Authentic to Be Accepted | Matthew 5:1-8 | AM service
Over the month of August, we are looking at a series called The End of Me, based on a book written by Kyle Idleman. My sermon this morning is based from his chapter. We are looking at Jesus's Sermon on the Mount and unpacking some of the counter-intuitive truths. Two weeks ago we looked at brokenness is the way to wholeness, and last week mourning is the path to blessing. Ultimately, we will discover how Jesus transforms us as we begin to live out these paradoxical principles. Only when we come to the end of yourself, at the end of our robe, can we begin to experience the full, blessed, and whole life Jesus offers.
Today we are looking at Authentic to Be Accepted. We struggle with authenticity because we fear rejection. We want the world to see us at our very best, because then people are more likely to accept and possibly even admire us.
Maybe we don’t need to try so hard or hide any of our blemishes. Maybe people will like us just the way we are. It’s even possible they’ll be more drawn to us if they know some of our failings and struggles. They could say, “I’m like that too. I have the same issues”.
But that’s a risk we won’t take. Fear is the enemy of transparency. We don’t like our flaws, and we don’t expect anybody else to. So we work hard at putting up the most impressive front we can.
Then we come back to that sermon Jesus preached on the mountainside. Jesus has been telling us that the kingdom of God is in favor of the ones at the bottom of the heap, the ones who are last instead of first; the poor in spirit, not the arrogant and powerful; the meek and gentle, not the pushy and overbearing.
In that Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually has a lot to say about the difference between the outside and the inside. He says what really matters to God is what’s inside, where we transact our real business.
He says people spend a lot of time working on their signage for the world to see, but God comes right in to see what our true policies are.
Jesus puts it this way: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8 NIV). Pure in heart. That’s something to think about, isn’t it? It means you’re living the blessed life when you stop worrying about the signs and the extravagant advertising and all the effort expended trying to convince people you’re something different than you are. When the inside and outside match up, you’re pure in heart and you’re where he wants you to be.
Getting to the end of me means I’m not worried about performing for others anymore. Getting to the end of me means I’m no longer interested in faking it, because I understand that God is looking for the real me.
Pure and Unmixed
What does it mean to have a pure heart? As soon as Jesus spoke this word pure, bells and buzzers sounded for those listening. If any one word captured what religion was all about in that culture, it was purity. To be pure was to be clean and not infected with the wrong things. But the Pharisees and other religious leaders defined it almost completely in terms of things other people could see. It had become a matter of keeping so many rules. You don’t eat certain foods, as everyone had known since the earliest days of Israel, when God gave Moses the laws. “Unclean” food made you unclean.
That was long established. But you also didn’t eat with “unclean” people, meaning Gentiles. That also made you unclean. But Jesus did that all the time.
The Pharisees took tremendous pains to show they were pure, and they also took tremendous pains to make sure others did the same. But Jesus was challenging their entire concept of what was pure and clean. At one point, in Matthew 23, he told them they were too worried about cleaning “the outside of the cup” (v25) while the inside was filthy. Then—and you know this one wasn’t too popular—he compared them, the leaders, to “whitewashed tombs,” which were sparkling and bright on the outside but filled with death and decay on the inside (v27).
Pretty harsh words, but they illustrated where Jesus thought it most important to be clean and pure. Painting and exteriors are nice, but it’s the interior that counts. A great part of the upside-down, inside-out message of Jesus is that God doesn’t look so much on the outside, which is so easy to fake. He looks more on the inside, where we are what we are.
So Jesus drops the well-known word pure into his sermon and then gives it a dramatic new spin. People need to stop worrying about their outward appearance and realize that God sees inside us. Purity of heart over purity of decoration.
As for the word purity itself, there are two words that capture what it means. First of all, it means unmixed: no bad ingredients thrown in.
I’m sure some of you have, when cooking from scratch, you have accidentally or through experimentally put something into the mix that wasn’t meant to be included. And the result is that it wasn’t very tasty at all!
Sometimes I wonder if my heart resembles my bad mixture of ingredients? It’s certainly not pure and unmixed. What about you? What ingredients have you poured into mixture of your heart?
The New Testament has a lot to say about the kinds of things we put inside us. For example, Paul tells us, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV). When you pour in the right ingredients and avoid the others, you find it’s a recipe that pleases God. Proverbs 11:20 says, “The LORD detests people with crooked hearts, but he delights in those with integrity” (Proverbs 11:20 NLT).
We also might use the word sincere to describe a pure heart. When Jesus speaks of a pure heart, he’s talking about one that is honest and has no little ugly places hidden within it.
In Matthew 5, Jesus begins his ministry by offering us a list of blessings, which we call the Beatitudes. But he ends his ministry by offering a list of “woes” in Matthew 23. This includes the references to cups and whitewashed tombs previously mentioned. At this point, the time for his arrest is drawing near and he knows he has only a few days left on earth. He is preaching in the temple, and he aims his message squarely at the Pharisees and their hypocrisy by saying, “Everything they do is done for people to see” (Matthew 23:5 NIV). Hypocrisy is the opposite of sincerity.
Jesus also quotes Isaiah, saying of the hypocrites, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NIV).
So understand this. Jesus begins his ministry by saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” He ends it by saying, “Woe to you, … you hypocrites!” The word woe, of course, is the opposite of blessed. It’s also an expression of grief. Jesus is telling us that the best things come from God to those who have pure hearts, unmixed and sincere; the worst things come to those who add the wrong things to the mixture.
In Psalm 7:8 David asks “Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High” (Psalms 7:8 NIV). Here, David is asking God to judge him according to his own righteousness and his integrity. If you were standing before God today, and you asked God to judge you according to your righteousness and your integrity, how would you go? Would God be proud of you, would you be proud of yourself, or would you be ashamed, do you think that you have a great deal of work left to build your integrity?
In Hebrew, the definition of Integrity means completeness, moral innocence, or perfection. The exact opposite of compromise. The term “integrity” has within it the idea of an integer. What is an integer? Within the realm of mathematics, it is one whole number. It is not one number and part of another number. It is not fractionalised. Rather, an integer suggests completeness or wholeness.
When we apply this concept to our lives, we understand that we are considered whole or complete people when our beliefs have been integrated in our behaviour. A person of integrity is consistent in one honest, simple direction. If a person of integrity begins a job, they finish it. If they make a promise, they keep it. If they commit a huge mistake, they admit it. If they believe something, they support that belief with their life style. In this sense, they are whole and complete without a fractionalised life.
Why Integrity Important
Here are a few reasons why integrity is important.
a. It defines to others who you are. When someone thinks of you, inevitably, they will think about whether or not you have integrity. People want to know if you’re for real.
b. It determines how you will react in certain situations. When you are faced with circumstances where you have choice to either do right or do wrong, your integrity, or lack of it, will determine what you do.
c. It demonstrates your spiritual condition. If you have no integrity, then you have a spiritual problem, because God wants us to be righteous, to have integrity.
d. If you lack it, it can damage your testimony. If someone knows that you have no integrity, they will certainly not listen to you when you share the Gospel with them.
e. It Pleases God. 1 Chronicles 29:17 says, “I know, my God, that You examine our hearts and rejoice when You find integrity there...” (1 Chronicles 29:17 NLT).
Earning Our Stars
Jesus says more about purity of heart and integrity in Matthew 6: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 NIV).
In the kingdom economy, a lot is determined by the audience you choose. If you’re most interested in what other people think, then their applause or attention is your reward. If they say you’re a tremendous human being, then that’s your reward. You’ve been paid in full, and you shouldn’t look for any further commendation from God.
But coming to the end of me, when you are at the end of your rope, means I am through with that fakeness and the emptiness of it. Instead, I seek only to please God—I receive my reward from Him instead of from people.
Jesus criticized the religious leaders because they were consumed by appearances. “Everything they do is done for people to see” (Matthew 23:5 NIV). Jesus had a lot to say about how the Pharisees made great public performances out of praying and fasting. They painted their faces, they doused themselves in ashes, and they made sure everyone saw their shows of righteousness. It seems to us that it must have been an odd sight to see the street performance art of the religious leaders. But I wonder if we do the same thing. I find Instagram and Facebook interesting. I like both social media platforms but I find it intriguing.
I once mentioned to Brony about a mutual person we know. She told me that she is struggling with life, particularly with her marriage. I said, “Really? All her Instagram pictures are about her having such a fun time, eating this food, drinking this drink, going to that beach…” and yet her life is crumbling? Among other things, there seems to be a lack of authenticity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing what my friends get up to but then there are those who post everyday how good their life is? Is it really? I guess we don’t see the pictures of us yelling at our kids to hurry up for school, or our reactions when the bills come and in and we’re thinking how are we going to make ends meet?
But our smartphones or computer screens seems to lend itself to performance over transparency.
You can buy a t-shirt on e-bay that says, “May your life someday be as awesome as you make it appear to be on Facebook.” How important is our appearance on social media to us? And what does that say about purity of heart?
Jesus calls us to live one life and live it out authentically and with integrity. His name for that is purity of heart, and his reward for that is a rich and fulfilling blessing in life.
In Matthew 6 Jesus gives another example of an impure, inauthentic heart. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6 NIV).
For many of the Jews, prayer had become a formal, lifeless ritual. As one example, they were to recite the Shema every morning before nine o’clock and every evening before nine o’clock. It didn’t matter where you found yourself at that time of day—at home, on the street, at work. You stopped and said your Shema. It had become an act we would refer to as “vain repetition”—reciting words out of ritual, without really thinking about them.
Jesus saw things differently. He said that when we talk to God, we simply need to be who we are—to be authentic and to talk to him as we would talk to someone we love.
For many of us who have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, we need to be careful when we pray in pubic, such as in our Life Groups. I don’t know about you but I find myself drifting into using very religious language, sometimes quoting many Biblical passage as if God never knew about them. Not only do such prayers turn off some others from praying in groups because they feel so inferior if they prayed, but God wants simple and authentic prayers. Prayers don’t need to be dressed up!
Clean Hands, Pure Heart
If you want to have a pure heart, do something about the impurities. Don’t have a mixed heart. Be sincere, with God and with other people, and he promises to purify and clean you.
In the Bible there is a special connection between clean hands and a pure heart. In Psalm 24:3–4 we read, “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4 NIV). And in James, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts” (James 4:8 NIV).
In the Old Testament, washing your hands wasn’t just something you did before dinner. It was a symbol of spiritual cleansing. When Solomon was building the temple to honor God, he had five washbasins placed on the south side of the temple and five on the north side. Before entering the temple, people would stop and wash their hands as a reminder that they were cleansing their spirits in preparation for worship. We want to come before God as ourselves, unmasked, with all impurities out of the way.
Today, I suggest something that’s a little unusual. When you go to a sink and wash your hands and as you see the water trickle through your fingers, cleansing away the simple impurities, ask God to cleanse your heart, to show you where you can be more authentic. You can do a good job washing the outside, but nobody but God can cleanse the interior.
The Bible’s promise to you is that as your heart becomes pure, you will receive the most incredible blessing: you will see God. The real you will know the real him. The relationship will not be based on performance and pretence but will be authentic. I can’t think of a greater blessing than seeing God. To authentically know him and to be authentically known by him is what my soul was made for.
He will see you—just as you are, without the pretence, without the performance—and you will see him. Can you imagine a better offer than that?