Are You Listening

by Tom Wacaster

The title for this week’s article reflects the very words that the late V.E. Howard would use in his radio broadcast each week. “Are you listening?” Those three words were designed to capture the attention of the audience and convey the serious and sobering nature of the message they were about to hear, or that they had just heard. Matthew 6:1 contains the same kind of attention getting introduction regarding what that audience was about to hear. “Take heed!” Other translations read “Beware,” or “Be careful.” In fact, the same two words could be used to call our attention to every utterance, every warning, and every promise that passed across the lips of Jesus. When E.F. Hutton speaks it might be said that men listen; but when Jesus our King speaks, men had better listen. The words of our Master are like a flaming sword. They are not words of some kind of sentimental, mushy, “feel good” message, but words that are sobering and serious. His words are words that remind us that we, like Moses, are standing on holy ground.

Over the years I have heard preachers, elders, and good and faithful students of God’s word declare with regard to a particular passage, “This is my favorite verse in the whole Bible!” I, too, have expressed such sentiments from time to time. When I was a student, I was blessed to sit at the feet of the late Roy Deaver. It was not unusual for him to express the same sentiment regarding the book or passage that we happened to be studying. He would temper his remarks with this astute observation: “Every book in the Bible is my favorite book for the purpose for which it was written!” The same might be said of simple phrases used by our Lord, as recorded in the Bible for our admonition. These two words at the beginning of Matthew 6 are “my favorite words for the purpose for which they were spoken.” That brings us back to the passage itself and some observations relative to these sobering words from our King, “Take heed!”

First, we must take heed that our motive in serving God is the right motive. Every deed is preceded by a reason for that deed. Sadly, there are men and women who are devoted to an utterly false religion. Their eyes are blinded to the truth, and their devotion, sometimes boarding on absolute hysteria, compels them to act the way they do. Most logically and reasonably thinking men can see the harm that is being perpetrated by members of such organizations as ISIS and Al-Queda. What we fail to realize is that the actions of such devotees is always preceded by some kind of motive; right or wrong, the motive is what moves them. False teachers, along with their followers, are all motivated by something. It is also possible that you and I can be motivated to perform our religious duties by a desire that is totally contrary to the will of God and the tenor of true religion. If we give alms in order to be seen of men, our giving is rendered invalid. If we pray so as to impress those who hear us pray, then, like the Pharisee of whom Jesus spoke, we are simply praying to ourselves. If we fast in order to impress men with our devotion and sacrificial dedication, then we have failed to “take heed” to the words of our Master.

Second, there is great danger in seeking to please men when it comes to the exercise of our religion. Those like myself who are blessed to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ have learned over the years that you cannot satisfy all men when it comes to the manner and style in preaching. While constructive criticism is invited, it is dangerous for a preacher (or teacher, or elder, etc.) to attempt to conform to some kind of style that will please all of those sitting in the audience. Paul asked a question that needs to be considered by all of us: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?” (Gal. 1:10a). Aesop tells the following humorous fable: A man and a boy were leading their donkey when a bystander criticized them for walking while the donkey had no load. The father put the son on the donkey, but another observer chided the son for riding while the father walked. The boy changed places with his father, but the next man they met scolded the father for riding while the boy walked. As a result, both father and son got on the donkey to ride. However, a passerby rebuked them for being cruel to the donkey. In desperation they tied the donkey’s feet together and tried to carry him on a pole between them. This caused the critics to ridicule them more than ever, so they let the donkey down on a bridge they were crossing and untied his feet. The donkey, somewhat irritated for being tied up, then began to kick violently, fell into the river, and drowned.

Finally, those who seek to please men, and so engage in their religious duties as to be seen of them, will have no reward in heaven. Jesus tells us that “they have their reward.” In other words, they did it to be seen of men, they have been seen of men, and that is all they need and all they get! But let us consider the reward that shall be ours when we are motivated to serve God for the sheer pleasure of pleasing Him. How can the earthly reward of human adulation even begin to compare with those words we shall hear when our Lord comes again: “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things” (Matt. 25:23). Someone once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Is it not much better to receive the reward our Lord shall give us – a reward that shall never perish – than to receive the praise of men that can, at best, be only temporary.

“Take heed!” The question comes to each of us, “Are you listening?”

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