AUDIENCE OF ONE Rev. Bob Quick
Scripture: Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18
These verses that I’ve chosen to focus on this morning, are some verses that God has used in my life to remind me of some important truths for me and I think for all, Christ-followers, church members and workers, leaders and those involved in ministry. It’s a part of the spiritual journey I’ve been on in recent years.
They are a part of the most famous of all recorded sermons, the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon On The Mount. Jesus is the preacher. Let me set the sermon in its historical context. Jesus is 30 years old. He is just beginning his public ministry. He is the “mystery man” of the 1st century. People know him as the “carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He looks and talks like any other ordinary Jewish man. He’s a common man from a common family.
But then strange things start to happen. There is a baptism and a voice from heaven that says “This is my Son.”John the Baptist points at him in public and says the same thing, “This is God’s Son.”Jesus starts performing miracles and verifiable healings. These are not “back pains”, “stomach aches” and “migraines” that nobody can see. Lame people walk, blind people see, deaf people hear; lepers all of a sudden have fair skin. These are verifiable miracles.
Then this Jesus starts talking about a kingdom. “The kingdom of God is now.” he says. It is possible to live right now, on this earth, under the direct rule of God. It is possible to live under God’s blessing, approval and pleasure before you get to the afterlife.
Now you have to understand that the Jewish people of that day have automatically assumed that this is out of their league, out of their reach. The religious “elite”; The religious “superstars”; The Scribes and Pharisees with all their religious rules, regulations and expectations to follow and live up to, have put pleasing God and having a relationship with him, out of reach for the average person.
So when Jesus shows up on a hillside in the Galilean district of Capernaum, they show up in droves with blankets, picnic baskets, lawn chairs, Coleman coolers and 6 packs of Coke. You thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you. You are so Presbyterian. A good Methodist or Baptist would know it was coca-cola.
This first century crowd had 2 concerns. 1. What would the kingdom really be like? 2. Who would qualify to get in? More personally, will I be able to get in?
Bring that down to where you and I live the questions become: 1. What does it look like to be a Christ follower? 2. Is it real? 3. Is it livable? 4. Does it work? 5. What is a “Christian” lifestyle?
These are the questions your non-churched neighbors are asking about your faith and Christianity and the church. And so Jesus in these three chapters provides a kind of guide book for life in the kingdom. Begins with the famous “Be-attitudes” what sort of people we should be as Christians. Relationships with one another in the kingdom. anger, sexuality, marriage and family, divorce and remarriage, truth telling, loving enemies, how react when been done wrong.
And as we begin chapter 6, he moves from the horizontal relationships to the vertical. Our relationship with God through Christ..For those of you who don’t know me yet, let me tell you a bit about the kind of person I am and the kind of personality I have. I think I’m a people person. I like people. I like being around people. I like groups and gatherings and crowds of people. I’m not afraid to go to a meeting or gathering where I don’t know anybody. If I have some time to kill, I often gravitate toward people as opposed to going off by myself. I love the pastoral care/interaction side of ministry. And I think that is a positive quality. It’s hard to be a minister if you don’t like people.
But not only do I like people, I like people to like me and to notice me. Hang around me very much and this becomes obvious. I’m not one to just melt into the crowd. I don’t mind being the center of attention. I’ve been known to act up and say stuff so people will know I’m around. My daughter on occasion says “Dad please, please act your age rather than the size of your shoes.” I’m not one to sit in the background unnoticed. I like being up front – I love an audience. I like being the life of the party.
I remember reading about one of President Obama’s speeches to the joint session of congress. Somebody said he got 19 standing ovations. That sounds like heaven to me. I like an audience. I especially like applause. So please feel free at any point…And none of that is bad. Way I’m wired – my personality.
But here’s the downside. You know the weakness in that kind of personality, don’t you? My weakness – (one of my weaknesses) is to be a people pleaser…and have that as my primary motivation in what I do and say or decide. “What will people think?” “How will others see me?” And then to do and say and decide stuff based on …the need to be liked, please others, be approved of. “Will it get me attention, approval, acceptance or applause?
I had a denominational supervisor many years ago who bothered me and others immensely. Before he made any decision, he would hold up his finger (figuratively) to see which way the wind of public opinion was blowing then make a decision that would please the most amount of people. I suspect I was more like him then I cared to admit. But the need to be liked, to please others, to be approved of can be a dangerous thing.
Now approval, applause or acceptance by others is not wrong. It’s only wrong if it becomes the primary motivation for what you and I do and say and decide. That’s when it can become a dangerous thing. Public approval & applause. And so I have to work at and constantly check out my motives asking God to help me with this tendency.
There are others, who just seem more able and naturally inclined to do what they believe is right regardless of what others might think or say. My wife is one and she helps in this area. But an important principle in life, leadership and service is: WHY you do something is as important as WHAT you do? Right things can be done for the wrong reasons. God looks at inner motives. We look at outward actions. Jesus here in the middle of His Sermon on The Mount has a word for us about the right and wrong motivation for doing spiritual things. I think there are three lessons in these verses that are tied together. The first is this.
AUDIENCE OF ONE. Jesus picks 3 pillars of Jewish Piety…..Giving alms, Prayer and Fasting ………And asks – Who are you doing it for? Why are you doing what you are doing? Who is the audience you’re playing to? And Jesus is suggesting that we have an audience of one. I think he is reminding us that the applause and approval of God is infinitely more important than that of humans. One of the reasons is that the applause and approval of people is both fickle and fleeting.
I remember reading an article some time ago in an old issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. I was in a doctor’s office. Magazines are very dated in doctor’s offices….have you noticed? This article was written by retired NBA superstar. In the article he was saying: “Some people are wringing their hands wondering if the NBA can survive the retirement of superstars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan.” Now you know how old that magazine was. We’ve heard it recently in the golf world. “Can professional golf survive the absence of Tiger Woods?” In this article he was saying: “Don’t worry a thing. The league will survive. Stars come and stars go. New stars are appearing all the time. In a few years people will be saying Magic who? Michael who? I detected by reading between the lines that this guy was being a bit wistful and there was a touch of bitterness. There was a time when he enjoyed all the applause of the crowds and was now retired and gone and forgotten. We’ve seen in pro sports that sometimes these stars keep coming out of retirement or staying in the game long past their effectiveness because they miss the “applause”. Relying on the applause of people is both fickle and fleeting. It’s never really satisfying for very long.
I think Jesus is saying here: “if you live out your life and faith, orienting it around “applause” “being noticed” and “pleasing other people”you are going to set yourself up for – disillusionment – dissatisfaction – disappointment. Over the long haul, it won’t do for you what you think it will do. You’ll get discouraged. You’ll burn out. You’ll quit – “I don’t need this”
Audience of One! Why are you doing what doing? Who are you doing it for?
Let me push the pause button for a moment and briefly explain something to you because it’s not as common today. In Jesus day religious leaders, to show how spiritual they were, would go without food and drink for long periods of time – called fasting. But when they would fast, they wouldn’t shave, wash hair, clean their clothes. They’d walk around looking like death warmed over so people would know they were fasting. People would say: “There goes Joe. Looks like been dragged behind a pick-up truck. He must be fasting. What a godly spiritual person he is.” And it was all game playing. Playing to the crowd, not God.
The obvious questions for us would be. 1. How much money would we give to kingdom causes if the only one who knew about it was God? (if didn’t think spouse call you cheap). 2. How often would you participate in the spiritual disciplines, worship, church, prayer, Bible study, ministry etc. if only God knew? We need to regularly do a motivation test on ourselves. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Who are we doing it for?
The second lesson relates to the first. Law Of Kingdom Compensation. Jesus kind of says to this crowd: “You have to know how compensation works in my kingdom.”And it works a little bit like it does out in the market place. If Jesus were teaching this lesson today he might say: 1. If you spend a 40 hour work week working at Sears, on the 30th of the month, payday, don’t go over to Wal-Mart and ask for your paycheck. You didn’t work for Wal-Mart, you worked for Sears. 2. If Rev Sabrina spends the required hours working for St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church this month, at the end of the month, she doesn’t go knock on the door of The Anglican church across the street and ask for a paycheck. She didn’t work for Anglican church..
If I sell shoes for Reebok, and set all kind of sales records, I don’t expect compensation from Nikki. The Law of kingdom Compensation says: “Expect to get paid from the one you’re working for.” Jesus says to this crowd: “If the primary reason you do spiritual stuff and show up and serve: ….is “great job Rev. Bob” “pat on the back”; “applause” and “approval” “to be noticed”; that’s not a nasty, awful, shameful thing; but the “great job” “pat on the back” “applause” is all you get – that’s payday – that’s it you’re getting paid from whom you’re working for. “they have received their reward in full” (3x). Jesus said it 3 times in these verses. And Jesus cautions: Other people aren’t worth it. You’ll miss the greatest reward which is the affirmation of God and His pleasure and that is soul satisfying and eternally fulfilling “Then your God, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Remember Eric Liddell’s famous line in the movie “Chariots of Fire”; based on his experience 1924 summer Olympic games in Paris. – “When I run I feel God’s Pleasure” “Law of Kingdom Compensation.”
We regularly need to do an approval test. “Whose acceptance, approval and applause is most important? Whose approval means the most to us?
That leads to a third lesson – The Iceberg Concept. You know that 9/10 of an iceberg is below the surface. That huge mass of ice you see above the water is only 1/10th of it’s total size. What you can see about me: my actions, words etc – what’s above the surface, that’s only 1/10th of who I really am. But 9/10 of me is what’s below the surface, what you can’t see. Jesus here calls it “the secret place.” Here is the Spiritual Principle: There must be More Weight Below The Water Line then there Is Above.
Let me illustrate with a true story: In the autumn of 1992, Michael Plant, a popular American yachtsman, commenced a solo crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean, from the United States to France. He was an expert, who had circumvented the globe alone more than once. A trip that is 3-5 months, 43,000 km. Around Antarctica, through the Southern Ocean. The most dangerous waters in the world. Up to 100 mile an hour winds. And waves 6-8 stories high. The sailing community universally acknowledged Michel Plant as a yachtsman whose sea-faring shills were without equal. His mid-sized boat, the Coyote, that he was using for this solo crossing of the North Atlantic, was the epitome of modern sailing lore. He had the best expertise, experience and equipment. Eleven days into the voyage radio contact with Michael Plant was lost. When the Coyote’s radio silence persisted for several days a search was launched. The Coyote was found, floating upside down, by the crew of a freighter 450 miles north west of the Azores Islands. Everyone in the sailing world was surprised that when the Coyote was found it was upside down in the water. Sailing boats always right themselves, even if a wind or wave were momentarily to push it over in its side or even upside down. In order for a sailing boat to maintain a steady course, and in order not to capsize but to harness the tremendous power of the wind, there must be more weight below the water-line then there is above it. Any violation of this principle of weight means disaster. When the Coyote was build an 8,000 pound weight was bolted to the keel for this very reason. No one knows why or how, but this weight beneath. The water-line broke away from the keel. The four tonne weight was simply missing. When that occurred, the boat’s stability was compromised. The result was that a very capable, experienced and much admired man was lost at Sea.
Jesus reminds Bob Quick, in this section of the Sermon on the Mount, that the part of the Christian life that is below the surface, where nobody but God can see, is much more important than all the above surface stuff we do, that everybody else can see. There must be more weight below the water-line than this is above it.
Jesus calls this weight below the line “Our secret life with God”
Another way of saying it is: “Who I am IN God is more important than what I do FOR God.” Both are important. But one comes before the other and is the true me.
My favorite definition of character is this: “Character is who you are and what you do when nobody else is looking.” Isn’t that good? (what you do in secret). I learned the hard way, over many years of ministry, how at times I had allowed my “work for God” to in some ways kill the “work of God in me”. When I crowd out the devotional side of life, the self-care side, the personal relationship side…. with all the work and ministry and activity stuff ….. over time I pay a heavy price. The Spirit of God has no opportunity to supply rest, refreshment, renewal and recalibration and at some point you risk your life tipping upside down. For me Jesus, the divine son of God is my example here. There were crowds of sick and dying and hurting people all around him. The work wasn’t done. And Jesus said to his disciples “Come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) And Jesus actually disappeared to a quiet restful place, to spend time alone with God, time to rest and get refreshed and time to recreate (recreation) with his friends. And he did it even though the crowd and the disciples had other expectations for him
Now in this whole area I’m still learning. I’m not there yet. I fall back into my old patterns regularly. I regularly need to do a motivation test. “Audience of One” “Who am I doing it all for.” I suspect God is somewhat less demanding on us
then we are on ourselves and others are on us sometimes. I regularly need to do an approval test. “Law of kingdom Compensation” Whose acceptance, approval and applause is most important? Whose approval means the most to me? I regularly need to do a secrecy test. “Iceberg Concept.” In the midst of the busyness of life and ministry and all we do for God and for good, don’t lose sight of who you are in God.
God cares more about who I am (what’s below the surface) than what I do. (what’s above the surface)
He loves and accepts me not for what I do but for who I am….His Special and Unique and beloved child.