And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (Luke 20:45-47).
What a sobering critique! I would be ashamed to be spoken of by You that way by my Lord. Religious people, listen up (…and I’m speaking to myself, too): fake “Christian” busybodies will receive the greater condemnation.
The scribes liked being admired and honored by others. They enjoyed a high position in society. Their long robes were a mark of that position. They were greeted in the marketplace and sat in the best seats in the synagogues.
What are some outward symbols of religious status today? Perhaps some of these:
- sitting in the front row at church
- sitting on the stage
- being on a soloist at church
- having people call you “Pastor” or “Dr.”
- having the title “elder” or “deacon”
- wearing WWJD pins (who does that anymore?)
Do you rush to grab seats in the front row? Maybe this isn’t wrong. Perhaps you just want to be up close because you think you can worship God better right at the front of the church. Perhaps it is to show enthusiastic participation in the “body life” of the church. Or is it because you want to be seen by others in the best seats in the church? Only God knows our own heart motivations.
When I sang on the worship team at a megachurch, I was easily recognized in the hallways and greeted by people I didn’t know. It always made me feel uncomfortable. I shied away from such honor. But that’s not the right approach either. It smacks of false humility. I should rather graciously love each person who greets me and endeavor to have a true heart-to-heart connection, with joy and warmth.
It’s not wrong to pray long prayers as long as its Spirit-led and sincere. The Lord taught us to pray and not give up, even if you have to ask again and again (Luke 18:1). We aren’t, however, supposed to drone on and on meaninglessly with canned mantras. But there isn’t anything wrong with praying for a long time. Jesus would pray all night long! He did encourage us however to pray in secret rather than in public to be seen by others. The problem with the scribes is that they made long prayers in public only so people would think they are holy. These kinds of prayers will offer no reward whatsoever.
If the long robes were outward symbols of “fake faith”, then the scribe’s long prayers were behaviors of false religion. Long prayers can represent anything we do in the name of God that really isn’t backed by true faith acting out in response to a command of God.
The scribes practiced their religion before others so they could be seen. Their long robes and long prayers made them “look” holy, but it was all a lie! So they had proverbial “long noses” like Pinnochio. Religion-for-show is not pure faith. Jesus elsewhere says that we’ll get no reward for that kind of religion. Pure religion rather is keeping yourself from evil and helping orphans and widows. In contrast the scribes devoured widows’ houses. What did that mean? Did they demand some exorbitant temple tax from poor widows who couldn’t afford it? Maybe that was the poor widow who gave her last two pennies. Perhaps they scribes over preached the religious importance of giving to the temple.
All this makes me want to be a “secret Christian”. Is there something undesirable about that term. “If you are a real believer, shouldn’t you stand up for your faith?” Yes, but most of the time I think we can keep our faith to ourselves. Jesus taught that we should give, pray and fast in secret (Matthew 6). The heavenly Father will see our spiritual acts of obedience done in secret for an audience of One. There are definitely times for public unashamed ministry where we preach or lead worship, exhort or rebuke. But we should do public ministry in response to God’s leading. We should speak what we hear God speaking; and do what we see Him doing … whether in public or in private.
Lord God, make me a true servant that serves You alone. Help me not to usurp Your rightful place as Lord and Master over my life. Let me steward this life for Your glory, not mine. Lord, may this blog bring glory to You, not to me. In Jesus’ name, amen.