The Essentials of Spiritual Growth - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Philippians 1:9-11

  • 2003-12-14 AM
  • Sermons


Well, Sheila and I have already begun to love this area and even the weather. You can tell our children were raised in Southern California because this morning on the way to church they were fascinated by that white stuff all over the ground, not something we saw very frequently in Southern California. But in my short time here in the Dallas Fort Worth area I have learned one very important lesson that I would pass along to anyone else who moves here and that is, buy a Mapsco. L.A. had its own version called The Thomas Guide and I had one in my car, but it wasn't as important to have a thorough map book there as it is here, because there the roads run primarily north, south, east, west and there are always mountains jutting up out of the landscape that give you a point of reference. Here I've noticed several interesting anomalies. For one, the roads don't always run any particular direction. Secondly, and this is confusing, the roads often have multiple names, 26 is Ira Woods, is Colleyville Highway, is Grapevine Highway.

But probably the most confusing thing is the fact that when you're trying to find out which of those names this particular road is, there is seldom a sign to be seen. It's a real challenge when you're trying to find your way. I remember, there was a time in my Christian life when I felt that same sense of frustration about my direction as a Christian. I was confused about what was important and occasionally felt a bit lost. But then in God's goodness He began to bring across my path passages, like Philippians 1:9-11, that provided the direction that I needed in my Christian life. In the few verses that we began to look at last week, Paul provides us really with directions to spiritual growth, with the signs to direct us to spiritual growth. In a sense it's our own kind of Mapsco to maturity.

In the middle of Paul's introduction to the Philippians he had told them that he prayed for them regularly, in verse 4. When we get to verses 9 through 11 he gives us a glimpse of the content of his prayers for them. Look at what he prayed for, you follow along as I read, Philippians 1:9.

And this is what I pray, [Paul says] that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

The heart of Paul's prayer for the Philippians was their spiritual growth. And as he details for them exactly what he prayed, he provides us with a sort of roadmap with the key principles to spiritual growth. If you want to grow in Christ then you should be praying for these things and you should be pursuing these things with all your heart.

We examined the first two of seven last week. In these three short verses Paul identifies seven essential principles of spiritual growth, seven essential principles of spiritual growth. Let me remind you of the two we looked at last time briefly. The first we found was to abound in love, abound in love. Paul writes, "I pray, that your love may abound still more and more." Paul wants the Philippians, first of all, to have this sort of super abundant supply of agape love, of a divine type of love.

And as we saw last time in great detail, he doesn't supply an object, but the objects are understood; it's to be a love, a growing love for God and a growing love for others. Those, as Christ outlined in Matthew, are the two greatest commands in all the Scripture and those two commands summarize everything else. If you love God with all of your heart, perfectly, all of your life and if you love your neighbor as yourself without ever bending to care for yourself first, then you have perfectly fulfilled the Law of God. Which none of us do, but that becomes the standard against which we are to measure our spiritual growth and development. It's a selfless sacrificial love that seeks to meet the needs of the cherished object without expecting anything in return. Paul wants them to grow in their love.

Secondly, we noted last time, not only should we abound in love, but secondly, we should grow in knowledge and discernment, grow in knowledge and discernment. Two qualities should grow out of our love and characterize it. Our love should be abounding in knowledge and in all discernment. By knowledge Paul means a sort of full, intimate knowledge. It's the kind of knowledge that comes from experience or from a personal relationship. Paul means knowledge in the fullest sense, knowing God and knowing all of God's truth, the whole content of Christian truth, through Christ in a personal way. That's the knowledge he's describing. That's why the translators have translated it "real knowledge."

But he adds, not only are we to grow in our knowledge, but we're to grow in our discernment, in "all discernment." You see, knowledge deals with general principles, discernment deals with practical application. Paul doesn't just want us to have knowledge, but he wants us to have the wisdom to live out that knowledge. So Paul was praying that their love might grow and as their love increased, it might deepen their true knowledge of God and affect their decisions and their practical conduct. That's what we've looked at so far.

And that brings us to Paul's third essential ingredient for spiritual growth, the third essential for spiritual growth. Abound in love, grow in knowledge and discernment, and thirdly, delight in essentials, delight in essentials. Notice verse 10, "so that you may approve the things that are excellent." It's important to see how Paul intends each of these to build on the previous. Notice he says, "so that you may approve the things that are excellent." If we abound in love and real knowledge and all discernment, the result will be, in order that, "you will approve the things that are excellent." The word approved simply means to test something or to accept something as having passed the test, as having been approved. For example, in Luke 14:19 it's used of testing oxen that you had recently purchased. It was also used of testing currency in the ancient world. You see, counterfeiting is not new, it's just become more difficult to spot.

This week I was reading a little bit about counterfeiting and it's interesting, it takes 65 complicated and distinct steps to print a U.S. dollar bill. But as computers and optical scanners have improved, so has the counterfeiters' product. And so now, the government is developing, the Secret Service, which is the branch of the Treasury Department that oversees the battle of counterfeiting, they have developed new and sophisticated tests to distinguish the true from the counterfeit.

In the Greek world, once you had established that that currency was in fact genuine and true, this word was used to describe it, it had been proved, it had been approved, stamped with the seal of genuine, if you will. In this context, here in Philippians, this word approved really has three elements, it's important to understand. The first element is to test or examine something. Secondly, to personally approve it, or to accept someone else's testing as having been proved, having proved this item. Or thirdly, to choose what has been approved. I shouldn't say or, I should say and. You test something, you accept it as proven, as approved, and then because it has value, because it has worth, because it's the genuine article, you choose it.

So if we're going to grow spiritually we need the ability to test, to approve, and to choose, what? "The things," Paul says, "that are excellent," "the things that are excellent." That same phrase occurs in Romans 2:18. There Paul says, "approve the things that are essential." What this phrase means, "the things that are excellent," that phrase refers to those things that really matter, things that excel, things that are essential. It means to have a sense of what is truly important. Paul's prayer is that the Philippians can discern and then practice in their Christian lives, those things that are really important. Lloyd Jones writes about this, "The difficulty in life, I sometimes think, is the art of knowing what to leave out, what to ignore. How prone we are to dissipate our energies and to waste our time by forgetting what is vital and giving ourselves to second and third rate issues." End quote.

So what are those things that are really important? What are those things that are the most essential? What are the things that are excellent? Well, Paul is really identifying those things in this very passage we're examining. He started by looking at the love of God and the love of others and then he says, you need to grow in your knowledge and in all discernment. These are essentials and we're going to see others as we go through this passage. But as you go through the flow of the book of Philippians, you begin to see other crucial concerns to the apostle. Let me show you a couple of them. Chapter 3 verse 8, let's start at verse 7, he says,

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,

"and to be found in Him," verse 9, "not having a righteousness of my own."

You know, one of the important, the essential things to Paul, was justification by faith alone. It was being in Christ by Christ's righteousness, knowing Christ, to pursuing Christ. You see chapter 3 verse 13,

Brethren, I don't regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [here's the one thing he does] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Do you know what he's saying? The most important thing to me is pursuing likeness to Jesus Christ, pursuing likeness to Christ. Look at chapter 4 verse 8, he gives us another one of those essential things. He says, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on," think on, meditate on, "these things."

So we're going to learn, as we go through the epistle, some of these essential things, some of these things that are excellent, that are most important. The bottom line is that approving what is excellent means learning what most pleases the Lord. Look at Ephesians 5, very interesting expression, Paul describes Christians in this way, "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." The English words "trying to learn" translate the same Greek word as "approve" in Philippians 1:10, testing and approving what matters to the Lord, what pleases the Lord. The bottom line is, the things that are excellent, they're the things the Lord has marked off as being most important for us to pursue, what's most important to God.

Where does this skill of approving those things that truly matter, that are truly important, where does this skill come from? Well, turn to Romans 12 because this same word occurs in the context of Romans 12, this word approve. Paul has finished this incredible epistle about the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he reaches the end of really the doctrinal section, although there is great doctrine following chapter 12 as well, but he reaches the climax of that and he begins to apply the truth, and here's what he says, verse 1 of chapter 12, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God," by all that God has done for you and in you that I've described in the first 11 chapters, "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable," or which is, "your spiritual service of worship." Verse 2, "And stop allowing this world to push you into its mold," that's what it literally says, "but be transformed," literally, be metamorphisized, that's the Greek word, "by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove," there's our word, "what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

You know how you gain this skill of identifying those things that are truly excellent? You stop allowing the world to push you into its way of thinking and you start allowing the Spirit, through the Word of God, to renew your mind and as your mind is renewed you begin to approve those things that are truly excellent, those things that matter to God.

Sadly, we often replace those things that are truly essential with poor substitutes for the real thing. These replacements are enemies of what is really essential. Let me give you a short list of what we commonly substitute for what's really important in life, what really matters to God. Here are some of the things we put in place of what's really important or what is excellent. First, I think often we put our own sinful choices in place of what's excellent, our own sinful choices. You know, Ezekiel 14 has an interesting reference, and we're not going to take the time to turn there, but Ezekiel identifies what he calls, in the people, "idols of the heart," "idols of the heart." Really, that's what sin is in its essence. When you and I choose our sin, we choose our sin over God. We've essentially made that an idol of the heart. And all too often, even as believers, we replace what's really important in life with our own sinful choices.

A second thing that we often substitute for what's really important are those things that are purely temporal and trivial. Turn for a moment to Genesis 25, Genesis 25. This is the passage that deals with Jacob and Esau and the transfer of the birth right from Esau to Jacob. The birth right in the ancient near East normally went to the oldest son and this was a very important part of the culture; the birth right included succeeding the father as the head of the clan, becoming the patriarch, if you will. Secondly, it included twice as much of the inheritance as any of the other descendants got, and thirdly, it included the parental blessing. It was very important to be the eldest son and to gain the birth right. But in verse 29 we see that Esau didn't prize it at all. Verse 29 says,

When Jacob had cooked stew, [this sort of red bean lentil stew] Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there,"

Literally it says, "let me have some of that red, that red stuff, for I am famished."

Jacob, not being one to miss an opportunity, verse 31, said, "'First sell me your birthright.'" We learn from ancient documents that it was possible to legally transfer the birthright to someone else. And Jacob says, listen, I'll give you some of this soup, but sell me your birthright. We don't know if he was at first joking, sarcastically, or if he really knew that his brother would surrender it for a simple bowl of soup.

But what happened was, in verse 32, Esau counted the privilege of being heir of the Abrahamic Covenant as unimportant. Notice what he says, "Esau said, 'Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?'" He wasn't about to die. The point was, he didn't care about the Abrahamic Covenant, he didn't care about the promises God had made, he didn't care about being the eldest son and gaining the right to be the patriarch and gaining the double portion of the inheritance and gaining the parental blessing. As Hebrews says, he was a "godless and immoral man," and it didn't matter to him. Verse 33, he sells the birthright to Jacob for a single meal. He traded in what was important for what was merely temporal and trivial, a bowl of bean soup. So many people do that in our culture. Oh it's not for a bowl of soup, but they trade in what's important for what doesn't really matter.

In the February 1998 edition of Reader's Digest there was a story about a couple who it says, quote "took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago, when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells," 51and 59. What an incredible waste. Don't waste your life by selling out what matters to pursue the temporal and the trivial.

There is a third substitute for what's important, not only sinful things, not only the temporal and the trivial, but thirdly, even acceptable things. Even something that's acceptable may not be the best for us if it distracts our attention from what's truly important. Do you remember in Hebrews 12, and we won't turn there for the point of time, but you remember that as we are urged to run the race, the apostle tells us, I'm giving you not apostle I should say, Apollos, I'm betraying my hand on who I believe wrote the book of Hebrews, but as he writes that letter he says this, we are to run the race and we are to run it by laying aside sin, first of all, and then he says, "every encumbrance," everything that's going to keep you from running the race. There is a lot of question about how to interpret that, about all that that means. But what it does mean is this, it means that there are things that in and of themselves may not be wrong for you but they keep you from running the race, they distract you from what's really important.

Is there anything in your life that may be acceptable but has begun to take more of your time, energy, and resources than it should? Perhaps it's work. Perhaps it's golf, sports, reading fiction, the Internet, television, video games; there's a long list of things. And I'm not a legalist as you have already found out and will find out. I'm not saying those things aren't acceptable for you to do as a Christian. But if they begin to distract you from what's really important in life, then you have substituted worthless things, even though they are acceptable, for what's really important. Don't let things that in themselves are acceptable become the substitute for what really matters in life.

I love J. Oswald Sanders' quote, he said, "After making a generous allowance of eight hours a day for sleep and rest, and few really need more than that, three hours a day for meals and social intercourse, 10 hours a day for work and travel in five days, there still remain no fewer than 35 hours unaccounted for in each week. What happens to them? How are the extra two days in the week invested? The whole of man's contribution to the kingdom of God might well turn upon how those crucial hours are employed. They determine whether his life will be commonplace or extraordinary." End quote. Don't get caught up in things that may be acceptable but that distract you from what's really important, from the things that are excellent.

There's a fourth substitute for what's important and that's legalism, legalism. I don't smoke and I don't chew and I don't run with girls that do. Turn to Colossians 2. You see this attitude displayed there. Colossians 2:20, Paul says, he's combating some false teachers who have begun to buy into that and present this kind of legalism, he says, "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world." What does he mean by that? Well, he defines it in verse 22, "the commandments and teachings of men." He says,

If you have died with Christ to those elementary principles, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, [or to rules,] such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!"

This was a form of asceticism. It was a form of legalism that was beginning to invade the church at Colossi. And he said, look, these "refer to things that are destined to perish with use," these are things that have to do with "the commandments and teachings of men." "They are matters which have, to be sure," verse 23, "the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value against fleshly indulgence."

Listen folks, you cannot control the flesh in the power of the flesh. Legalism is a road that will distract you from what's really important. Many Christians substitute their own brand of legalism in place of what matters to God. If you measure your spirituality, or that of others, by a set of rules and regulations that can't be found in a chapter and verse, then you have substituted legalism for what matters, you have succumbed to legalism, and legalism always blinds to the things that really matter. Let me say that again, legalism always blinds you to the things that are really important. Carl Henry wrote, "Arbitrary legalism is a poor substitute for an inner morality. Not only this, but such legalism emphasizes the less important issues of life and ignores or excuses the weightier matters of the law. Smoking can be a subject of legislation, pride cannot." End quote. Don't get distracted from what matters to God by going down the road of legalism.

There's a fifth trap, a fifth substitute if you will, for what really is excellent, what really matters, and that's spiritual busyness, spiritual busyness. One survey of pastors, one recent survey, asked, what are the most common obstacles to your spiritual growth? These are pastors now, keep in mind. The number one response, 83 percent of the pastors said it was busyness. Not worldly busyness, but the busyness of the ministry, was distracting them from their own spiritual growth. If it's true for the pastor, it's certainly true for the person in the pew. There are always dozens of ministry activities. Sadly, they are often merely sacred substitutes for the things that are important. The Apostles felt this tug in Acts 6 when they said, "we are going to devote ourselves to the Word of God and to prayer."

We can't do everything. We can't do even those things that are good and ought to be done. We see this problem, I think, most starkly presented in Luke 10, this problem of allowing busyness to substitute for what really matters. Luke 10:38,

Now as they were traveling along, Jesus entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her to help me." The Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you're worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

"One thing is necessary," what was it? What was Mary doing? Verse 39, she was worshipping "at the Lord's feet, listening to His word."

I had a seminary professor who beat into my head, day after day, this little saying, there is no effective service until there is acceptable worship. There is no effective service until there is acceptable worship. Spiritual busyness can distract you from what really is important in the Christian life. If you have substituted spiritual busyness for the worship and adoration of God, you have effectively, like Esau, sold your birthright for a bowl of bean soup.

Lloyd Jones writes, "What a tragedy it is that we should waste so much of our time with organizations and institutions and with all the things that belong to the periphery of the Christian life. I ask you again, is not this perhaps one of the central troubles of the church today? We are so busy with many things that we forget the one thing. We are all so much like Martha that we forget Mary and the one thing that is needful." End quote.

One final substitute that comes to my mind, one final substitute for this kind of commitment to the things that matter in the Christian life and experience, are less important scriptural issues, less important scriptural issues. You say, I thought all of Scripture was important. Well, it is, but I want to show you what our Lord says in Matthew 23, Matthew 23:23. He's condemning the scribes and Pharisees. This is that famous chapter where He denounces them for their false religion. He says this to them in verse 23, very interesting statement,

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel."

What is Christ saying to them? He's saying that every command in Scripture doesn't have the same weight. He said, you shouldn't neglect any command, but not all of them are as weighty is others.

There are some Christians who spend all of their time on less important issues. You see, usually what divide Christian brothers, what divide them, aren't the weightier matters of Scripture, but the lesser important ones. There are some Christians who spend their whole lives reading and debating some fine point of doctrine like the order of the divine decrees, but neglect their families. Others spend every moment of free time chasing down some obscure detail of eschatology, but fail to show genuine love to God and others. Others read every new book that comes along, but they neglect justice and mercy and loyalty.

If that describes you, then verse 24 says, you're straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. The image is that of the Pharisees, who in their fastidiousness to keep from breaking the law of God, would strain their drinking water lest they drink water that had a gnat in it and they eat an unclean animal. Christ says, look, you're straining out gnats and you're swallowing the largest of unclean animals, the camel; you missed the whole point. Don't neglect the one, don't neglect the command to tithe your herbs, but don't, in the process, lose sight of the weightier matters.

John Piper, in his excellent book that I would recommend to you if you haven't read it, particularly you young people, it's called Don't Waste Your Life, he writes this, "If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the end of the earth and roll on into eternity, you don't need to have a high I.Q., you don't need to have good looks or riches or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead, you have to know a few great majestic unchanging obvious simple glorious things and be set on fire by them." Folks, let's give ourselves to the things that are excellent, the things that matter, the things that are important to God, and not be distracted by everything else.

So if you want to progress in your likeness to Jesus Christ you must first abound in love. Secondly, you must grow in knowledge and discernment. Thirdly, you must delight in essentials. And the fourth essential for spiritual growth is, you must act in integrity, act in integrity. Notice verse 10, "in order to be sincere." Paul again stresses how these qualities build on each other. Notice he begins the verse, or begins the phrase, "in order to be." If you delight in the essentials or approve those things that really matter, then this is what's going to result.

Notice Paul uses three adjectives, sincere, blameless, and the beginning of the next verse, a participle in adjectival form, "having been filled." So, be sincere, blameless, and "having been filled." In other words, these three qualities result from a life that is abounding in love, that's growing in knowledge and discernment, and that's approving those things that are excellent. If those things describe you then these three things will result. The first is, to be sincere, to be sincere. This word is a very interesting Greek word and although we can't be certain, it seems that it comes from two Greek words, one meaning sun and the other meaning judge. So most lexicons take the basic meaning of this word to be to test or judge in the light of the sun.

You see, in ancient times one of the largest industries was the pottery industry. And just as today the quality of cars or the quality of dishes varies, so in ancient times the quality of pottery varied greatly. The cheapest pottery, the least expensive, was thick and crude, heavy. It required very little skill to make and it was found everywhere. Today if you're in any of the parts of the world where pottery existed, in the archaeological sites you find shards of pottery, that cheap thick heavy pottery, everywhere. But the finest pottery was thin and it had almost a clear translucent color. It was very expensive, but it was also very fragile, both before and after firing, and so it would often crack.

But the problem is that unscrupulous dealers, rather than throwing away that piece of cracked pottery, they instead would take a hard wax and they would blend it with the color of the pottery and they would fill the crack with that substance. After it was painted or glazed you could hardly tell that there had ever been a crack there. But you could see the crack if you looked at it in the light of a bright light, especially the sun. So Paul uses this word sincere, that's what he's referring to, something that's judged in light of the sun. The honest dealers of pottery in the ancient world actually stamp two Latin words on their pots, sin cera, without wax.

Paul says, that same kind of integrity is essential to your spiritual growth. You must be committed to being transparent, to being able to be judged in the light of the sun. You must ring true. You must be the real thing. You must be without wax. The New Testament says that we're to have a sincere faith, 1 Timothy 1:5; were to have a sincere love, 1 Peter 1:22; we're to have a sincere heart, Hebrews 10:22; and 2 Peter 3:1 says we're to have a sincere mind.

In the New Testament those who lack sincerity are called hypocrites. There are two classes of hypocrites in the New Testament, and this is fascinating to me, we're familiar with one, and that's the scribes and Pharisees. Unbelieving religious people are often hypocrites. That's why a lot of people say they won't come to church, because of these people they see in their lives who profess one thing and are completely something different, unbelieving people who pretend to be religious. But that's not the only class of hypocrite in the New Testament. Even believers, true believers, can be hypocrites. Peter is accused, in Galatians 2, of hypocrisy by the Apostle Paul. So we're all prone to hypocrisy, we're all prone to the opposite of sincerity, the opposite of being able to be judged in the light of the sun and being proved to be true.

Let me warn you by showing you some of the forms that this insidious spiritual cancer of hypocrisy takes. If you're going to be sincere, you need to recognize the fake, what's hypocritical. Let me just give you a few forms that hypocrisy takes. First, pretending to be what you're not, pretending to be what you're not. Turn to Matthew 23. Matthew 23:25,

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! [There's our word, the opposite of sincerity.] For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also."

Christ is saying, look, you clean the outside of the cup, but who wants to drink out of a cup that is still dirty on the inside? He uses another image, verse 27,

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which are on the outside are beautiful, but inside they're full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, [here's His application] you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

The opposite of sincerity is pretending to be what you aren't. It's cleaning the outside of the cup, it's painting the outside of the tomb, and knowing in your heart that you are not the image that you are presenting of yourself.

A second form that hypocrisy takes, not only pretending to be what you're not, but secondly, doing what you do to be seen. Still in chapter 23, notice verse 5, that "'they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and they lengthen the tassels of their garments.'" This is an amazing statement. Remember, the Lord knows all men's hearts, and listen to what he says about the Pharisees, "'they do all their deeds to be noticed by men.'" Those who were the spiritual leaders of Israel ignored God and acted like people were all that mattered. They replaced true spirituality with a public façade.

He cites two examples of it, "'they broaden their phylacteries.'" You see, as today, Jewish men at times of prayer and public worship would wear these small boxes with the Scripture on their foreheads. But the Pharisees wore them all the time and in addition they would broaden the straps to make it larger so that they could be more noticed; they could show everyone how much they love God's law.

Christ's second example of their purely public spirituality is, notice, "'they lengthen their tassels.'" Now, Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 22 had commanded tassels be attached to the bottom corners of the outer garment. Christ Himself followed this command; you can find that in Matthew 9:20. But these tassels were to remind people to follow God's commands. Everywhere they went, these tassels were with them, reminding them that they were to go only in the paths of God. The Pharisees, by making their tassels bigger, made sure that everyone knew that they took God's command seriously.

So both of these public exhibitions, the phylacteries and the tassels, were designed to show that this person was devoted to God. But the scribes and Pharisees weren't after God's approval, they longed for human recognition of, and praise for, their piety. Now Christ had warned His followers about this before. You remember in Matthew 6 He said, "'Beware of practicing your righteousness,'" what? "'Before men,'" to be seen by them, "'to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.'" It's a very interesting statement. Think about that for a moment. Two people do exactly the same thing, one gets a reward, one doesn't. What's the distinguishing characteristic? Who you hope is watching. If you hope God is watching, you get a reward, but if you hope others are watching, you get no reward.

Don't miss Christ's point, that He makes in Matthew 23, the spiritual responsibilities behind the scribes' and Pharisees' actions were right, in fact they were required by God, but they never did them with reference to God. All they cared about was what others thought of them. It was totally without a heart for God.

Let me ask you a question. Is your public persona different than what God knows you to be? Is what people think you are different from what God knows you to be? Is what you are in public different from your private character? Have you developed habits of doing what the Scripture require so other people notice? Listen, don't imagine for a moment that the scribes and Pharisees hadn't come up with some fine excuses in their mind as to why they needed to do these things. Well, I need to live up to my position. I need to be an example to my family. This is what's appropriate for someone in my life maturity to do. If you routinely do what you do to be seen by others, then you are not sincere. Instead, you are, by the Lord's definition, a hypocrite.

So if you want to be sincere, then don't pretend to be what you're not, don't do what you do to be seen by others, and thirdly, don't teach what you don't live, don't teach what you don't live. Matthew 23:3, "'therefore all that they tell you to do, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and don't do them.'" Do you want to be a hypocrite? Do you want to be the opposite of sincere? Then teach what you don't live. Teach your family, or teach others here in the church, what you don't practice yourself and you won't be sincere.

Fourthly, fail to speak up for what you believe. I alluded to this earlier, Galatians 2, Paul accuses Peter of hypocrisy, and notice what happens in this situation. Galatians 2:11,

But when Cephas [that is, Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw himself and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.

You see, it wasn't that Peter changed his mind about the gospel, it was that he wasn't willing to stand up for what he believed, he feared the people, he had the fear of man. Verse 13,

The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw they weren't straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

Listen, you want to be a hypocrite, you want to fail in sincerity, then fail to stand up for what you believe, keep your mouth shut when you should be speaking. Speak in love, but speak the truth in love.

Fifthly, perform external worship without a heart of obedience, Isaiah 1. This was God's complaint against the children of Israel in Isaiah's time, this is why judgement was coming. Notice verse 11. Let's start at verse 10, "Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; give ear to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah." Now he's not talking literally to Sodom and Gomorrah, this is sarcasm. You're acting like you live in Sodom and you're acting like you're living in Gomorrah.

"What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" says the Lord. "I've had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, for they have become a burden to Me; I'm weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen."

Now, all of those things were commanded by God, so why is God upset? Notice the last part of verse 15, "'because your hands are covered with blood.'" Verse 16, here's what I want you to do, forget the external worship, first

"Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."

You find this theme throughout the Old Testament and even in the New. God doesn't care about external worship if it's not married to a heart that longs to obey. You're here this morning to worship God and that's wonderful, but God would say, don't even bother coming if you're not bringing with it a heart, with yourself, a heart of obedience, a heart that longs to do those things that's important to Me.

A final way that we can be hypocritical is to allow man made rules to undermine the teaching of Scripture, to allow man made rules to undermine the teaching of Scripture. I could put it differently, to cling to man made rules more than you cling to the Scripture. Turn to Mark, Mark 1. I'm sorry, chapter 7, Mark 7. This is a fascinating passage to me and a rebuking one. Notice what Christ says, verse, well let's start at verse 1,

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, with unwashed hands.

"They ask Him," verse 5, "'Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but they eat their bread with impure hands?'" Listen to His response,

He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

'But this people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
And in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines [
watch this] the precepts of men.'

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

They're hypocrites because they act like they're following God, but their little man made rules were more important to them than God's Word. And He gives them an example in verse 9. And then He gets to the sort of the clincher, the point He wants to make, verse 13, "'you invalidate the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down,'" "'you invalidate the Word of God,'" you cling to your little man made rules and you undermine the Scripture in the process.

Now, before you get too smug and read that example Christ gave and say, well, you know, we don't do that thankfully. One of the most frightening phrases in all the Scripture occurs at the end of verse 13, I shudder every time I read it, "'and you do many things such as that.'" I find myself praying at times, "Lord, keep us, keep me from doing things that are my traditions that undermine the intention of Your Word, "'many other such things you do.'" If we cling to our rules more than the Scripture then we're not sincere, we're hypocritical. Folks, God wants us to be without wax. He wants us to be the genuine article, to be able to be held up in the light of the sun and to be shown to be the real thing, to be transparent.

Sir Christopher Wren is best known for building St. Paul's Cathedral in London. That magnificent building, if you've had an opportunity to be there as I have, is a tribute to the architect and builder. But Wren also built many other structures in the city of London, including, he designed the interior of Windsor town hall. His plans called for high columns to support a very high ceiling, but after he completed the work the city fathers took a tour and they decided that it needed more columns. And so Wren installed four new columns and those columns still remain to this day. You can tour and see it. But you can recognize those four columns because they stand out from all the rest; they're the ones that do nothing. In fact, they don't even touch the ceiling. They are fakes. They are installed merely for appearance. Some people live their whole lives erecting artificial pillars so their lives have just the right appearance. But all those activities are completely worthless; they accomplish nothing and in fact, God hates it.

Paul told the Philippians that if they really wanted to grow they needed to act in integrity, they needed to become sincere. You want to grow in spiritual maturity? Then commit yourself to abounding in love for God and love for others. Grow in your knowledge of God and His Word. Grow in your discernment, your practical application of truth to real life. Delight in what's essential. Don't give your time and energy to those things that are sinful or trivial, or to good things that distract. Don't become ensnared by the traps of legalism or spiritual busyness. Don't even focus all your energy on those things that are the less weighty matters of Scripture. Pursue the things that God says are important. Act in integrity. Don't pretend to be what you're not. Don't do what you do to be seen. Live what you teach others. Speak up for what you believe. Worship with your whole heart. And never allow man made rules, your rules, to become as important to you as what Scripture requires.

Do you see how foundational Paul's prayer is? This is the Mapsco to maturity. Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your word. We thank You for its clarity. We thank You for how it convicts and confronts our thoughts and attitudes. Lord, help us to be people of the book, help us to "approve those things that are excellent," and help us to be sincere. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.