By Pastor Glenn Pease
After World War II there were five army dumps in France full of machinery. It was too good to throw away, and yet not good enough to hall back to the United States. It was a major problem. The Quakers saw an opportunity for service, and so they offered the United States Army 200,000 francs for the machinery, and then they made an agreement with the French government. They offered to sell to the French people the desperately needed equipment of spades, saws, axes, trucks, and motorcycles at a fraction of the cost if the government would provide free transportation on the French railroads, and give them 200 German prisoners to help.
Everyone went along with the idea, and everybody benefited. The United States solved a problem and got some money. The French got needed equipment. The German families of the prisoners who helped the Quakers receive money, and the Quakers used the money they got to build a hospital in France to go on doing good and meeting needs for generations to come.
With the motivation of love man can turn problems into blessings and bring order out of chaos, and harmony out of discord. By cooperation men can make plans where everyone comes out a winner. The key word is order. God is a God of order, and the whole universe is a precision made work of order. Out of darkness and chaos God brought forth light and order, and order is the sign of life and intelligence. Disorder and discord are signs of sin and death. There is no such thing as a wrong note in itself. All notes are good and a part of the harmony of music. A note is wrong only when it is out of place, and not in the order of the laws of harmony.
ABC is right, but BAC is wrong, even though there is no difference in the content. The same three letters are there, but in the second series they are in the wrong order. AB and C are always right. They are always legitimate letters, for there are no wrong letters, but there is a wrong order of letters. A word that is misspelled does not have any wrong letters, but just letters that don't belong. They do not fit, for they are out of order, and it is this lack of order that makes the word wrong. The difference between a messy room and a neat room may not be in its contents at all, but rather in the order of those same contents.
1-2-3 is the proper order of counting, and so 2-1-3 is out of order. Math, spelling, music, and all of life are based on rules of order. Business meetings in churches usually go according to Roberts Rule of Order because it is God's will that the church do everything decently and in order. Order is a key factor in all of life. Dirt is just matter out of place. In the garden, and in your pots for plants it is good, for that is its place. But on your floor or face it is out of order. What I am driving at in all of these illustrations is the paradox of how the same thing can be good or bad depending upon its place, or proper order. Sin is often something good, but it is out of order, and that makes it bad. Sex is not wrong until you get it out of order. Anything good can become bad just by being out of order. My telephone number begins with 754, but if you dial 745 you have used the right numbers in the wrong order, and the result will be you will not get my phone to ring. How can the right numbers lead to the wrong number? It is because they are the right numbers out of order.
The point is that a lot of good things in life become wrong, and their value is not only lost but ruined and turned to a negative by being out of order. Jesus here in Matt. 6 deals with three good things the Pharisees ruined and turned into negatives by getting them out of order, and they are giving, prayer, and fasting. How can you go wrong with all of this good stuff? The same way you go wrong with good letters like ABC, and good numbers like 1-2-3, you get them out of order. There is nothing wrong with giving, prayer, and fasting, but they are good things that can be used in such a way that they throw God's entire value system for man out of order.
Jesus makes it clear in 6:33 that man's first order of duty is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all else will fall into place. If you start wrong here it is like getting your first button in the wrong hole. All the rest will also be out of order so that nothing fits right. Believe it or not, everything religious can be out of order if it takes priority over your relationship to God. Relationship must come first, and then religious activity can be good, but if you reverse that order, then religious activity can be bad. The best things in the world can be bad when they are out of order.
Listen to what Jesus says in Matt. 7:22-23. "Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles. Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers." This doesn't make sense until it is seen in the light of our theme on order. How can all these things be evil. They sound like powerful good things. To prophesy, cast out demons, and do miracles sounds like spiritual power we would all love to have. This is not commonplace religion, but spectacular religion, and yet Jesus says it is evil. Why? Because they had religion, power, glory, crowds, reputation, and who knows what all, but it was all out of order because they had no relationship to Christ. He said that He never knew them. Their religious life and activities were not for the kingdom of God, but for self glory.
T.S. Elliot said, "The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason." That is what hypocrisy is all about, the doing of the right thing for the wrong reason. Hypocrisy reverses the order of God's plan. It does not seek first the kingdom of God, and then have all things added. Instead, it seeks first all things being added to them, and then, hopefully, the kingdom of God will be thrown in as a bonus. Jesus says this whole scheme of things is out of order, and it makes all the good values of the religious life bad things, and enemies of the kingdom of God. Religious practices can be the greatest enemies of the kingdom of God. The paradox is that in their proper place and order the same religious practices are a vital part of the kingdom of God. So what we have is the same things being both bad and good. Our giving, prayer, and fasting good things? The answer is yes and no, says Jesus, for it all depends on the motive.
We only see that something is done, but God sees why it is done, and the why makes all the difference in the world. We may see a man give 5 dollars to a blind man, and we are impressed by this good deed. What we do not see is the why, or the motive for his giving. It could be:
1. He wanted to be seen by you and others watching so that you think he is very generous.
2. He may have stolen the blind man's cane the day before, and is now easing his conscious by giving him some of the money he got from selling it.
3. He may be repaying the blind man for a loan he received from him 6 months earlier, and with not a penny of interest.
4. He may have been asked to help the blind man get to his mother's house to visit, but he was too busy, and so he just gave him cab fare to go alone.
5. He may feel grateful to God for his own sight, and he is moved with compassion to share some of his blessings with this man to encourage him.
The act is the same in any case to the observer, but whether it is good, or merely selfish, or even evil, cannot be seen. It is the motive that determines the value of the act. It is because we cannot see the motive that Jesus tells us not to judge, for we have no idea whether the motive is good or evil. J. P. Morgan was too cynical when he said, "A man always has two reasons for doing anything-a good reason and the real reason." There is enough truth to this to make us realize that it is important to examine our own motives. That is the essence of what Jesus is calling us to in this chapter. The only way you are going to keep life's values in a proper order is to keep on evaluating your motives to make sure the primary motive behind all your religious activities is that of pleasing God. This is to be the master motive that prevents the master sin of hypocrisy.
Motives come in three categories: The supreme, which is pleasing God; the social, which is pleasing others, and the selfish, which is pleasing self. These three correspond to the three relationships of the truly righteous and religious life, and they are God, others, and self. All of them are vital, and none can be left out or balance is lost. The Pharisees had all three, and yet Jesus was condemning them. Why? Because the arrangement of their motives was out of order. The proper order is supreme, social, and self. That is the 1-2-3 and the ABC of the true Christian life. The Pharisees changed it to 3-2-1 or 2-1-3. They mixed up the proper order of motives, and this turned all that is right into what was wrong.
They put self into the place of the supreme, and their primary motive in life was to get glory for themselves, and please themselves. Pleasing God became a secondary motive. They wanted reward for their religious devotion. Was this wrong? Not at all. It is part of the proper order of things. Jesus promises reward to those who obey Him. The motive of getting something in return for which you give is a perfectly legitimate motive. Those who pretend that we can be loyal and sacrificial in our devotion to God with no hope of return are being superficial. We are made by God to expect something to be in it for ourselves. The reward motive runs all through the Bible. So what is wrong with the Pharisees wanting reward for their giving, prayer, and fasting? Nothing, if the order had been right, for the order is everything.
They have taken this legitimate religious motive and pushed it up into first place where it does not belong, and by so doing they made what is good a bad thing. Their chief end was self-glory. As a secondary motive this can be okay, but as the primary motive it is folly, for it pushes the glory of God and pleasing Him into second or third place. This is a problem for the same reason spelling cat as tac is a problem. The order makes the same three letters wrong that are right in the proper order.
Why do you give? The proper order of motive is, to please God, to help others, and to feel good about yourself.
Why do you pray? The proper order is again, to please God, to intercede for others, and to get my own needs met.
Why do you fast? The proper order is, to please God, to influence others, and to increase my own self-esteem.
We could go on dealing with numerous things that must fall in this same order if they are to be truly good things. There is nothing wrong with self-centered acts and motives when they fall into the proper order. When the motives are in the right order you are being just what God wants you to be. The reason Jesus calls us away from public display to private devotion is because they only way to keep your motives in proper order is by a one on one relationship to God. If you let this private and personal relationship fade, and become a public type Christian, you risk getting your motives and priorities out of whack. When your actions are on public display you tend to shift toward the self-centered values and motives, and that is why you are more likely to keep the proper order and balance when you seek to please God in private.
This has already happened to many good and godly people, and so it is folly for us to think that it can never happen to us. Jesus would not use such a large portion of His most famous sermon dealing with this danger if it was not a threat to all believers in all times. The greatest argument for a devotional life, or a quiet time-a time alone with God-it is that it helps you keep your motives and priorities in order. Everything we do we do for a reason. It is possible to be a drifter, and, like a log on the river, just float along with the stream having no care or concern as to where we are going or why. This is not the choice most of us make most of the time. We want to go a certain direction, and toward a goal. The question is why? Why do we give, pray, and deny self? Why do we go to church, and read the Bible, and sing Christian songs, and go to Christian entertainment? Why do we do so many things that are a part of what we call Christian living? There may be many motives that are moving us.
1. We may have been raised to do these things, and we feel comfortable doing them.
2. We may feel uncomfortable, but we feel guilty if we don't, and so we do them to escape guilt feelings.
3. We may just feel that religion is the in thing, and we want to go with the flow to be part of our culture.
4. We may fear hell, and so we are compelled by our fears to conform in hopes of escaping judgment.
5. We may feel a deep desire for heaven, and so we are religious for the sake of eternal rewards.
6. We may feel family and social pressure, and so we do it for human approval.
7. We may, like the Pharisees, discover that there is power in this approval of people, and so be motivated by the desire for fame and popularity.
The motives for the religious life and behavior are many, and all of them may play some role in each of our lives at different times. Some of them are less noble than others, but none of them are bad or evil if they come under the control of the master motive, which is to please God. If this is the primary and supreme motive of your life, all other secondary motives will exert their influence in a proper order, and so become legitimate motives. But if you let one of these secondary motives take the place of the master motive, it becomes your worst enemy, just as it was for the Pharisees.
How do we avoid this? Jesus says you develop a partnership with God so that pleasing Him becomes the name of the game in your life. Your Christian life is a matter between you and God. Your giving is a matter you have agreed on with God, and pleasing Him is all that matters. Your prayer life a private matter with you and God, and not something you use to get attention. Fasting, or any other act of self-denial, is a matter between you and God, and not for getting a reputation among men.
Many of the mysteries of the Christian life are solved when we see them in the light of this issue of motive and order. Take the mystery of the Christian student who is a leader in his home church, and the pride of the youth group, who goes off to a Christian college and becomes a wild trouble maker or an indifferent Christian. What is going on? 99 times out of a 100 it is a matter of motives out of order. They were motivated to be Christian leaders in the home church because they got recognition and praise. They go off to college, and now they are just one of a crowd, and they no longer are any big deal. This is a real test of their relationship to God. If they have let their personal relationship to God slip, and have been living on the joys of human praise and approval, they will become depressed when these are longer experienced. Now there is no reward for being spiritual and, like a trained animal that is no longer rewarded, they cease to perform.
The Christian who has dependence upon human reward for his motivation will become discouraged when he does not get it, and may do all sorts of things for attention. Some Christians find that they get more attention by being a non-conformist. If becoming worldly and doing shocking things gain the glory and attention he needs, then he will go that route. He is then being very non-religious for the same reason he was formerly being very religious. It is to get the attention and the approval of men. The whole problem could have been prevented by never letting the wrong motive dominate his life. That is what happened to the Pharisees, and what happens all the time to good people who let their motives get of order.
The game of life is like the game of bowling. If the head pin is off the mark and out of order, nothing will go right. Everything depends upon that head pin. The head pin of the Christian life is pleasing God, and all else depends upon that being in the proper place. If that is your supreme motive, then when circumstances change you will not be tempted to change in a negative way. So what if you are not getting the attention and approval you had before? That is only a secondary motive, and since your primary motive is to please God and receive His reward, and that is still in place, you go on being just what God wants you to be because change in circumstances does not change your relationship to God. Your partnership is intact, and His approval is all you need.
It may not be all you want, and you may want human approval as well, and that is not wrong as long as it is secondary. If it is, it will not become a stumbling block to cause you to fall out of God's will and into the snare of Phariseeism. You will go on doing God's will to please Him, and hope that circumstances will change so that other desires will also be met, but the supreme motive will carry you through regardless of how many other motives must wait for fulfillment. A major part of being perfect is being a Christian who is motivated primarily by pleasing God. This is the key factor to prevent being out of order. The most pleasing thing anyone can do, of course, is to receive the gift of His Son as one's Savior.
This concept of order of motives helps us with the many paradoxes of life. The situation ethics problem, for example, where love is the supreme value. If you love, you can do most anything and it is right according to those who promote situation ethics. It is hard to escape the truth of what they say, for there are so many cases where it does fit, but it also leads to the justifying of so much that seems clearly to be wrong. Paul says that love is the supreme virtue, and that all else is nothing without it. How can we escape the abuse of this truth? We do it by recognizing that love can be abused, and so it is not just love, but love in the proper order, that is absolute.
Love for God is absolute, but love for others and self must be relative to that absolute. My love for my friend makes me want to lie or cheat to help him, but my love for God makes me refrain from lying and cheating, because I want to please Him most of all. Love for self is the cause for temptation to do many things not pleasing to God, but if self love is in the right order it will not go beyond my love for God and pleasing Him. My self love and other love half to be dominated, and be under the control of my love for God. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that love is the absolute. It is love for God that is the absolute, and there is no higher authority in anyone's mind than that of doing what they are convinced pleases God.
Self love is not an evil motive, but it is a vital part of the balance Christian life. You cannot obey the second great command to love your neighbor as yourself without it. This vital virtue, however, can become the road to the master sins of idolatry and hypocrisy. Self love must be under the control of love for God in order to be good and beautiful. If it is, then even hypocrisy is controlled so that it can be a value. If I am hypocritical in order to please God, then even this can be valid behavior. I say to the child who has just sung that they did wonderful, even though I feel it was far from being good. I do it, not just to please the child, but because I know it pleases God to encourage a child.
I know a seminary professor who was brought up to prejudice, and even after years of being a Christian he struggles with it. If he meets a person for whom he has prejudice, he will suppress that negative feeling, and he will treat the person in love as a Christian should. He is pretending at this point. He is hiding his deep inner feeling of prejudice, and is covering it over with Christian love. This acting is a performance of Christian love that is pleasing to God, for he has chosen to do what God wills, and not what his training urges him to do. He is fighting the old man in him, and he is saying, "Not my will but Thine be done." Pleasing God is his master motive, and the result is that his hypocrisy is transformed into a virtue, for he does it in obedience to God.
This is an example of sanctified hypocrisy, for he is acting Christian on the outside until the inner man catches up to feel Christian. He has his motives in the right order, and so even his hypocrisy is pleasing to God. He has not yet reached the ideal, but at this point he is perfect, for he is being just what God wants him to be in that context. If his self love was allowed to dominate, he would do as some Christians do. He would say, "I am not going to be a hypocrite. I'll be honest about how I feel. I do not like minorities. I will treat them as things and not as people, but I will be honest about it." This they think is a virtue, but in reality they are sinning against God and others, and the only one they please is their self. Such a Christian is out of order, and that is the sign that should be hung on them-out of order. People could then know that this is not the way a Christian is designed to function. He is not being submissive to his Creator and Redeemer. His self will is in the place of the master motive, and now what pleases him is all that matters.
It ought to be clear that we are dealing with a daily battle to keep our motives in order. Will Durant said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of order as well as liberty." We need to often get alone with God and practice His presence, and renew our cooperation in the partnership in order to keep pleasing Him. Everyday we need to ask God to help us keep our priorities in order. Every Christian needs to make a commitment to devote some time to being alone with God to have a sense of the need to keep the proper order in their life, so they can prevent being out of order.