Matthew 6:1-4 (12)
So far, in this sermon Jesus began by giving us the characteristics of a Christian, the kingdom citizen, in ‘the beatitudes’. He then went on to show their influence upon the world, ‘salt and light,’ and how they are to live according to God`s law with a ‘righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees’. Chapter five finishes with that incredible command, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.’ When people say ‘I`m not religious,’ and by that mean they follow no particular religious practice, I usually respond, ‘I`m not religious, I`m a Christian.’ Am I right to say that without clarification? We know we are not saved by what we do but, because we are saved, there must be a practical out-working of what we profess in our daily living. In this section Jesus teaches on three important aspects of our ‘religious’ life. Most religions regard these as pillars of their faith but what must be different for the Christian is the motivation.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (6: 1)
Some translations read ‘don`t do your alms before men’, but this limits the verse to the section on giving, whereas, the NIV quoted above is a better translation, covering all three areas. ‘This verse introduces the three chief acts of Jewish piety (vs.2-18) giving alms, praying and fasting. In each act the logical structure is the same: (1) a warning not to do the act to be praised by human beings, (2) a warning that those who ignore this warning will get what they want but no more, (3) instruction on how to perform the act secretly, and (4) the assurance that the Father who sees in secret will reward openly.’ (NIV Bible Commentary)
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (vs. 2-4)
Two things need to be clarified before we look at this subject. Firstly; Jesus is not here talking about our regular offering, given in proportion to what we have received (1 Cor 16:2), the equivalent of the ‘tithe’ required by the Law, which already belongs to God and so is not to be counted in our charitable giving. Secondly; He does not say ‘if’ but ‘when’ you give which indicates that charitable giving, should be a normal part of a Christian`s life. Unfortunately, some Christians seem to have short arms and deep pockets so that when it comes to generosity they will stop at nothing.
Jesus begins by showing the wrong attitude, that of ‘the hypocrite’, a ‘play-actor’. Someone who looks for an audience, so that they may be seen. Whether they actually blew trumpets when they put money into the large trumpet shaped containers at the Temple or just made a big show so that people would notice is difficult to say. ‘To stand with a penny in one hand and a trumpet in the other is the posture of hypocrisy’. (C H Spurgeon) It is most likely that Jesus is painting a caricature to get over His point.
Like so many, on the recent ‘Red Nose Day’, who wouldn`t give unless someone was making fool of themselves and they could announce how much they were giving. ‘Not that it is unlawful to give alms when men see us; we may do it, we must do it, but not that men may see us’. (Matthew Henry)
The next phrase is probably one of the saddest in Scripture, ‘they have received their reward in full’. They were doing their righteousness before men and got exactly what they desired, the praises of men, and there will be nothing more for them to receive. They may have thought that, on the ‘brownie point’ scheme of heaven, this would have added a few ticks on the plus side, but no, there is nothing more. They have had it all. ‘It is not the view of Scripture, as some of the ‘prosperity churches’ seem to teach, that giving to God is good business, and that givers will get their capital back with massive interest’. (M Green)
Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) saw Barnabas give the money from a field he sold and thought if they did the same they would get the praise of the Apostles (men) to the extent that they lied to God and paid the ultimate price. There are only three possible attitudes regarding our charitable acts. ‘Either we are seeking the praise of men, or we preserve our anonymity but are quietly congratulating ourselves, or we are desirous of the approval of our divine Father alone.’ (J Stott)
If we are doing either of the first two we are not obeying Jesus who said, ‘do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing,’ which shows just how secret it should be. The point must be that our charity should be so much a normal part of our Christian life that it will be almost an unconscious act. It should surprise us when are told of it. “Then the righteous will say to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you something to eat, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ They had not blown a trumpet about their righteousness but kept it a secret even from themselves. “The king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, in that you did it for one of the least important of these my brothers, you did it for me.’” (Matt 25:37, 40)
Unfortunately, we let it slip in our conversations, or maybe we are boasting, about what we have done and don`t we love the congratulations of others? This is because we are conscious of it and it is the wrong sort of giving. ‘There are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, ‘I have to’; duty giving says, ‘I ought to’; thanksgiving says, ‘I want to’. (R Rodenmayer)
Jesus had said, “Let your light shine before people in such a way that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) Now He seems to be telling us to keep it a secret. Which should we do? ‘It is our human cowardice which made him say ‘Let your light shine before men’, and our human vanity which made him tell us to beware of practicing our piety before men. A. B. Bruce sums it up well when he writes that we are to ‘show when tempted to hide’ and ‘hide when tempted to show’. (J Stott) As with everything in the Christian life our motives must be right and it must be that God, not us, gets the glory. Whose praise do we seek? “… you accept each other’s praise and do not look for the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44)
The best attitude to have is that we do everything without looking for any recognition, so that if anyone knows of it, that will have not been our intention. We are promised that “the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works.” (Matt 16:27) Do we want the praise of men as our only reward and nothing more; or the praise of God and His everlasting rewards? I know which I prefer. As the Lord said to Abram, “I am … your exceedingly great reward.” (Gen 15:1)