Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. - Matthew 23: 14 (NKJV) John Gill's commentary of the Bible summarizes Matthew 23:14 as such, "Distressing the poor under the cover of religion and holiness." The Commentary of Matthew Henry describes it as "A woe against rapacity and hypocrisy." The dictionary defines rapacity as seizing plunder for the satisfaction of greed. Any way we slice it, this is a serious accusation leveled against the scribes and Pharisees and remains serious to this day against those who continue to use religion to disguise their true motives of greed. As we continue our exposition of the seven woes from Matthew 23 it is important to reflect to the entirety of Scripture regarding how God views the most vulnerable in our societies. When we see something repeated in Scripture we can assume greater importance to God regarding that matter. When God repeats Himself several times, we ought to pay serious attention to that matter. Well, when it comes to "widows and orphans", or the neediest and most vulnerable people, there are least 72 verses in the canon of Scripture. Clearly, this matters greatly to God. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. - James 1: 27 (NLT) It seems the Pharisees and scribes did not get this memo however. They routinely would abuse their position of authority and take advantage of widows. Under the guise of religion they would "help" those who could not help themselves in liquidating property and assets - all at a great profit to these crooked snake oil salesmen. Further compounding these practices however, they would hide behind a false veneer of religion while doing so. Making lengthy prayers to provide the illusion that everything they were doing was fully sanctioned by God Himself! They were devouring the property of widows (not just their houses) and doing so under the flag of religion. Barnes Notes on the Bible describes it as follows: "They claimed a very exact knowledge of the law and a perfect observance of it. They pretended to extraordinary justice toward the poor, friendship for the distressed, and willingness to aid those who were in embarrassed circumstances. They thus induced "widows" and poor people to commit the management of their property to them as guardians and executors, and then took advantage of them and defrauded them." As if this was not reprehensible enough they would make a long pious spectacle of it. The issue is not the length as much as it was the heart. They were being dishonest and were using God to further their own dishonesty. As vile as this practice may be - we see it continue to this day. The modern apostate church may not be in the business of becoming executors for the estates of widows, possibly because there are so many secular laws they would have to answer to. Yet they still are in the same business of fleecing the neediest people in their congregations for their own personal gain. They do so boldly, brashly, and just as piously as the Pharisees before them. Here are just some recent examples: Last month, Mark Driscoll was caught using over $200,000 of tithe monies to cheat the system and ensure he became a New York Times bestseller. Despite the obvious money made from royalties, he also then parlayed that "accomplishment" into a speaking tour with his wife that earned them an additional million dollars. Once caught, he stopped using the "NY Times Best Seller" title but made no restitution nor apology for using congregant monies. In his public statement he declared that he only did this to "get the message of Jesus into as many hands as possible." Last year, Benny Hinn claimed divine revelation that God wanted to provide a "wealth transfer" and a "double harvest miracle" for those who would sow into a fund he was starting to eliminate the debt his ministries had accumulated. He promised God would directly provide back to the "sowers" double whatever they gave. Robert Morris preaches a theology that implores his listeners to tithe to him before they pay their bills or buy food and medicine. Claiming God will curse their 90% if He doesn't first receive the 10%; making the Mafia seem more forgiving than God. Kenneth Copeland, who preaches a notorious prosperity gospel, lives in a sprawling 6.5 million dollar mansion, which he has the temerity to refer to as a "parsonage" so he can avoid paying taxes on it. While Joel Osteen does not take a salary from his church, we recently learned that each weekend sees Lakewood Church pull in excess of $600,000 from their congregants. This despite the fact that Houston has a higher average of poverty than the country as a whole. The list can go on and on and on. I have heard pastors tell new couples they were not conceiving because of their tithing. Other pastors use covenant agreements to strip church memberships in order to enforce stricter tithing. Beloved, if your church has one hand on the Bible and the other in your pocket then you need to run. If the collection portion of your service seems more holy then the sermon or the worship then you need to run. Remember how much God abhors this. Rapacious religiosity is simply greed disguised as God. Turning on TBN to see hucksters like Mike Murdoch ply his trade is simply disgusting. Claiming God will refuse to bless you unless you "sow" a seed into his ministry. Let us close with the close of the Matthew Henry Commentary for this verse and realize that there is nothing new under the sun. "We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated. And it is just with God to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters." Christ in His Spirit, in His Word, and in His ministers are still no better treated today than the Pharisees and scribes treated the actual Christ when He walked among them. We see it every day. Preachers who either have no fear of God or who have had their consciences seared. Jesus has warned them as He is warning us. Beloved, God isn't short of cash. Our giving should be out of a joyful heart because we know we serve in a church that lives out the Great Commission and refuses to compromise the Bible. Run from the pickpockets! Run from those seeking to build their own kingdom and not the Kingdom of God! Oh how many more would be truly saved if we all pursued the lost like we pursued money? Woe to the rapaciously religious. Rev. Anthony.