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What is Dangerous about Worship?

Published: 8 months ago- 6 August 2023
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Big Idea: Strive in every way to live for the Father’s reward.

Growing up on a farm we had occasion to use rifles. No matter how experienced, no matter how certain, no matter if the bolt is removed from the breach and the magazine is in your pocket – NEVER POINT YOUR RIFLE AT ANYONE, EVER.

I have scared myself and really jolted my arm from an “empty” shotgun fired into the ground. One of my brothers shot out a window of a tractor with an “empty” rifle. A friend of mine put a bullet through the ceiling and the roof of a house with an “empty” rifle.

Two lessons. Don’t go shooting with me or my friends. Be very careful where you point your weapon.

That’s an obvious danger, rifles are dangerous. In our passage today Jesus addresses a danger that is not so obvious Be careful where you point your worship.


Let’s take a look at the warning in this part of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount … Read v1.

  • Be careful how you practice your acts of righteousness; your acts of worship; how you express your godliness, when others are around.
  • Be on your guard; worship is dangerous because there is a right and wrong way to express your godliness.
  • And there is a danger that you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
  • Can you think of a better welcome into eternity than the commendation of the King, “Well done good a faithful servant”?
  • Wouldn’t it be wise to live for that?

Jesus is giving us a general warning: be careful where you point your worship. Now he gives examples. These are traditional acts of godliness well known to his original audience.


Firstly, Jesus says there is the jeopardy of generosity. Read v2.

Warning! Don’t mimic, copy the hypocrites, the actors. They are people who make sure others see them giving. They are actors on the stage performing for the applause of the crowd and the rave reviews of the critics. Don’t mimic them. As citizens of the Kingdom be careful not to do what they do.

Is this because Jesus isn’t into rewards? Take a look at v4 Jesus wants you to have the BEST reward. Read v4.

Do you want the fleeting reward from a fickle audience? Do you want the fading flattery of fly-by-night fanboys? That will be all you get.

Like a receipt from the servo PAID in full (v2b) and almost immediately the ink starts to fade. Like plaque on church furniture … Paid in full.

Rather, seek the reward of your Heavenly Father, the God of all eternity.

Read v3-4a

Give before an audience of one. Give in secret before your Heavenly Father who is in secret… An audience of one.

v3 Don’t even be impressed with yourself when you give.

Jesus warns us not even to give so that we feel like we are doing a good job. There is a way to give so that you praise yourself, think highly of yourself. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Don’t reward yourself, leave that for God.

Jesus is calling on us not to copy this world – but to focus our honour on God.

  • Jeopardy of Generosity – that we will seek the praise of others for the things God has given us.
  • As followers of Jesus we are called to share what we have with the needy; we are called to fund ministry; we are called to support the minister – a teaching that I would affirm.
  • Faith in action – but check your motives. Are we reflecting a worldly attitude or worshipping God?
  • Where are you pointing your worship?


It’s not only generosity where we need to be careful but there are also the Perils of Prayer. Read v5.

  • What an opportunity, to be asked to lead prayer at the synagogue. You can display your amazing dexterity of prayer, your fine-sounding phrases, and your probing insights.
  • How convenient to find yourself on the main street during one of the three daily prayer times. You could rig it, couldn’t you? Be on the corner of a busy street at 9 am so that the maximum number of people see your obedience.

When I was first interested in Jo we lived in residential colleges just across the road from each other. I got to know Jo’s timetable so I would make sure that I was at certain places at certain times so that we would “just happen” to bump into each other. Some call it stalking, I call it attention to detail – it worked.

These guys are picking their times not to honour God but to honour themselves. On street corners, in their gatherings during the week.

Take a look at v5b, that’s their reward. The high GI fairy floss rush of human praise, over before the words fade on the breeze. Don’t copy that behaviour, be careful where you point your praise. Direct your prayer to the Father. Read v6. Can you only pray in a tiny room with the door closed? Does Jesus ban public prayer? No. But pray to an audience of one. Pray as if no one else can hear your conversation with your Heavenly Father. Jesus prayed in public, and the church in Acts met together to pray; the Lord’s Prayer sounds very corporate; Our Father, give us, forgive us, lead us not, deliver us. In every context pray to an audience of one. Be careful where you point your worship.

Hesitancy to pray in public can actually be the result of pride. Caring what others think of you. Well-prepared prayers for our church gatherings are very helpful and loving. I appreciate them and the people who put in that effort to serve.

But sometimes prayers can be aimed in the wrong direction. For the praise of people not the worship of God.

When you pray don’t mimic the pagans (v7-8) They babble and carry on to get the attention of their gods. Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Don’t copy them. God knows already. Rather pray like this. Read v9-13.

  • Praise (v9), Power (v10), Provision (v11), Pardon (v12), Protection (v13).
  • This way of praying recognises that God alone is in the driver’s seat.
  • He sets the agenda of our prayers.
  • He is the focus of our prayers.

As we pray like this is leads us to right thinking (v14-15, cf v12) Great framework. Points our worship in the right direction.

And that is how we need to understand v14-15 too.

  • Just as God has forgiven us so we take his lead and forgive others – he directs and leads us, gets us thinking right.
  • We humbly seek his work in our lives, his glory in our world.
  • Can you see the difference?


We’ve had the jeopardy of generosity, the perils of prayer; finally the dangers of discipline. Read v16

Fasting is not something that is obviously close to my heart … or maybe I’m cleverly disguising my fasting habit so that you will not know and I get the greater reward!

  • Fasting is a way of humbling ourselves before God.
  • It requires self-discipline and we see from the Bible that it has been used as an act of devotion to God and a part of serious and directed prayer ahead of important decisions.
  • Jesus fasted 40 days (supernatural provision at this point) before his ministry began; the church at Antioch fasted before sending Paul and Barnabas out; Paul and Barnabas fasted before appointing


As we read through the NT there are enough references to it that we should seriously consider it.

  • I think that Bible reading; meditation; prayer life; the decisions we make to honour God in the way we live fit here as well.
  • BUT the warning is clear – don’t be a hypocrite, don’t be an actor (v16).
  • Don’t do this devotion as a way of eliciting praise from people (v17-18).
  • It’s the way of the hypocrite, the actor. Outward representation of devotion but inward motives flawed.

Cam acting KFC fake, fake, fake. Chicken cold (spit it out); drinks room temp and sprayed; fries w sticks

Am I trying to make myself look better to impress others, or do I understand what I’m really like and seek to live in response to my merciful and loving God.

  • Publicity or devotion?
  • Am I fair dinkum about my relationship with Jesus or an actor in front of others?

Buying flowers for Jo never on her birthday and usually on a Monday because Growth Group was at our place on a Tuesday.

Our hearts and minds are prone to false worship; to dangerous worship; to point our worship in the wrong direction. That’s why Jesus warns us.

  • But God in his amazing grace and endless mercy gives us the ability to overcome.
  • In Ephesians 1 Paul tells us that we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ.
  • In 2 Peter 1 Peter tells us that through Jesus’ divine power he has given us everything we need for life and godliness.

While no human doctor can fix us – Jesus does by his Spirit at work in us.

  • In the OT when the impact of sin was really showing itself in God’s people God made a promise that one day he would do radical surgery. Remove hearts of stone and give hearts of flesh (Jer and Ezek).
  • That He would change us to be people given over to loving Him.
  • And his Spirit at work in us will enable us to live to his glory.

And the promise that Jesus makes without any embarrassment is that in the absolute goodness of God he has seen it fit to reward those who live to his glory. So, we are enabled by God and rewarded by God.

One year the kids gave Jo and I a Christmas present. When we unwrapped it we saw that it was a Christmas ornament… that we already owned!!!

Anything we have is God’s already – we must not seek that glory. Don’t use what is God’s for the glory of another. Be careful where you point your worship.

Does God need our money, prayer, or discipline? No. But we do need the constant daily reminder of the depths of our sin and the bounty of His grace in the Lord Jesus.

Be careful where you point your worship.