Churchianity vs. Christianity (Part 2)

45 Then, with the crowds listening, He turned to His disciples and said, 46 “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 47 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.” 

While Jesus was in the Temple, He watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2 Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.

3 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

Luke 20:45-47 & Luke 21:1-4 — NLT ~

Image Credit: maninthemaze.com
Image Credit:
maninthemaze.com

The other day, we started looking at this scripture passage, and we saw Jesus’ warning for His disciples to be careful of the teachers of religious law (scribes and Pharisees). Then He went on to list some of the things they were guilty of doing, such as parading around in flowing robes to gain attention and respect. 

45 Then, with the crowds listening, He turned to His disciples and said, 46 “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.”

Luke 20:45-46 — NLT ~

It’s funny. I never noticed this before, until my daughter-in-law and I were discussing this scripture passage… The very things that Jesus condemned in this passage are practiced in nearly every church here in the United States. I can’t speak for foreign churches, as I haven’t visited any foreign churches other than some in Haiti, when I was there on a mission trip, but from what I’ve seen in movies, I’d venture to say that they too, are operated in the same way.

Image Credit: Mike Dubose
Image Credit:
Mike Dubose

How many ministers dress in elaborate flowing robes when they preach, rather than dressing as everyone else in the congregation? And think about this, how many pastors, evangelists and televangelists sit up in the front of their sanctuaries, in special, throne-like chairs, rather than in the same pews the rest of the congregation sits on? Did you notice that this was one of the things that Jesus condemned the teachers of religious law for, stating, “And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.”

Image Credit: St. Landry Catholic Church
Image Credit:
St. Landry Catholic Church

I can’t help but notice that the “messengers, pastors, prophets and evangelists,” who bring the word are given seats of honor in nearly every church that I’ve ever been in, how about you? And not only that, again, in nearly every church that I’ve been a part of, whenever there is a banquet or dinner, the pastor and his/her entourage are given seats at the head table. I’ve also noticed that all too often, while the other guests at the banquet must get up and fix their own plates, someone usually prepares the plates and serves them to the pastor, and his/her guests before everyone else is allowed to serve themselves. Don’t you find it ironic that the very actions Jesus found the religious leaders of His day guilty of, are the same ones practiced today, by Christian leaders, who claim to represent Him?

But that isn’t the only sin that has carried over into today’s church. Let’s examine the rest of this passage…

Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.” 

While Jesus was in the Temple, He watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

~ Luke 20:47 & Luke 21:1-4 — NLT ~

Image Credit: Kathy Howard
Image Credit:
Kathy Howard

Now, I know that most of you have heard this passage of scripture preached many times, as this poor widow is extolled for the great sacrifice she made for the Lord. The truth is, that’s how I’ve always heard it preached too, and I believed that the Lord was commanding us to give our all, like this poor widow. How about you? But then, my daughter-in-law shared some information with me that changed how I viewed this passage, and the sad thing is, that I could have understood this myself, if I had read this portion of scripture in its original context, as I teach others to do.

Image Credit: growingtogether.cc
Image Credit:
growingtogether.cc

Just to refresh your memory, the other day, I told you that the book of Luke was originally written as a letter or a report to a man named Theophilus, and when Luke wrote the letter, it did not have any chapters or verses. Therefore, there wasn’t the separation that we now see between Luke 20 and Luke 21. So, armed with this knowledge, let’s examine this passage as it was originally written, without stopping between chapters and verses.

After cautioning His disciples to beware of the religious leaders, who sought special treatment, and dressed to be noticed, Jesus then pointed out another, even more heinous sin that they were guilty of. For these religious leaders shamelessly cheated poor widows out of their property, while pretending to be pious by praying long prayers in public. The Lord has a special love for widows and orphans, and He hates to see them cheated…

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

~ James 1:27 — NLT ~

Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows. And all the people will reply, “Amen.”

~ Deuteronomy 27:19 — NLT ~

Image Credit: Bless India!
Image Credit:
Bless India!

You can see the love God has for widows and orphans, and yet Jesus makes it clear that the religious leaders of that day took advantage of them, often forcing them to lose their property. So, how did they force them to lose their property? With their long and flowery prayers, the scribes tricked those who were poor and needy into giving all they had to the Temple treasury, leaving them destitute.

Sadly, this practice continues in the church today, as pastors, prophets, evangelists and televangelists, continue to trick the poor and needy into giving their all to the ministry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say that if you want your prayers answered, you must first “sow a seed.” Or else they make the claim that if you don’t give sacrificially to their ministry, you are robbing God. I’ve heard them say that how much or how little you give to their ministry is a reflection of your relationship with God. I’ve heard some encourage their congregations to borrow money or pay their tithes and offerings with a credit card, and it makes me sick! I’ve even heard some say that you will “lose your blessing” or even be cursed if you don’t give sacrificially to their ministry, and I ask you, how are these religious leaders any different than the religious leaders, whose very same practices Jesus condemned?

Image Credit: Bless India!
Image Credit:
Bless India!

As for the poor widow who gave her all in her offering of the temple tax, do you really think Jesus was commending her actions, so that others would do the same? Or is it possible that as He was cautioning His disciples to beware of the religious leaders, He looked across the way, and saw this real life example of one of the widows, who was being robbed of her property, and pointed her out to them? How many poor and needy people do you know, who faithfully send money they can’t afford to the ministries of famous televangelists, who spend the money on their own lavish lifestyles, while they themselves, don’t even have enough to make ends meet? 

How many people have taken money from the mouths of their own family, in the hopes that they can earn God’s favor by giving sacrificially? And how many have given their children’s inheritance to the church, because they were afraid of angering God? How many have lived and died with nothing, because the church duped them into doing as this widow did, while its coffers are full and running over? Do you really think this pleases God?

And do you really think we can earn His favor if we just give enough money to the church? Do you really believe that you, His beloved child will lose His favor and perhaps even be cursed if you don’t obey the commands of religious leaders to give to their ministries?

Beloved, don’t you know that just as we can’t earn salvation, neither can we earn God’s favor. If you are a child of God, you have His favor simply because you are His child, and He loves you. Look at these words that Jesus spoke…

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

~ Matthew 7:7-11 — NKJV ~

Am I saying that God does not want us to give? Of course not! What I am saying is that you must stop listening to men and ask God what He wants you to give, and to whom He wants you to give. And when you give, give cheerfully, because God has shown you what to give and to whom. Do not give because you are being pressured to do so by religious leaders. Instead, wait on the Lord and let Him direct your giving. And do not give because you want to earn God’s favor, or because you are afraid of losing His favor, because you can’t earn His favor with money or anything else. If you are a disciple of Christ, you have His favor simply because you are His child.

© 2014
Cheryl A. Showers

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