   Perhaps tried to show that their lives were so smooth, as examples of being so great that they didn't have struggles!

c.   We today are faced with teachings of this nature: i.e. that if you are really spiritual you won't be suffering physically or materially, that only the lack of faith brings this.


ILLUS:    We live in a spiritually troubled time in history.  Christianity has gone over to the jingle-bell crowd.  Everyone is just delighted that Jesus has done all of the sorrowing, all of the suffering, all of the dying. -- A. W. Tozer in Men Who Met God.  Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 18.


3.   An old Arab proverb says it best however: "ALL SUNSHINE MAKES A DESERT!"

a.   The lack of problems ... all sunshine won't make you grow; it will stunt your growth!

b.   We need a few good storms in our life to grow by; the rains bring life to the desert ... all sunshine makes deserts!

c.   We learn to trust God during storms.

4.   Our concepts of “GREATNESS” need revising, the "great" servant of God isn't the one that never has troubles, but he who has them and yet remains faith­ful to God while waiting for answers!

5.   Their worship of "greatness" was all the outward signs of greatness ... Jesus said however, that "the greatest among you will be servant of all!"   Matt. 23:11

a.   God will in time, humble the proud, and exalt the humble.  Matt. 23:12

b.   Hang in their saint, if you are struggling, do not bend to the ideas of great­ness that some would teach...

c.   Keep serving!


III.  PAINFUL PERSONS   Matt. 23:13-14;  James 1:19-27


A.   God's Woe!    Matt. 23:13-14

1.   The phrase here could be translated, "ALAS FOR YOU," thus it was not so much a condemnation by Jesus like a curse but a cry from the master's heart of sorrow over their condition of hardness!

a.   Why was He sorrowful?

b.   Because they were missing heaven ... and were shutting the door to heaven in the face of those they were leading!

c.   They were the cause of some followers going to hell, just so they could look good to men!

d.   What could break the heart of God more than this!

2.   They had corrupted religion, true religion!

a.   Talk is not as important as our actions!

b.   Ultimately our actions will judge our talk, or it will at least inform it!  Our actions can actually disqualify our talk if it doesn’t line up.


ILLUS:    Major Osipovich, an air force pilot for the former USSR, planned to give a talk at his children's school about peace.  But he would need time off during the day to give his talk, so he volunteered for night duty.  And that's how Major Osipovich found himself patrolling the skies over the eastern regions of the Soviet Union on September 1, 1983 -- the night Korean Air Lines Flight KE007 strayed into Soviet air space.

   Soon the Soviet pilot was caught in a series of blunders and misinformation.  In the end, Major Osipovich followed orders and shot down the unidentified aircraft.  The actions of an air force major preparing to talk about peace plunged 240 passengers to their deaths and sparked an international incident that pushed world powers to a stand-off.  Our talk is important.  But our actions carry far more weight. -- Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 3.


3.   This was one of the last public discourses of Jesus before the cross, here He follows this passage with His lament over Jerusalem (23:37), He knew they would not only neglect this warning, but that this would be the beginning of the end of the old Israel. (70 A.D.)

4.   Our hearts too should weep with God over the hypocrisy of those who call themselves Christians but don’t practice what they preach; and perhaps this begins with us!

5.   Nothing is more painful than to live as a hypocrite.  Try and straddle a fence for a while and see how uncomfortable it is! (Ouch!)


B.   God's Way!    James 1:19-27

1.   Note especially James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”

a.   Do the Word!

b.   Don't just applaud the Word or amen it ... apply it!

2.   The man that God promises to bless is the man that hears the Word and goes and tries to do it!  James 1:25 “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it -- he will be blessed in what he does.”

3.   Taming the tongue, helping the needy, staying pure in a filthy world, this is true religion!  Those who are spiritual are those who DO something with their faith ... beyond merely speaking it!

a.   Even children can detect hypocrisy!


ILLUS:     A man sat down to supper with his family and said grace, thanking God for the food, for the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee, and the sharpness of the cheese. His young daughter questioned him, "Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?"

   He answered confidently, "Of course."

   Then she asked, "And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?" Not so confidently, he answered, "Why, yes, I believe so."

   The little girl concluded, "Then which do you think God believed, Dad?"

   The man was suddenly aware that his mealtime prayer had become a rote, thoughtless habit rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God. By not concentrating on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak in. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 433.


b.   It is important that our example be matched to our talk!

4.   This is God's way ... let it be ours!


CONCLUSION:   "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heave but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  It is at least as important to practice what you preach if you call yourself a "believer!"  It is not only "good news" pro­claimed but "good news" practiced that will win others to the glorious freedom of forgiveness of sins!  Are you practicing what you preach?