Really, the gift is immaterial in both of those scenarios. It is the attitude behind the gift that makes the difference. If that is true when we give and receive gifts to other people, how much more true is it when giving our gifts to God? Matthew 6 is ultimately about our attitude and where we place our trust. The first part of the chapter deals with our attitude towards giving, praying, forgiving, and fasting. As we will see over the next few weeks, Jesus is very concerned with the attitude of those who desire to follow Him. Specifically, His comments get to the issue of whether or not we do what we do for our own glory or for God’s?
Before reading the rest of the post, I encourage you to read Matthew 6.1-4.
Over the past two months, we have looked at four questions to guide us as we have worked our way through Jesus’ sermon each week. The questions have been:
- What did the people think (when they heard Jesus)?
- What did Jesus (actually) say?
- What does our world say (today)?
- How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?
While these four questions will continue to guide us in theory, my approach in covering the first three will change as we begin to focus on the next portion of Jesus’ sermon. My shift is intentional because Jesus also makes a shift in His sermon. The theme of righteousness continues, but now instead of expounding on what righteous people do, He shares how they must do it – that is, the attitude they are to have. Thus, the chapter break in the Bible is likely appropriate, but if we let the chapter breaks guide us, we miss a great deal.
For instance, in last week’s message, I commented on Jesus’ words about giving to those who would beg or borrow (Matt. 5.42). Well, the first of the topics Jesus addresses in this next section is on “giving to the needy” (Matt. 6.2). And, in between, He has focused on the necessity of love (Matt. 5.43-48). Thus, these ideas tie together very well. But before we get to the topic of giving, we need to ensure we remain focused on the idea of righteousness.
How Will Having a Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord Affect This Teaching?
The Righteous Person Must Live Righteously Before God and Men (Matthew 6.1)
Jesus has just said that we should be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5.48). Then Jesus issues a stern warning about how we live our lives. The warning is not about what we do, but why we do them. Do we do things to be seen by people or by God?
Now, some may spot a potential conflict with Jesus statement. If not, let me read Matthew 5.16 and see if you notice it then. Matthew 5.16 says to let our good works shine before men, but now Jesus says we should not do things in order to be seen by men. Is Jesus contradicting Himself? Well, it’s a good question. But it can be easily explained if we compare the essence of our being and the essence of our doing.
In Matthew 5.14. Jesus says we are the light of the world. We are. Even if we do nothing, we are that light. In Matthew 6.1, Jesus warns against practicing righteousness before others “to be seen by them.” In other words, we do something to be noticed by someone. In Matthew 5, because we are light, we must shine in order for others to see Jesus in us (the true light of the world, John 8.12) and give Him glory. But in Matthew 6, we are attempting to gain recognition for ourselves by bringing attention to our deeds. John Stott explains this idea perfectly through the help of AB Bruce. Stott writes,
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 practising 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’. Our good works must be public so that our light shines; our religious devotions must be secret lest we boast about them. (1)
Thus, as I mentioned a few moment ago, we must live righteously before mankind, that they may know God, and before God, so that He will be glorified.
The Topic – Giving to the Needy
When you think of the attributes of God, what comes to mind? For some, they may think about His power or His holiness. Others may think of His love, His grace, or His mercy. Jesus begins this portion of His teaching by drawing the thoughts of the people to the mercies of God. The ancient Israelites focused a great deal on God’s mercy and the Jews of Jesus’ time sought mercy due to the oppression of the Romans.
The phrase, “give to the needy,” is the idea of almsgiving which reflects the idea of mercy. Nearly all religions have some aspect of assisting the poor built into the fabric of their beliefs. This was certainly the case for Judaism, as it is today for Christianity. Notice Jesus says, “when” alms are given, not if. Again, it was an expectation. But notice the first word in verse 2, “thus.”
Jesus has just mentioned the need not to practice righteousness to gain the attention and favor of others. Now, He fleshes that out with three prioritized aspects of the Jewish faith – giving (verses 2-4), prayer (verses 5-8), and fasting (verses 16-18), with the Lord’s model for prayer placed in between. As we will see over the next few weeks, Jesus contrasts how the hypocrites perform these duties versus how those who are truly righteous – with the righteous being the ones who receive a reward.
Jesus mention of the sound of trumpets is likely hyperbole and no evidence has been found to substantiate actual trumpets being blown as people gave their monies. However, the idea of “making noise” or as we might say “blowing your horn” is true.
Jesus specifically mentions two places – the synagogues and the streets. Synagogues were primarily a place for religious activities. The streets are obviously inhabited by all people, religious or not. So, by mentioning both places Jesus says that our giving is not to be flaunted among the religious or among the crowds.
Many churchgoers will give in an effort to influence the church. This can be done many different ways, but the end goal is the same – I am giving my money so you will do things my way. Although many people may feel this way, they still feel they are honoring the Lord; however, one day they will realize that their gifts have no eternal significance (their reward has already been received). Of course, the same is true in the streets where many philanthropists make sure their name is known.
And here is the catch, churches and ministries support this errant view. For instance, if you listen to Christian radio, you have no doubt heard a fund-raising drive. On many stations the hosts will read the first names (and sometimes last initial) and amounts given. To do so is not necessarily wrong, but I am certain some have given just to hear their name called. Such a reward is pretty minimal compared to what God can give.
As for the righteous, Jesus says it would be best if we didn’t know what we were doing ourselves. Of course, we cannot write a check without looking, but the point is we shouldn’t be proud of ourselves for doing what God has already asked us to do. Now, some might balk and say, “Yes, but I gave more than a tithe.” Ok, but you didn’t give anything that God didn’t allow you to have. And per Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9, we are not to give because we have to give; rather we should give because we want to give.
I have always personally interpreted this verse with a thought toward clapping. When our right and left hand know what each other are doing, they are within range of one another. As they grow closer together, they “know” more about the other hand and what it is doing. If we overplay this idea, they come together, then move apart, then want to see what the other hand is doing again. If we repeat this process, then we find ourselves clapping. To carry the metaphor into Matthew 6.3, we begin to applaud ourselves for our generous giving which goes against the principles of what Jesus is trying to teach and thus instructs us to keep our hands from coming together. Again, if it is applause we seek – ours or for someone else, then we have missed the true reward which God has for us.
Verse 4 is difficult for some to reconcile. But Jesus has already mentioned the idea of a reward in Matthew 5.46. In addition, the entire set of the Beatitudes incorporates the idea of receiving a reward. In Matthew 6.1, Jesus mentions the receipt of a reward again. And finally, the receipt of a reward is contrasted in each of the three topics Jesus chooses to mention – giving, prayer, and fasting. In each case, Jesus sets the hypocrites’ reward (already received) against the reward for those who are righteous which will be given one day by the Father.
Verse 4 has a truly fascinating. “Your Father” in the singular is only used three times in the gospels. All three are in this section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.4, 6, 18). All other instances refer to “your” in the plural. The obvious conclusion is that the Father is truly the Father to many, and our faith is to be lived out in community. However, we are to have a personal piety which will receive a personal reward from an intimately personal Father (the one who sees in secret).
The point of Jesus’ statement here is that those who want to be acknowledged publicly for their good deeds will get the appropriate attention and thus their reward is complete. However, those who remain humble will not be forgotten by the God who sees everything. Even the most minor of deeds is noticed by God and will be rewarded if the action was done in faith.
As for what the reward is. Let me tell you. I don’t know. And you don’t want me to. If I knew, it wouldn’t be as good as it likely is. But just knowing that God has a reward waiting should be plenty to motivate us.
However, we should not do righteous deeds for the sake of a reward. If you are saved, you have already been given reward enough – eternal life through the blood of Christ. So, we do not try to honor God so He will honor us. But, if He wants to reward us for bringing glory and honor to Him, then so be it.
The righteousness that Jesus desires is a theme that continues throughout this sermon. The same word used in Matthew 6.1 (Gk, dikaiosune) was also used in Matthew 5.6 and 20. It is the same word we will see again in Matthew 6.33. We will further elaborate on the word over the next couple of weeks because as I mentioned at the beginning of this message, it is not enough to do the right things, it is the attitude behind them that matters. Our actions should be focused on serving God which ultimately is a reflection of our love for God and others.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: R – Revere
We must keep our focus on God, not ourselves. We must lift Him up in both our actions and our attitude. As I have said many times, God doesn’t care about your money. He cares about you. If He gets you, you will give money. But you can give all of the money in the world, and it will mean nothing, if you don’t know God. And we must remember that we have the opportunity to know God because of what He gave – His Son.
It is the blood of Jesus that brings us before God, and it is the righteousness of Jesus that makes Kingdom-living possible. His teachings may seem impossible at first, but that is because our worldview has been tainted. Jesus lived His life in perfect accord with these teachings and, thus, we can too. But only if we seek to do so through Him and not on our own.
Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?
NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LEARN. While the point of today’s lesson is to live righteously, it will be beneficial for many to take inventory on where your are tempted to act for yourself. This week, as you give (and don’t give) to others, consider whether you do so for your own benefit or do so to bring glory to God.
(1) Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 127). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.