by Kathleen Petersen

When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward! When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 NET

Like other customary Jewish religious practices of Jesus’ day, fasting showed extraordinary dedication to God. Jesus pointed out that these practices, including prayer and charitable giving, had too often become just a show with the hopes of earthly benefits. Such conspicuous practices had not been directed toward our Father in Heaven, but orchestrated to build a reputation that would impress both religionists and common people.  

Because American evangelicals haven’t been bound to observing as many rites, ancient customs and holidays as other branches of Christianity, we can be inclined to think we are more centered on the basics and thus more pleasing to God. But, even if we consider those ancient customs as “show religion”,
have we acclimated ourselves to other religious performances?

The book of Acts describes the inspiring motivation of the newly formed Jerusalem Church:

The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. Acts 4:32 NET

“One heart and mind” What a beautiful description of wholehearted service. Sadly, it didn’t take much time for a couple engaged in this tender environment
to devise a self centered act of giving.

Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!”
Acts 5:1-8 NET

Hypocrisy is just another word for lying. Lying always hurts our relationships with God and tears communities of faith apart. Peter calls this couple’s plot lying
to God. Such irony –- trying to lie to God from whom nothing is hidden! 

Are your Christian activities enhancing your visible dedication to God but leaving you empty? Are you engaging in spiritual exercises, serving others, teaching, music ministry, giving financially, being friendly, etc., secretly angling for others to praise your talent, intelligence, generosity, dedication and warm personal touch? Are you in a respected and needed ministry because the Holy Spirit continues to prompt you, or do you press on primarily because others are impressed with your talents or religious knowledge? 

It’s wise to periodically review your religious involvements and check your motivations. You might want to add a less visible niche area of service that seems of less value to others and see what happens. 

Note. To access scripture links that don’t appear in the email version, read the web version in your browser.


Red Couch Theology Podcast

Sermon Conversations with Alex and Aaron

There’s only so much we can cover in a Sunday morning gathering!
Each week, you’re invited to tune into our LIVE podcast at 11 am on Thursdays – recorded (and sometimes prerecorded) for later, online viewing.

What can you expect? Pastors Alex, Aaron and the occasional guest, having a casual conversation diving deeper into ideas related to last Sunday’s teaching:

Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 6:16-18

(See also Isaiah 58)

Questions may be sent through  

Blog sites:


Apple Podcast: