The Religious Show! Matthew 6:1
““1) Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew‬ ‭6:1‬
Jesus now exposes a significant weakness in Judaism and the temple worship system. It was by design very public. From presenting sacrifices at the altar, to the giving of alms and even citing long prayers, most of it was done in public. People were always watching.
Soon it digressed into a spectator sport. The motivation invariably became impressing people rather than connecting with God. Whether consciously or subconsciously, “the show” was always on display on the temple mound.
A great example of this is found in 1 Samual 15 when Samuel the prophet confronted Saul about his sin and rebellion. In verses 24-30, half hearted confession from Saul was absent of any repentance or contrition. He was more concerned that Samuel join his parade as he put on the show to impress the people. “The King Saul Worship Show” was so important, he physically threatened Samuel to force his attendance at his side.
It is easy to fall into this trap! Whatever the culture of spiritually becomes in our religious or church circle, we quickly give into the pressure. It is easy to dress and conduct ourselves for “the show” rather than seeking to meet with God.
I have been privileged to travel extensively and minister in many churches. It amazes me how every church develops its own culture of spirituality. The longing to “fit in” can quickly displace our call to meet with God.
The opposite can also be true. My culture of spirituality might not fit some forms of worship. For example, raising of hands and dancing in the Spirit would quickly turn you into a spectacle in liturgical worship services. This kind of display would violate the spirit of what Jesus was teaching in this context. We should avoid bringing attention to ourselves.
So how can you enter into intimacy with God during public ceremonies without joining “the show”? Let me share a few insights I have learned over the years.
First, learn to value different forms of worship without passing judgement on them. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 teaches there are varieties of gifts, ministries and effects. Maybe I have been ruined, but I can now enter into the spirit of worship through many different forms and with a broad spectrum of worship music.
Second, learn to meet privately with Jesus during public services. Be an active participant in worship and not a spectator. Focus your attention on Jesus without drawing undo attention to yourself. Anna the prophetess mentioned in Luke 2:36-38 had this nailed in her personal life. She went about her calling without becoming a spectator or a spectacle. She was very real in her walk with God.
Third, set aside daily time to seek God privately. As a young believer, the public events were often my mountain top experiences. This is true of many Christians. In fact, for many people the only times they meet with God is in church or at large events. The longer they are away from the public event the more they drift or dry up.
Then one day I had an illumination. I discovered in the Bible that the true transformational mountain top experiences came from people meeting in solitude with God.
This was true of Moses on the mountain and in the tent of meetings? It was true of Daniel in his house chamber. Jesus often withdrew alone to the mountain to pray and worship His Father. Paul was caught up to the third heaven while in solitude with God. He wrote many of his epistles while in prison. John was given the book of Revelation while a captive on the Island of Patmos. (Revelation 1:9)
The significant value of meeting in solitude with God is the utter absence of “the show!” It has zero to do with impressing others and everything to do with meeting with God.
But be careful, this was not true of Jonah going down to Joppa and taking a cruise. His time alone was because he was running from God and not seeking God. Many people spend time in the outdoors connecting with the god of nature because they are running from the God of Creation. Don’t forsake the call to public assembly with God’s people. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
Finally, ask God to set you free from the “Show Trap.” Be yourself. Grow beyond your inhibitions. Allow yourself to be stretched by attending events with a different Christian worship culture. Go on a cross-cultural missions trip. Form friendships with believers from different church backgrounds. Ask God to help you love the full bride of Christ made up of born-again believers from various backgrounds.
Here is a radical thought, as you travel or go on vacation, drop in on churches from different ethnic and social backgrounds. Over time drop in on a white collar, blue collar, redneck, cowboy, county, inner city, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Messianic Jewish and even an incarcerated church in a prison. Ask Jesus to help you love and value His people from different worship cultures.
Keep in mind, I am talking about different born-again Christian churches and not different world religions or liberal churches. When Jesus Christ is not center stage and the Word of God is disregarded, it is no longer worship. Churches can become apostate and teaching can become false and misleading. Avoid these churches, but welcome and value brothers and sisters “in Christ” from a different worship style or culture.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global