Sunday, July 7, 2013



Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 6.1

If you were to ride the tube (London’s subway), you would hear and see the phrase “mind the gap.”  There’s a space between the platform and the train itself, and it would be very unpleasant if one were to get his foot stuck between the two, so they frequently repeat the caution.  This is one of many warnings and cautions in our world.  We are warned to wash our hands, beware of dogs, and my personal favorite: “Beware of hitchhiking ghosts.” 

There are many warnings in the bible, too.  The first one came from God to the third human being in the world’s history, Cain:
“If you do well, won’t your countenance be lifted up? And if you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  (Genesis 4:7)
Paul warned the Philippians to “Beware of the dogs” (Phil 3.2) and others.  And one that stands out to me is the warning and advice from 'grandmother wisdom' in Proverbs 1. (It would be a fun bible study to find all the warnings there - wouldn't it? There are lots of them, and many we ignore.)  

warnings are great 

I love warnings!  They have the ability to prevent problems.  It seems we often have to get out of trouble – we say or do the wrong things, and then there are consequences.  The wise person heeds warnings, and never experiences the consequences.  But sadly, we often fail to “mind the gap.”  People drive a car after one drink too many or operate their iThingies while driving, despite many warnings.  We feed the critters we’re not supposed to feed, we ride without helmets, we forget to put on eye protection, or … what’s yours? 

Warnings are great for another reason – warnings aren't rules.  Warnings allow us freedom.  You can put your foot in the gap and not go to jail.  Many people have operated a car while tipsy and texting and still made it home alive.  Freedom ... it's a wonderful thing, but sometimes it gets us in trouble if we don't exercise caution.  

heads-up, disciples! 

In this section of the SOM we’re given a warning.  It’s not a rule, it’s intended to prevent problems.  Jesus says “watch out” or “be careful” of doing your acts of righteousness to be seen by men.  Why?  Because Jesus knows the consequences, and he loves you and wants you to have a better life in this world ... and eternal glory in the next. 

Why please people?  Because we don’t want to be alone, or we want others to like us or admire us or pay us or give us power or romance or whatever.  People-pleasing is almost always the action of a person who thinks he or she “needs” something.  Consider your own issues, for each of us struggles with this temptation, but for many different reasons. 

Consider your motives, and be careful.  If you seek approval of humans for any reason, you are getting yourself into dangerous territory.  One of two things happen when we seek to please people: Either we fail and are tempted to be angry, sad, bitter or upset in some unloving way; or we succeed and please them.  Success in people-pleasing is habit forming!  Once you start, you will find it harder and harder to stop … and the eventual outcome is that you “automatically” do things for approval without thinking.  This is one of Satan’s greatest tools for using us. We are all slaves to our compulsions, and Jesus died to set us free!  Why continue to submit to this habit?  

Jesus understood the temptations his disciples would face.  He offered them advice in the form of a warning in this section.  His warnings are about praying, giving, fasting … can you do these things in a way that no one knows you’re doing it - so that you don’t get any “credit” for them? 

on the other hand...

Jesus said
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)
We are supposed to let others see our good works, but it’s God who is supposed to get all the glory and credit, not us.  Discuss with your group how one might do this. 

Paul wrote to Tim that he should:
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.  (1 Timothy 4:12)
Showing yourself as a good example to others is an important part of encouraging your brothers and sisters, but also it’s an excellent evangelism tool.  So again the challenge is how do we learn to do this?  You should discuss it with your group. 

Consider what you know about warnings.  Sometimes we ignore them because we forget.  Sometimes we don’t believe them.  Other times we think it’s worth the risk.  What other reasons are there for ignoring warnings? 

Here’s your final question/challenge: will you and your fellow disciples “mind the gap”?  Will you accept Jesus’ warning, and help each other obey and remember ... and keep obeying and remembering?  

Seek only the approval of God.  He loves you more than humans, anyway. 

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

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