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HOW TO GO TO CHURCH
Intro: We have been given a great privilege. We have the privilege of getting in our vehicles and driving down to the house of God to worship. I am afraid that the privilege of going to church is a privilege we take for granted.
For instance, how much preparation do you put into going to church? How much time do you spend getting your heart ready for corporate worship? Do you pray for the services? Do you seek the Lord’s face and ask Him to move in power when we come together? Most of us just come to church without giving what we are doing a second thought.
The Bible has something to say about how we are to go to church.
· Paul wrote to Timothy and said this: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,”1 Tim. 3:14-15.
· In Eccl. 5:1, the preacher said, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.”
In the passage before us today, the Lord Jesus allows us a glimpse into the Temple as some people gathered to worship. In this parable, we will see that one man came to church that day to worship himself. The other man came to church that day to worship the Lord. I want to take a few minutes to contrast these two men because they teach us some much needed lessons about how we should come to church. So, I want to point out those lessons as I preach about How To Go To Church.
I. TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE
A. A Pharisee – One of the men who came to church that day was a Pharisee, v. 10.
· He was a spiritual leader among the people. He was known and respected as a true man of God.
· He knew the Scriptures. (Ill. He had many passages committed to memory, and he even wore leather boxes on his right wrist and forehead that contained certain special portions of the Law, Matt. 23:5.)
· He would have prayed at least three times every day. (Ill. The Pharisees made much of prayer. They loved to pray loud, long and public prayers, Matt. 6:5-8.)
· He fasted twice every week. (Ill. The Jews fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, which also happened to be the same days the Jews sold and bought wares in the markets. The practice of the Pharisees was to make their fasting very public, Matt. 6:16-18. They would not comb their hair or wash their faces, and they wore the most wrinkled and rumpled clothes they could find. They even put ashes on their faces to make themselves look as though they were pale from fasting.)
· He tithed on everything he possessed, even the herbs that grew in his garden, Matt. 23:23, often giving between 20 and 30 percent to the needs of the Temple. (Ill. The Pharisees were noted for making a public show in their tithing, Matt. 6:1-4. Ill. Mark 12:41-44)
· What we have here is a very religious man, considered to be holy by everyone who saw him. He loved the adoration that came his way from the common people around him, Matt. 23:5-7.
· This man is a picture of many in the church. Everyone who sees them thinks they are pure, holy and righteous. They have convinced everyone that they are the epitome of righteousness, holiness and virtue. They have even convinced themselves that they are right end everyone around them who is not exactly like them is wrong.
B. A Publican – The other man who came to pray that day was a publican, v. 10.
· He was a spiritual outcast. While he was welcome to come to the Temple to pray in the Court of the Jews, he would not have been allowed to attend the meetings at the synagogue. The other Jews hated him and looked down on him.
· He was a tax collector. He worked for Rome, the nation that dominated and ruled Israel at the time.
· Rome collected three kinds of taxes from the people she conquered. They collected a land tax, a head tax and a custom tax. These taxes were collected in a three-tiered system. In that system, Rome levied the taxes. They were collected by a chief tax collector (I.e. Zachaeus.) who controlled the work of several tax collectors (i.e. Matthew).
· The chief tax collector would pay Rome for a certain area or district which gave him the authority to collect the taxes there. He would in turn sub-lease that area to tax collectors. The chief tax collector could set his own rates and the men who worked for him could set their own rates. As a result, Rome received its taxes, by the chief tax collectors and the local tax collectors grew wealthy from extorting large sums of money from the common people.
· As a tax collector, this man would have been known for his greed and his dishonesty.
· He would have been viewed as a traitor to Israel and not even worthy of any compassion or concern from the Jews around him.
· This man is a picture of the other element we find in the church. These are the people who do not act like we think they should. They might not dress like we think they should. They might not do things and say things just like we think they should. Like to publican, these folk are in the church, and like the publican, these folks are often looked down on by the other folk who think they are more spiritual.
II. TWO KINDS OF PRAYER
(Ill. Both of these men, the self-righteous Pharisee and the wicked Publican, went to the Temple to pray. When they open their mouths and begin to speak, the true character of their heart is put on display.
As it turns out, you really can’t judge a book by its cover. The man everyone thought was righteous was really a hypocrite, while the Lord accepted the man everyone looked down on.
Let’s examine the prayers of these two men today. Their words and their attitudes have something to teach us about how we should approach the Lord and how we should see others.)
A. Haughty Prayer – When the Pharisee begins to prayer, he is quick to tell the Lord how things really are.
· He brags about his righteousness, by comparing himself to other men. He even sees the Publican praying nearby and talks about how much better he than that man.
William Barclay records the following, “It is on record that Rabbi Simeon ben Jocai once said, “If there are only two righteous men in the world, I and my son are these two; if there is only one, I am he!” The Pharisee did not really go to pray; he went to inform God how good he was.
· He brags about his religious works.
· He brags about his giving.
· He tells the Lord how great he is and how well he is doing. As he compares himself to others, he feels that he has arrived in the eyes of the Lord.
· It was common for the Pharisees to stand when they prayed. They would spread their arms, lift their voices as loud as they could and they would launch into long, complicated, self-serving prayer.
· He feels like he is talking to the Lord, in truth, he is only talking to himself, v. 11. His prayer got no higher than the roof of his mouth.
· God help us to never be like this man!
B. Humble Prayer – The publican does not offer any swelling words of self-glorification.
· He knows that he has nothing at all to offer the Lord.
· He knows He is a wicked sinner.
· When he prays, there is no pride, no pretense, no hint of self-righteousness and there are no attempts to justify himself or his lifestyle in the eyes of the Lord.
· He just tells the truth, humbles himself before God, and asks for mercy.
· He won’t even lift his eyes toward heaven.
· He beats himself on the breast, knowing that his real problems are problems of the heart. The Pharisee, on the other hand is blissfully unaware that anything is wrong in his heart.
· His prayer is short, simple and to the point.
· We could learn a lot from this man and his style of prayer!
Two men went to pray;
or rather say,
One went to brag,
the other to pray;
One stands up close,
and treads on high,
Where th’ other dare
not send his eye.
One nearer to the altar trod,
The other to the altar’s God.
(Note: Let me mention a few thoughts the prayers of these two men teach us about our own praying.
· The prayer of the Pharisee was indicative of the praying of most self-righteous Jews in that era. Here are a few of the problems that had crept into prayer in Jesus’ day. By the way, these same problems are still with us.
1. Prayer had become nothing more than a ritual – The Jew prayed, but his prayers were scripted and the form was set. He either quoted them from memory or read them. Thus, a Jew could pray and not even think about what he was saying. (Ill. If you ever see footage of Jews praying at The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem that is what you are seeing.)
Every morning and evening, faithful Jews would repeat the Shema. This prayer was formed from selected phrases from Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Num. 15:37-41. Often, the Shema was used in its abbreviated form. This would be just Deut. 6:4.
Another prayer they prayed morning, noon and night was called the Shemoneh ‘esray, which means The Eighteen. This was a series of eighteen prayers that addressed various aspects of life. The faithful Jew would prayer all eighteen of these prayers three times every day.
Regardless of where the Jew was, at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour he would stop what he was doing and he would offer the necessary prayers. Of course, some could have prayed these prayers in sincerity, but most were simply following ritual.
2. Predetermined prayers were formulated for every aspect of life – Every conceivable turn of life had a prayer that had been developed to deal with it. This also led to prayer being something that could be recited from the head and not lifted up from the spirit. (Ill. There is a modern trend in this direction. Ill. The availability of books of prewritten prayers.)
3. Prayer was limited to preset times and occasions – Instead of praying when they felt led to, or when a need arose, they all prayer at set times. (Ill. Jews, Muslims and other groups do this today.) We need to remember that there is nothing wrong with praying at a predetermined time, but we are called upon to be in an attitude of prayer always, 1 Thes. 5:17.
4. Long prayers were held in high regard – The Jews believed that the longer and more elaborate the prayer, the more likely it was to be heard by God. Jesus warned against this practice, Matt. 12:30. Nothing wrong with long-winded praying as long as the Spirit is moving in it, but when a person prayer a long time to impress others, which is what the Jews were doing, they have cross the line into pretense.
5. Many prayers were comprised of meaningless repetition – The Jews were notorious for repeating phrases and of adding adjectives to the name of God, thinking they would be heard by Him. This was a pagan practice that, sadly, is found in some Christian circles today.
6. The desire to be seen and heard of others – This is the worst offense of all. Prayer had ceased to be about communion with God and had degenerated into an attempt to impress others. This is the attitude Jesus is dealing with in these verses.
Unfortunately, many of those same problems have crept into the prayer life of the modern church. Let me make a statement or two regarding our praying.
· God is not impressed by the length, volume and vocabulary of our prayers. This man prayed a short, simple to the point prayer and God heard him. In fact, we are warned against long, elaborate, repetitive prayers, Matt. 6:6-7. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, “Long prayers in public are a sign of short prayers in private”.
· Prayer is not a time to preach. When the Pharisee prayed, he was not talking to the Lord; he was talking to himself and for the benefit of those around him, v. 11-12. If you want to preach, get God to call you and get you a pulpit to do it in, but don’t use your prayer as an opportunity to correct other people. Last time I checked this church already had a Pastor. It is my responsibility to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine”, not yours!
· Prayers should be specific and to the point, rather than general and rambling. We should go before the Lord honor Him, seek Him and then get out of His presence. The longer abide in His presence with our rambling words, the more likely we will be to use His precious name in vain and say things that we will wish later we had never said. It is better to keep your prayers short, sweet and specific.
· Prayer is not a time to brag. Prayer is about the Lord and His glory, not about who we are, what we think, what we want, or what we have done.
· Prayer is time to seek the face of God; to ask Him to bless; to ask Him to move among; to pray for those around you; to humble yourself before the Lord; to acknowledge your own need of Him! We should use our public prayers, not as a time to exalt our spirituality, but to praise and glorify God; to seek His power; and to thank Him for His blessings.)
III. TWO KINDS OF PROFIT
(Ill. Both these men went to the house of prayer. Both of these men stood in the place where God promised He would hear His people when they prayed, 2 Chron. 7:15. Both of these men prayed, but the outcome was different for both these men. One man got everything; one man got nothing! What happened to them has much to teach us.)
A. One Man Was Received By God – The Lord heard that wicked, sinful, hated Publican. God heard his simple prayer and God received him. His sins were forgiven and he went to his house justified in the eyes of the Lord.
B. One Man Was Refused By God – The Pharisee, on the other hand, was ignored by the Lord. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, he was just praying to himself, v. 11. He went home feeling good about himself. He went home sure that he was right with the Lord, when he was actually lost in his sins.
(Note: This parable was told to the Pharisees. Jesus wanted these self-righteous hypocrites to understand that the way up in the eyes of the Lord is down.
· The way to be honored by the Lord is to realize that you are nothing before the Lord.
· The way to forgiveness is through confession of sin.
· The way to be right with the Lord is to realize just how wrong we are.
· Jesus wanted them to know that we should never be in the business of judging others, but we should be in the business of judging ourselves, v. 14.
· Jesus wanted them to know that they were not to focus their attention on the lives of others, but they were to worry about their own walk with the Lord, v. 9.
We are all guilty of this from time to time. We all have those little areas of irritation bother us when we see it in the lives of those around us. If we are not careful, we will become like the Pharisees and we will come to “despise” those people. That would means “to treat as nothing”. If we are not careful, we will think that our way is the only right way and anyone who is not like us isn’t worth the time of day.
· Jesus wanted to open the eyes of the Pharisees to the truth that people around them needed to know the Lord. Even the people they despised needed to know about the Lord.
· So, I have no business judging you just because you don’t do everything just like I do it. I should pray for you, live right in front of you and love you, but I should never judge you.
· When we are like the Pharisees, we prove that we are nothing like Jesus. He doesn’t despise the sinner, but He loves him and works to bring about change in his life, 2 Cor. 5:17.
Some folk have been given more light than others. You know more about what is right and what is wrong. You are responsible for what you understand! Others have not gone that far down the road of faith. When do they need? They need patience, love and guidance. They need someone who will demonstrate the love of Christ to them and help them to reach their full potential in Jesus. (Ill. 1 Cor. 13:1-8; John 13:35)
Conc: One man went to church and left with nothing. He went through the rituals. He judged others by his standards. He prayed his self-serving prayers. He worshiped himself. This man went home feeling good about himself, but He received nothing from God for his efforts.
The other man went to church and left with everything. He didn’t make a spiritual show. He prayed a simple prayer. He offered God honesty, confession and worship. He left that church right with the Lord.
What was the difference between the two? The difference was in the attitude and condition of their hearts. One was full of himself and thought he needed nothing more. The other knew he was nothing and possessed nothing. He humbled himself before God and he was blessed.
How do you come to church? How do you see others around you who don’t do things to your standard? How is your praying? When you leave church, do you feel better about yourself? If that is all you get that you have missed it all.
Or, when you leave, do you feel as though you have had a spiritual bath? You feel as though you have bathed in the Word and that the Spirit has washed you. You feel as though you have been honest before the Lord, open about your sins and willing to call on Him by faith. Instead of judging others, you are content to leave them with the Lord. If they are His children, He will deal with the errors in their lives! If that is you, you leave here with everything.
If the Lord has spoken to your heart about some need or the other, you need to listen to what He is telling you and do what He says to do!