Yesterday I wrote about how Jesus actually made disciples.
Yet Jesus gives us some insights into how NOT to make disciples!
Here is what he says in Matthew 6:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Here we see Jesus attacking doing things for appearances sake, and sadly although 2000 years have elapsed from when Jesus said these things sadly they feel as relevant and fresh to our generation of Christians to those to whom Christ was speaking too.
Sadly there is still pomposity, pretentiousness and pride creeping in and distorting our worship, prayer, giving and discipleship.
I love the way Jesus instructs his disciples to go home, shut the door and pray quietly -and think there are vast armies of Saints faithfully praying unknown to any of us. A Vicar I once worked for used to talk about “Investing in our secret history with God” by which he meant the time we spend with God on our own that no one other than God knows about.
In a world so fed up of spin, exhibitionism and pretence there is something refreshingly real and authentic about Jesus words on giving and prayer that I believe both resonates and challenges us all. At the heart of this type of discipleship is “living for the audience of one” -where the opinions of others don’t matter only the opinion of God is sought.
Jesus’ discipleship is about our internal lives, -the reality of our hearts- this is not just about our external or superficial lives, his stark warning in Matthew 6 occurs later on in Matthew 23 (perhaps that Jesus made this point more than once shows how seriously he meant it?).
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! 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. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Yet Jesus said many other things about discipleship and how not to do it, here is some of the things Jesus said in Matthew 23:
14 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! 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. 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! 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.
This is not just an attack on gracelessness and jugdementalism, although neither have a place within the life of the Church.
Here Jesus tells the Pharisees they are fake, although they are “holier than thou” with their legalism, and their ruthless expectation of perfection from people, they don’t actually ‘practice what they preach” and don’t end up creating disciples but because their discipleship has become so distorted they are creating monsters.
Listen to the strength of language that Jesus uses “shut the door of the Kingdom of heaven in peoples faces” and making converts “twice the child of hell as you!” ouch! Powerful words, it is not just saying that their efforts fall short, but are so counter productive they are demonic driving people away from God.
what of us?
Can we be legalistic too?
Do we expect a standard of behaviour from other people that we ourselves can’t keep?
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. 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. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
There are times when I have recently thought a lot about quitting as a Church of England Vicar and mainly it is summed up in these verses about “straining gnats and swallowing camels!” -why are so many people in our Churches get so stressed about tea bags, bits of paper or furniture and yet wont come to a prayer meeting, or invite a friend to Alpha or do some act of compassion or justice? why to do so many Church meetings major on the minors and ignore the important things. I had to write a letter as part of a course I was doing to an aspiring young leader and the best bit of advice I could think of was “keep the most important thing the most important thing” as I worry that too long in some places could turn me into a gnat straining camel swallower, perhaps maybe I do swallow the odd camel and maybe strain a few gnats already? Maybe Christ is calling all of us to review our priorities?
As I was thinking about this blog I re-read Dirty Glory by Pete Greig, who wrote of a stripper called Anders who became a Christian in Ibiza and ended up at a Church that demanded he cut his hair and covered his tattoos. Realising that our idea of hat Godliness looks like might actually have very little to do with what God thinks it looks like to live our lives his way.
The call to discipleship is messy, it involves being in the gutter, and living and loving in the grey and confused knowing that within the brokenness of life God’s glory can still shine through greater and more beautifully. I think the messier the Church gets with people with messed up lives as part the family, the more it looks like what Jesus had in mind, and the more it is a club for the suited and sorted the less and less it looks like the plan of Christ for his world.
This was powerfully illustrated in Pete Greig’s book “Dirty Glory” when he talks of a woman who was an illegal immigrant that had been trafficked and enslaved to prostitution by her traffickers becoming a Christian but unable to escape her trade leading worship on a Sunday within the 247 Church in Ibiza. The gospel of the Kingdom calls us away from the safe and respectable and where it is real and messy, but also beautiful and real.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
And I’ll close with these words of Jesus, here we see the discipleship that Jesus is offering coming not from a sense of duty, power or any other wrong motive, but from the right and the purist of places that of love, love not just for those who do what we want them too, but love for the difficult and the disobedient.
Discipleship Jesus way is costly because ultimately it is following in his footsteps giving the ultimate in sacrificial love and compassion.