(Throwback to June 2018 devotion I wrote for my church. Updated a bit for this post.)
Let’s perform a personal reflection exercise. I’m going to post a text, and you’re going to see how many points pertain to you and you alone. Keep this focused on you and nobody else because it’s more of a challenge when its reflective rather than projected.
It’s Matthew 23. In this chapter, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish spiritual leaders, but since we’re all called to a priesthood of believers, this also pertains to us.
“They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”Verse 4
Do I have a double standard on Christian behavior and expectations? Perhaps I have standards based in family or cultural traditions rather than the Bible. Perhaps my standards are really a reflection of my own struggles and personal demons that I’ve buried in my heart rather than laying at the cross.
“Everything they do is done for people to see.”Verse 5
Do I merely act the part for approval by my peers or acceptance in God’s eyes? Do I do good in hopes of recognition or reward rather than doing good because that is what Christ would have me do because it’s right?
“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”Verse 13
Do my words and actions, as well-intentioned as they may be, really just drive people away from God? Am I causing more harm than good? Before anything passes through my lips, it must first pass through the Philippians 4:8 filter: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
“You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”Verse 15
Do I stretch far and wide in an attempt to convert people to my personal philosophy of religion rather than to bring them to the religion of the heart of Christ? Am I more concerned about people whom, with any luck, I may never have to see again rather than the people within my own church family who may be seeking, struggling, hurting, or perhaps even already totally absent? Do my aforementioned absurd expectations convert people to my own dark heart rather than the heart of Christ?
“You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”Verse 18
Is my idea of, for example, Sabbath keeping, taking precedence over He who made the Sabbath? Is the appearance, order, and style of worship service at my church more important to me than the actual act of worship itself?
“You give a tenth of your spices…But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”Verse 23
Does my obedience and adherence to Biblical truths and doctrine eclipse my submission to Christ and mercy and humility toward others?
“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”Verse 24
Am I more concerned about the small and insignificant details of my religion that I am oblivious to the enormous character flaws within myself?
And now to the part that really stings:
“Woe to you…You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”Verse 27
Let’s all be honest with ourselves and with each other. There’s no way around it: truthfully, yes, these often apply. And not only that, you probably thought of some names you think this especially applies to. Me too. Guilty as charged. But my reading applies to me alone. Your reading applies to you alone. We are all guilty of all of the above.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end, and this situation in my heart doesn’t leave me hopeless.
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”Lamentations 3:21-23
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Peter 3:9
I know if I repent today, and again when I mess up tomorrow, and again next week, and again next month…my God is faithfully patient with me and is always changing me into HIS likeness.
I love Him all the more for that!