#5  The “Stumbling Blocks To Spirituality” Series




TEXT:         Matt. 23:27-28;   1 Sam. 16:1-13,18


INTRO:       One of the rulers of Uganda, a man by the name of Idi Amin was one of the cruelest and meanest men the modern world has ever seen.  While president of Uganda [he pronounced himself, "President-for-life"] he showed a very different public image than what was real about the man.


In public he was warm and cordial; he would send supplies to help a needy area of Africa.  He would attend meetings of heads of state and appear very concerned.  He would go to great lengths to appear as the perfect gentleman.  He wore bright uniforms; medals of Honor, bravery, valor, and of great service to humanity would adorn his outfits.  He gave his generals and other leaders who served under him tremendous amounts of gifts as appreciation for their work.  He went to great lengths to SHOW how wonderful he was and what a wonderful humanitarian he was, to SHOW his supposed kindness and gentleness.


The truth about Idi Amin was very different from the image he tried to create.  He had secret squads of men that would periodically round up anyone that was outspoken against him and he would have them tortured slowly!  He committed immorality that can't even be mentioned publicly.  It was reported that he was a cannibal, eating some of those he had had tortured!  At one point there were so many murdered and thrown into the Nile that workers at one location had to continuously fish out the bodies to stop the intake ducts at a nearby dam from becoming clogged.  He hoarded wealth from his own countrymen and squandered it away; leaving Uganda broke as a country while he was rich beyond compare.


The more the truth about the man became known to the world, the more he tried outwardly to act as a great leader of compassion, inviting more and more leaders of other countries to come and visit Uganda.  More uniforms, more medals of Honor, more smiling faces before the world audience.


The more evil he became, the more “whitewashed” he tried to be in public, to show a gleaming, clean, wonderful image; while a true madman lurked underneath!


ILLUS:     The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out. -- Lord Macaulay, Christian Reader, Vol. 34.


PROP. SENT:    The Bible teaches that the more someone tries to prove he/she is very spiritual by outward appearances, the more likely he/she is NOT spiritual!  Spirituality flows from the heart, there is a difference between ACTING spiritual and BEING spiritual ... God wants us to begin by BEING spiritual.  When this is true we will also truly ACT spiritual.


I.   SURFACE HOLINESS    Matt. 23:27-28;   1 Sam. 15:7-29


A.   "Whitewashing" Surface    Matt. 23:27a, 28a

1.   Every year on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Adar the Jews would go out into the graveyards and take a special paint made out of white lime and paint tombstones.  Some would go further and elaborately decorate the stones after they were whitewashed.

2.   The point of all this was to protect themselves from ever walking over a dead body!  To walk over a dead body according to the Law was to become “unclean.”

3.   The "whitewashing" thus made the tombstones stand out very clearly and thus prevented any good Jew from accidentally stepping over a dead body buried in the ground – preventing them from becoming "unclean!"

a.   The more elaborate the decorations, the less chance of a dead body being walked over!

b.   Where there was no dead body, no whitewashing or decorations were required.

4.   Tragically, it is too easy to continue the outward appearances of being spiritual without the necessary underlying “life” to real spirituality.  The appearance can be there long after we really have died or just masking a real death!


ILLUS:     When elderly Adele Gaboury turned up missing four years ago, concerned neighbors in Worcester, Massachusetts, informed the police.  A brother told police she had gone into a nursing home.  Satisfied with that information, Gaboury's neighbors began watching her property.  Michael Crowley noticed her mail, delivered through a slot in the door, piling high.

   When he opened the door, hundreds of pieces of mail drifted out.  He notified police, and the deliveries were stopped.  Gaboury's next-door neighbor, Eileen Dugan, started paying her grandson $10 twice a month to mow Gaboury's lawn.  Later Dugan's son noticed Gaboury's pipes had frozen, spilling water out the door.  The utility company was called to shut off the water.

   What no one guessed was that while they'd been trying to help, Gaboury had been inside her home.  When police finally investigated the house as a health hazard, they were shocked to find her body.  The Washington Post (10/27/93) reported that police now believe Gaboury died of natural causes four years ago.

   The respectable, external appearance of Gaboury's house had hidden the reality of what was on the inside.  Something similar can happen to people: We may appear outwardly proper while spiritually dead.  All sorts of religious activity may be happening outside, while the real problem is missed: spiritual death on the inside.  We need life, not a tidy facade. -- Vialo Weis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 3.


B.   Warning Sounded!    Matt. 23:27b, 28b;   1 Sam. 15:7-29

1.   So the point was to warn others of the hidden dangers beneath!

a.   The more dressed up the stones, the more intense the warning!

b.   The "whitewash" was thus a warning of sorts to the living that death lies beneath ... and so to stay clear of this unclean situation!


a.   The greater effort one goes to "look" holy to others, the LESS holy that person probably is!  The more someone tries to impress you with their holiness, the less likely they are to truly be holy!

b.   A truly holy person doesn't try to show everyone how wonderfully holy they are ... they just are wonderful and usually their "holy" life JUST comes out in humble and hidden ways!

3.   When someone goes to great lengths to sound and act spiritual they probably are not as spiritual as they sound or act!  This is Jesus' point.

a.   In fact, it would serve as a warning to us that they aren't spiritual if in fact they do go to great lengths to draw attention to themselves.  This is like the elaborate decorations on the tombs warning of death below!  The more “decorations” the greater the warning – and the clearer the warning!


ILLUS:    In his book Modern Times, Paul Johnson notes that Stalin was short -- just five feet, four inches tall.  Furthermore, a childhood accident had left his left arm stiff and his hand slightly misshapen.  So when the dictator commissioned his portrait, he instructed the artist to paint him from his best angle -- from below, a perspective that made Stalin seem to tower over the artist.

   To add to the image, Stalin folded his hands over his stomach, making them appear firm and powerful more like the pseudonym he had chosen: Stalin means "man of steel."  It is human nature to put ourselves in the best possible light.  But spiritual growth cannot come merely by adjusting the angle of view.  God's Word is a mirror that shows our true condition. -- Lew Button Bedford, Pennsylvania.  Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 4.


b.   Jesus' call for us to be spiritual is to do something if possible in "secret" ... then our heavenly Father will reward us.

c.   If it can't be done in secret then the plan is to draw as much attention to Christ and not to us!

4.   If the tombstones were decorated as well as whitewashed they could be spotted by anyone even at a great distance!

a.   The same is true when someone draws excessive attention to himself.

b.   They can be spotted, even a great distance away!

5.   There is much more to being spiritual than just what is on the outside or the observable surface!


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.


a.   It was here the Pharisees had lost true religion!

b.   They had gotten hung up on how they appeared to others.

c.   The result was that much of their energy was spent on:

(1.   Bigger borders on robes, and/or larger robes

(2.   Long prayers on the street-corners

(3.   Pieces of scripture worn on their heads or arms

(4.   Titles of respect

(5.   Best seats in the house

(6.   Special class, power positions

d.   They depended on these things to define their sense of spirituality!  Jesus longed for acts of compassion, justice, forgiveness, benevolence, to show true spirituality however, the very things they were missing in practice.

6.   Spirituality is about obeying God’s Word, not just wearing it … King Saul was good at appearing to make a sacrifice to worship God … but he had disobeyed God’s word given through the prophet Samuel … and no worship or sacrifice could make up for this.  1 Sam. 15:7-29

a.   King Saul tells Samuel that the sheep will be used for sacrifices to God.

b.   But the truth was that he failed to obey God by killing everything as God had asked … God required obedience, not sacrifice … hence the statement:  “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Sam 15:22b

c.   How many will do this today?


II.  SPIRITUAL HEARTS   1 Sam. 16:1-13, 18


A.   Worldly Specs!   1 Sam. 16:1-13

1.   The time came for a new king to be anointed over Israel … Saul had appeared to act spiritual many times, but in truth he had often been disobedient to God!

a.   Thus God had rejected him as king at this point.  Tragically, God was through with him even though he was still seated on the throne.

b.   It was time for a spiritual replacement!

c.   Who would be chosen?

2.   The great prophet Samuel was in charge to find God's replacement.

3.   The obvious answer seemed to be one of the sons of Jesse, God had clearly indicated this to Samuel. (READ 16:3-6)

a.   Ironically, Samuel could still be fooled by looking for the spiritual in outward appearances yet!

b.   The perfect spiritual son to Samuel seemed to be Jesse’ oldest son ELIAB! 1 Sam 16:6 Why?

c.   Eliab was strong, tall, handsome, a leader, as the firstborn son – responsible, certainly courageous – we find him and the next two older brothers in the Israeli army in 1 Sam 17:13  “Jesse's three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah.”

d.   What a great king any of these 3 oldest boys would make!

4.   BUT God told Samuel he wasn't the one, nor were any of the other 7 sons of Jesse that showed up that day!!!  1 Sam 16:10

a.   God was looking at the heart!

b.   Samuel was looking at-the hide!


a.   How often do we do this?

b.   God would rather have someone whose heart was right and didn't yet have all the skills than to have someone who had the skills but didn't have the right heart!  God can teach someone skills that have the right heart!

c.   Skills however without heart are only mechanical skills!

6.   The world judges success records and experience in considering someone for a position ... God judges the heart when considering giving someone a position ... a wrong heart will produce a failure by God's standards, even if they have success by worldly standards!

7.   How true this is in church ministries ... you can have someone who is capable with the mechanics of ministry and yet their heart may not be right with God or with others – they may accomplish a lot outwardly and even appear successful to others but be considered a failure by God’s standards!


ILLUS:    TO: Jesus, Son of Joseph

Woodcrafters Carpenter Shop

Nazareth 25922

FROM: Jordan Management


Jerusalem 26544

Dear Sir:

   Thank you for submitting the “r‚sum‚s” of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization.  All of them have taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

   The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service and for your guidance, we make some general comments, much as an auditor will include some general statements.  This is given as a result of staff consultation and comes without any additional fee.

   It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.  They do not have team concept. We recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

   Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.  Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.  The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.  Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.  We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.  James, the son of Alpheaus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

   One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places.  He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible.  We recommend Judas Iscariot as your comptroller and right-hand man.  All the other profiles are self-explanatory.

   We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely Yours,

Jordan Management Committee


8.   By the same token, you can have someone whose heart is right, and yet they haven't yet learned all the mechanical skills, they may not “succeed” greatly by worldly standards but in God’s eyes be a huge success!

a.   This is why leadership is judged by the fruit of the Spirit as the top qualification, and not judged by the skills one has or the gifts they possess.

b.   The greatest qualifications are those of the spirit and the heart!


B.   Wonderful Spirit!    1 Sam. 16:18

1.   Samuel then had a dilemma ... who is to be king if these 7 great specimens of manliness are not the ones!?

a.   Jesus' disciples faced this same kind of thinking when Jesus told them the rich had a difficult time entering the kingdom of heaven, their reply showed the same kind of thinking, "If these successful guys can't make it who can?"

b.   They were using the same kind understanding of "success!"

2.   There was a son however of Jesse who was the right kind of man for God!  1 Sam 16:18

a.   The 8th and youngest son, DAVID ... he would be the new king!

b.   His outward qualities were similar to his older brothers, just somewhat underdeveloped because of age!

(1.   Brave

(2.   Handsome

(3.   Warrior – He showed up to fight Goliath when his soldier brothers in the army failed to volunteer and fight Goliath!

c.   His heart was right before God!

d.   His heart condition was the quality that God was looking for!

3.   In fact, David's became known as "THE MAN AFTER GOD'S OWN HEART!"

a.   David made mistakes ... some very serious!

b.   Yet he also knew how to get his heart back into right relationship to God!

c.   This is the quality God looks for in the leaders of His church!

4.   Don't underestimate the man or woman with a "wonderful spirit!"

a.   They will be the back-bone of the church and its ministries!

b.   God hasn't changed as to what He looks for in a man or woman!

5.   Those that therefore must “prove” how spiritual they are by various outward shows are probably like “whitewashed tombstones” ... inside they are “full of death!”


ILLUS:     When Sir Charles Cockerel built a home in Gloucestershire, England, he patterned it after the Orient.  He put an onion-shaped dome on top of it and imitation Brahman cows in the garden.  But it was still England and not India.  Many imitate some of the attributes of Christians without ever actually becoming Christians themselves. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


6.   The man or woman of God who is truly spiritual doesn't walk around trying to sell themselves as spiritual or advertise their spiritual prowess ... they are just solid, faithful, God honoring people, usually behind the scenes faithfully serving and with the right heart!

a.   They are faith builders, servants, humble.

b.   They are more interested in seeing people saved than what style of music is being used in the worship service, or what color the church carpet is, etc.

c.   They are the ones who are quick to encourage, and slow to anger or judge.

7.   Be on guard for those who “advertise” their great spirituality … the greater the “whitewash” and the more “decorations” they have … the greater the warning you have received that “death” lies beneath!  Don’t pollute yourself by stepping near them!


CONCLUSION:   The Pharisees went to great lengths to whitewash tombstones so they were clearly visible ... this warned of a dead body buried beneath which to a strict Jew warned to be on guard to not walk over it lest they become "unclean!"  So the whitewash was to warn of "uncleanness" inside!  The point: the more we try to prove how spiritual we are with an external emphasis, the more likely our inside is unclean!  Real spirituality begins in the heart ... "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."  (1 Sam. 16:7b)