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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

Joe McKeever

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.

a finger pointing at a row of graphics of people at different heights

But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ (Matthew 3:7)

It’s so easy to become a modern Pharisee.

A quick online search of the term ‘Pharisaism’ reveals this definition: the quality of being self-righteous or hypocritical. And the example sentence given, using the word, is: to place a heavier expectation on others than on ourselves is Pharisaism.

Good intentions can go awry.

We start out with good intentions, desiring only to encourage people to serve God faithfully. We end up setting in stone our requirements and holding people responsible for disobeying God when they violate them.

That has happened in our denomination. When Southern Baptists decided to update their “creedal statement,” a document we call The Baptist Faith and Message, it was said loud and clear that these were not to be tools by which we were to judge the doctrinal faithfulness of our people. 

That soon went by the wayside.

These days, if professors and pastors do not subscribe to that document, they are not considered for that open position or vacant pulpit. The sons and daughters of the Pharisees are alive and well and active inside your congregation, too, friend.

Our Lord did not say one thing about regular church attendance.

The rest of the New Testament said one thing only: Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together in the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25). True, it implies it, with all the reminders about loving one another, encouraging one another, rebuking and praying and such.  But I’m just making a point.

Listening to us—preachers and other gatekeepers of the Kingdom—you’d think church attendance was 90% of the duties of believers. And in my denomination, Sunday morning is not enough. If you’re not there morning and night and at least once for mid-week service, you’re probably backslidden.

In truth, it should not have been necessary for Scripture to say anything commanding us to get together for worship, study, service.  It’s our natural inclination. Like commanding us to breathe or eat and sleep.

Consider, for example, a young man in love. His parents do not have to admonish him about the importance of visiting Sarah at least twice weekly. And to take along some flowers. And sweet-talk her.

He automatically knows to do this. If anything, you have to restrain him.

Expectation or desire?

Acts 2 says the three thousand who believed in Jesus on the day of Pentecost began to gather with the apostles for a time of study in their doctrine, prayer, breaking of bread, and fellowship.

Not once a week, but daily (Acts 2:46)!

It wasn’t commanded; they just wanted it. It was, in a way, a sign or evidence they were sincere about being saved.

So, what are we to make of this? We do something not commanded but expected? Then, eventually we make rules that try to enforce it? Is that what happened? I’m pretty sure that’s how the Pharisees got to be the “hypocrites” and “brood of vipers” we meet in the New Testament.

Pharisees detour from their good intentions toward judgment.

Originally, we’re told, the Pharisees were a layman’s movement designed to call the nation back to righteousness. They urged people to respect the Sabbath, to bring their sacrifices, to tithe. To pray.

Gradually, they changed. They began to codify what it means to be faithful. After that, all bets were off and legalistic hypocrisy was the order of the day.

At what point did some of our leaders—I’m Southern Baptist and it shows here!—decide that Hebrews 10:25 means we should meet on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and possibly at additional times? 

And where did the Lord tell us to make critical judgments about each other based on who skips some of those meetings?

And yet, it’s done all the time.

In the days when every church had Sunday evening services, I would hear pastors say, “I have a couple of deacons who don’t come to church on Sunday nights.” And why does this matter? They would add,  “I don’t think they should be deacons if they are not going to support all the meetings of the church.”

The original Pharisees rightly diagnosed that the nation was sliding into worldliness, and wanted a revival of godliness. They were, in a sense, the Promise-Keepers of their day. A good thing.

What were they asking the people to do? Those early Pharisees justifiably wanted regular prayer, Sabbath observance, and alms-giving. They wanted people coming to the Temple for special days. They wanted people to tithe. They wanted signs of righteousness. Anything wrong with that for Israel at that time? Not a thing.

However.

In time, what started as a call to genuine revival degenerated into a legalistic system. Give so much money, walk no further than a mile on the Sabbath, observe all the Mosaic rules. And woe to those refusing to obey these rules.

And if your heart is not in it, it doesn’t matter. Just do the act.

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees,” said the Lord Jesus. “Hypocrites!” They had become play-actors, appearing holy and righteous outwardly but a cesspool of filth inwardly. But appearances were all that mattered.

Sound like any church you know? 

The lay leadership is there on time, gives money, takes the lead in every way, but off-campus they are rascals, fornicators, pornographers, criminals even.

My single encouragement here is that you and I watch for the Pharisaic tendencies in ourselves, and drive a stake through those things the moment they appear.

Bring every thought and act under the Lordship of Christ.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages-LeoWolfert

palm full of coins with dirt and tree growing from center

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse.  And no sickly animals, please. (Malachi 3:10 and Malachi 1:13)

If you love the Lord Jesus Christ, your checkbook should reflect it.

There are people of His who need your help. You show love to Him by giving to them.  Do it “unto the least of these my brethren,” said Jesus, and “you do it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

The Old Testament says when we give to the poor, we “lend to the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17).

That’s serious.

Some people read the story of the widow giving her two small coins all wrong (Mark 12:42). Some see it as Jesus okaying giving the Lord next to nothing while the fact is He is applauding the woman for giving her all to God.

Some people leave more for the waitress than they put in the offering plate. The poor widow gave serious money to the Lord that day.

This is about giving God serious money.

1. Tithing is between you and the Lord.

Personally, I don’t care whether what you give is a tithe or not. That’s between you and the Lord.

However, you will hear many of us­—particularly we Southern Baptists of a certain vintage—speak of tithing our incomes to the Lord. Let certain ones read that and they go ballistic. They’re just dead sure we are preaching the Law and encouraging legalism. The truth is far from that.

I have known lots of tithers in my nearly 60 years of ministry, but I cannot recall ever meeting a person who treated their tithe as a legalistic bargain or sat down with a microscope to figure the exact and precise amount. It’s just a nice starting place, and nothing more.

As ten thousand tithers have said over the years, “If a person under the Law could give 10 percent, how can I under grace give any less?” Most givers I know far exceed that.

2. Ask the Lord for guidance on how much to give.

You should most definitely ask the Lord what to give. And as with anything else that we ask of Him, we should be a) willing to wait for His answer, and b) be obedient and do what He says.

Scary, isn’t it? To ask the Lord how much you should give? Unless you have made Him Lord of all you own; you will become possessive of what you mistakenly think is yours, and will be frightened of what He might ask you to give.

3. He is Lord of all your possessions. 

Which includes your money, car, houses, contents of your closet, fridge, pantry, storage shed, and safe deposit box! Not just the spiritual things. It’s all His. “The cattle on a thousand hills” are His (Psalm 50:10).  

When we give to Him, “we give Thee but Thine own” (1 Chronicles 29:14).

So, it’s not like you are giving God something He needs.  “If I were hungry,” He said, “I would not ask you!” (Psalm 50:10).

It’s more that we need to give than that He needs our gift.

4. Your treasures are in Heaven.

When we give to Him, we “lay up treasure in Heaven” (Matthew 6:20).  That’s serious.

5. God holds his people accountable.

God held the Israelites accountable for “neglecting the House of God” (Nehemiah 13:11). They were to “bring all the tithes” into God’s storehouse for one huge reason: “that there might be provision in My house” (Malachi 3:10). That was serious stuff.

6. God is seeking you, not money or things.

God is not seeking what we own, but us.  As Paul phrased it in Philippians 4:17, “I do not seek yours but you.”

7. The more you let go of, the more you gain.

The more we give to the Lord’s work, the more our heart is in it. That’s the message of Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The carnal mind will rebel at this, and insist that we’re making spirituality a matter of money. Not so. Quite the opposite. 

As Jesus said in Luke 16:11, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

8. God measures what it means, not the amount. 

I used to wonder how Heaven counts the contributions we bring to church. Does God read what we write on our check? I’ve heard people say God measures your gift by how much you have left over after giving it? I think that’s close, but not right.

Heaven measures our offering by how much it means to us.  If it means nothing to us, it means nothing to God.  If (like the widow of Mark 12) our offering was small but meant everything to us, it means everything to Him.

9. Serious giving honors God.

God is honored when our giving demonstrates faith.  That’s what the Macedonian church was exemplifying by their giving.  Paul said:

…in a great ordeal of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saint, and this not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:2-5)

Wow. That was serious money you gave, Macedonians!

10. God loves generosity.

God loves it when His people give generously, willingly, and joyfully.  Look a what David said in 1 Chronicles 29:

With all my ability, I have provided for the house of my God the gold…the silver…the bronze...Then the rulers of the fathers’ households and the princes of the tribes of Israel, and the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with the overseers over the king’s work, offered willingly...And whoever possessed precious stones gave them to the treasury...Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly. 

You may expect the enemy of the Lord (and all that involves His kingdom) to raise objections. You will hear such complaints as:

All they want down at the church is your money.  A lie out of hell.
If you don’t give enough money, they don’t want you at that church.  Ditto.
If I have unpaid bills, it would be sinful to give money to the church. A sin?
God expects us to pay our bills first, then give to Him out of what is left. Which scripture?

God loves a cheerful giver.

Give it a try and be blessed.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/coffeekai

man's hand holding disposable coffee cup, girl's hand holding credit card

Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God...They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy.  (Hebrews 11:16, Hebrews 37-38)

It’s commonplace these days for the older generation (let’s say those of retirement age and beyond) to point something out: This generation of young people mistakenly think things have always been this way. Always this affluent. Ever this easy. Always this prosperous.

Some say this generation has no way of knowing (or appreciating), other than being told or reading about it in histories, how recent are the wonders of smart phones, laptops, rear-view cameras, airbags, and GPS. 

We not only got along without them for most of my lifetime, we didn’t even give it a thought.

We thought we were doing very well without today’s conveniences.

I was born in 1940. I was a teen in the 1950s, the “Happy Days” generation, when a decent new car could be purchased for $2,000. When a relative once drove his new Lincoln Continental to a family get-together,  we were stunned to see it had air-conditioning: Two plastic tubes coming up over the back seats blowing cold air into the interior.  The car, someone said, cost $5,000. More than a year’s salary.

This is not going to be a “back in my day” retrospective, but give me a moment here, please.

There were no “super” markets when I was growing up. To buy groceries, you entered and handed your list to a clerk who walked around with a bag filling it. I recall the day Birmingham got its first “super” market.  With electronic doors, even: “You don’t even have to touch the door! It sees you coming and opens automatically.” Bacon was three pounds for a dollar. Bread three loaves for the same buck.

When Eastwood Mall was opened in east Birmingham, we thought the millennium had arrived.

At my grandmother’s place, we played the old Victrola with its ancient records. You wound it up with the handle on the side. In 1949 my parents bought a combination radio-record player. It played 78 rpm records, the breakable kind. These were followed by small 45 rpm records and the long-playing 33-1/3s.

We were uptown. Tape players/recorders were reel-to-reel, followed by 8-track, followed by cassettes, followed by, well...everything else.

You and I live in the most affluent generation of Earth-dwellers ever. 

The grocery near your house offers foods not available to kings and pharaohs a hundred years ago.  And the medicines and the level of medical care! We no longer give a thought to diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, or polio.  We are the healthiest (albeit, the heaviest) generation also.

And we all take it for granted, with an attitude of entitlement. As though, a) it’s always been this way; and, b) somehow, we deserve it—like we did something to make it so.

Which brings me to this:

We take the Bible for granted, too.

The Bible in your home is the most worked-for, paid-for, precious possession you will ever own in this lifetime. 

And yet, you and I—in all likelihood—take it for granted, rarely read it, and assume that because you own half a dozen or more, everyone in the world has access to the Bible and that it has ever been so.

Not even close.

Perhaps the greatest sin of this generation is the way we take for granted the Holy Scriptures: the ease with which we purchase them, the various translations and paraphrases available, and our neglect of the content.

The story of how we got this Bible is spine-tingling. It is one of the great dramas of Planet Earth. Untold numbers of people paid with their lives so that you could a) own a Bible; b) in your own language; and, c) without any authority telling you what you had to believe.

The culprit in most cases was either an oppressive government, an oppressive church, or both.

Many sacrificed immeasurably for us to have Bibles.

Here are just three powerful examples:

John Wycliffe (1328-1384) translated the entire New Testament into English, against the will of the religious authorities. To put his life in context, when he was 20 years old, the Black Plague ravaged Europe, with one-quarter of the population dying.

Wycliffe did little of the actual Bible translating, we’re told, but was the force behind it. He died of natural causes in 1384, but the next year, his body was exhumed and burned along with his writings. 

In the two decades following his death, many of his followers were burned at the stake, some with their Bibles tied around their necks.  The ultimate insult.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) was a scholar, a devoted Christ-follower, and a courageous preacher who did several translations/revisions of the New Testament into English. When a priest taunted, “Better we go without God’s laws than the Pope’s,” Tyndale responded, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope!”

Tyndale was still a young man when he was choked to death, then burned at the stake.  His crime? Translating the Bible into the language of the people. His dying words were: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

The French Huguenots in the 1500s were followers of Jesus who wanted to read His words for themselves. They were literate in an age when only the clergy and nobility could read.  The church was threatened by their numbers and the ignorant Catholics were inflamed by their local priests. 

On St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24, 1572) 100,000 Huguenots were slain by their French countrymen. Ten thousand in Paris alone were killed. It was said that all the rivers ran red with their blood and the fish were inedible for weeks.

People have paid an enormous price to give you the privilege of owning a Bible of your own in a language you can read.

Are you seizing the opportunity?

Leonard Ravenhill wrote a book titled Sodom Had no Bible.

But you do. What excuse will you offer the Savior at the Judgment?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Angelina-Zinovieva

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