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Pastors and Pharisees

November 15, 2017
Benjamin Spalink

Matthew 5:5-6 reads,

“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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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.*

Pharisees (the "hypocrites") were the religious professionals of the day. Pastors are religious professionals, too. This word applies to us, perhaps most of all.

Most of us pastors are basically paid to be religious.  Much of our religion is done in the public eye. The danger here is that we begin to equate the quality of our performance with true spirituality. Although I certainly hope that our public ministry does come from a place of genuine love for God, we have to keep in mind that anything that we do publicly is tainted. As human beings, we are desperate for approval, for admiration, for respect, for congratulations. It is virtually impossible for us to completely divorce that need from our motives so that what we do and say in front of people (the parishioners) has no regard for our deep need of their approval.

It is what it is, as they say here. But, it doesn't mean we give up trying to do public ministry from a place of authenticity. Rather, we need to make sure that, combined with public ministry, there is also a rich place in our life for private ministry, for us to commune with God out of the public eye, to seek him in the quiet place, or what Matthew calls "in the quiet."

Public displays of religion are by their nature performative. We are always, in a sense, performing, because we know the public eye is on us. What they see is not really You (which explains why people love us so much. They don't really know us). Regardless, the public you needs to stay on point and get the job done. Le'ts be professional, here. In this regard, some training is certainly helpful.

But, true reward does not come from the public eye. True reward is not recognition, love, respect, congratulations, and the approval of people. True reward is not crowds and a big church. It's not your name being held in high esteem. True reward is the approval, the blessing and the favor of God which is quite irrespective of what anybody thinks. According to Jesus, you don't get this reward through your public performance, but through your private one-on-one time with the Father away from the distractions and observations and feedback of hungry parishioners.

If you really want to know the genuineness of your motivations, the true inner quality of your spirituality, then ask yourself, Am I seeking God "in the quiet?" If you do, and you do it consistently, I believe not only will your public religion be grounded in genuine engagement with God, but eventually, your private and public self will be the same. Your reward will be this - true character.  Character is consistency between who you are and who You are, the death of your old self which was corrupted by what Paul calls, "deceitful desires." Nothing is more deceitful than the need for human approval and admiration.

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