We finished our five-week teaching series, Lose Your Religion, last Sunday. Thank you for the great responses and for taking this teaching to heart. In every series, I pray that God’s words would transform all of us. Thanks for sharing how God’s Spirit is transforming you.
This could have been a ten-week series. I would have loved to have taken the time to unpack all the ways we make church or Christianity a religion. Or, how good parents, recovering addicts, graduates of Financial Peace University, or devotees of any political party can be religious in judging others who don’t follow the rules, while missing what really matters – love! We can make any system or belief into a religion, and when we do, love gets lost!
I wish I could have taught for several weeks on Matthew Chapter 23. In fact, last Sunday, I encouraged everyone to read and reflect on the chapter where Jesus had very harsh words for the religious people of his day. He exposed religion for what it is. Religion ends up being all the ways we try to hide our sin (also called hypocrisy), while at the same time, judging the sins of others. As you read Jesus’ words you’ll see those twin themes always found in religious people: judgement and hypocrisy. And, you’ll see him highlight what is always missing in religious people – love! Oh, religious people love their rules, their rituals, their beliefs, and their own religious kind, but they can’t love like Jesus.
Jesus exposes religion. In religion, we hide our sin by trying to look good (Mt. 23:5-12). In verses 27-28 he actually goes on to say that the religious, in their zeal, might look good on the outside, but a grave, no matter how good it looks, is still a grave and is spiritually dead! In religion we judge and exclude people we deem not worthy to be in God’s kingdom, and are totally blind to our own sin, especially the sin of being judgmental (Mt. 23:13-15). He talks about how we are blind to our own hypocrisy (Mt. 23:16-22).
Then, Jesus nails it in Mt. 23:23-24. He notes how the religious types will follow religious rules like tithing, but totally fail at love. I’ll let Jesus speak for himself: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Religious people judge the gnat in the eye of others while they miss the camel in their own eye.
And, if I could have extended the series, I would have had us look carefully at 1 Peter 4:8 – Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. What a great summary for the series! Love deeply! Don’t just tolerate others, but love deeply. Religion judges the sins of others. Love covers the sins of others! Love seeks the best for others. It welcomes and doesn’t exclude others. Love confronts with the truth, when that is what is needed. Love forgives, when that is what is needed. Love goes the extra mile, when that is what is needed. Love sometimes just listens, when that is what is needed. Peter writes that love, ABOVE ALL, is what brings hope to a world that is broken under the curse of our sin. Love alone reverses the curse. So, let’s lose our religion and above all, love deeply.