By Tyson Thorne

Nov 20, 2013


Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6.1-.4

It surprised me at first. I was in the kitchen at my parent’s house, making popcorn before we were all going to watch our favorite TV show. I took the bag out of the microwave, pulled it open and looked inside. It wasn’t stuffed with popcorn, it wasn’t bulging, and in fact the popcorn didn’t even reach the top of the bag. Curious, I emptied the popcorn into a large bowl and, sure enough, nearly every kernel had popped. It was the same size bag as we usually buy, and it was in the same size box it always comes in, but there was less popcorn than there used to be. Every bag in the box seems to be a bit “short” Until I read the amount of popcorn in the bag and compared it to an older bag. The manufacturer is selling the same size bags and putting less in them.

Why am I telling you this? Because it makes the same point that Jesus does in today's passage. How something is wrapped doesn’t always show us what’s on the inside. We can wrap ourselves up in the same package every Sunday — nice clothes, big smile, friendly demeanor — and still be less than what we appear to be.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s examine the passage we just read.

I’ve color coded the passage to make it easier to understand how perfectly Jesus structured it. In fact, the structure helps us understand some of what Jesus intended us to learn. These four verses have a lot to teach us, and not just about giving and acts of service.

The easiest thing to notice is that Jesus begins and ends his discussion about giving with the same idea. The first time, he argues from the negative and in the latter he argues from the positive, but the point is the same. Read them again, but this time read just the blue text, then just the green, and you will see how Jesus deliberately patterned this concept.

At first glance the meaning of the text seems obvious. Jesus tells us how to give (secretly) and why we should give (to please God and receive from him the reward of his approval). This is in direct contrast to the Pharisees who would give only with much aplomb in order to receive the approval of their peers. This obvious message is important and we could all stop reading right now and feel like we’ve heard truth from God’s Word. If we stopped now, however, we would miss the most important implications of Jesus’ words.

For instance, notice that Jesus moves from the general (acts of righteousness) to the specific (giving to the needy). This teaching applies to more than simply giving, though the act of giving is clearly in view. It applies to any help we provide to others. This speaks directly to “why” we give. It speaks to “motive”. We are not to pat ourselves on the back, and we are not to look to those around us or even those we have helped for their approval. Instead, we should simply serve them with the same attitude as that of Christ Himself. When Christ serves us, he does so not expecting anything in return. What could we possibly give the Son of God that would have meaning? In our spiritually destitute state, we have nothing he desires from us, except our love and devotion. Jesus gives without expectation. So should we.

In our deeper look at the text, let’s begin with “why” we are to give.

The first principle is that we are supposed to give! Jesus expects kingdom people to help the poor. Jesus says, “when you give to the needy…” not “if you give to the needy.” This is nothing new and is merely an extension of the command given to Israel waaaaaaaay back in Deuteronomy 15.

If a fellow Israelite from one of your villages in the land that the Lord your God is giving you should be poor, you must not harden your heart or be insensitive to his impoverished condition. Instead, you must be sure to open your hand to him and generously lend him whatever he needs… You must by all means lend to him and not be upset by doing it, for because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you attempt. There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.
Deuteronomy 15.7-8, .10-.11

By giving to others without expecting anything in return we model the character of Christ. Jesus expects kingdom people to treat others the way He has treated them.

Do you remember “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant”? A king forgives his servant a great debt — 10,000 talents! Then the servant goes out and finds a man who owes him a mere hundred denarii and beats him and has him thrown in jail for non-payment. Do you remember the kings reaction when he hears of what his servant had done? "Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?" (Matthew 18.32-.33)

We are to treat everyone the same way Christ would treat them. We are to give to the needy because Jesus would give to the needy.

I am not sure exactly when it became wrong to store up treasures in heaven, but somewhere along the way Christians came to believe that we shouldn’t be excited about the rewards of God for good deeds.

Whenever the issue of rewards is discussed there is inevitably one holier-than-thou type who resolves to do everything for God without thought of personal reward or gain. Their self-righteous mantra becomes, "I wish I could quench with water the fires of hell and burn with fire the joys of heaven so I could serve Christ out of pure motives." As noble as this sounds, it opposes the teachings of Jesus.

We are meant to enjoy the rewards of God. We are supposed to look forward to the treasures of heaven. Sometimes our reward is given to us in the here and now, other times it is given to us when we enter God’s presence on the other side of eternity. And sometimes the reward is not what we expect. Do you remember “The Parable of the Talents”? A king was going on a journey and called before him three servants. To each he gave a sum of money to invest on his behalf. When he returned he punished the one who did nothing but keep the original sum and rewarded those who increased the amount by investing it. What was their reward? More work!

The king gave them more money to invest! They didn’t get to keep the money, or the earnings. They were rewarded by being given more work and by earning the kings approval. Sometimes our reward is the same. We earn the approval of God and are given more opportunities to serve.

For a sense of perspective remember: Our reward must be the result of our Christian life, not the goal of our Christian life.

Now we turn to “how” we are to give.

We model the generosity of Christ. Kingdom people treat others the same way God treats them.

In one of the passages we’ve already looked at we have learned we are to give to those in need both liberally and ungrudgingly. Paul adds “cheerfully” to that list. In 2 Corinthians 9.7 Paul writes, "Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver."

We differentiate ourselves from those who do good deeds for personal gain. Unlike hypocrites, Kingdom people practice righteousness with sincerity.

D.A. Carson, a twentieth-century theologian, once said, “It almost seems as if the greater the demand for holiness, the greater the opportunity for hypocrisy.” If the world had one label they could affix to Christians, it would be “hypocrite.”  Did you know our English word is from a Greek word for “actor”? In their day an actor was one who wore a mask and pretended to be someone he wasn’t. Jesus’ use of the word was deliberate and evoked a powerful image in the minds of his listeners.

The problem is hypocrisy is easy. Everyone wants to be appreciated. We want to know that others care about us and we want our lives to matter for something. I think the desire for a life of meaning and significance is built into us by God. We want to know our lives are being spent on something that matters. But sometimes this healthy desire turns ugly. When we make our needs the point, when getting strokes from others becomes more important than serving God for his glory we are on treacherous ground. Often our own unfulfilled personal needs get in the way of authentic service. Pastor Eli Dorman of Mulberry Street Church remarked, “It’s an enormous temptation to permit our unhealthy need for approval from others to be the chief motivating influence guiding our acts of service.”

How do we overcome hypocrisy? How do Kingdom people practice righteousness sincerely? By remembering that kingdom giving always invites others to Christ. We don’t give for humanitarian reasons. We don’t give because we have excess (so few of us even have excess!). We give out of what God has given to us so that others might also be drawn to God. With this in mind it becomes difficult to desire personal credit or approval for our deeds.

We are to give in a way that is natural and not overt. Kingdom people practice righteousness secretly.  

To not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing was a proverbial expression that simply referred to doing something spontaneously, with no special effort or show. The right hand was considered the primary hand of action, and in a normal day’s work the right hand would do many things as a matter of course that would not involve the left hand. Giving to help those in need should be a normal activity of the Christian, and he should do it as simply, directly, and as discreetly as possible.

Some throughout history have taken this idea to the extreme. Myron Augsburger mentions in his commentary on Matthew that there was a special, out-of-the-way place in the Temple where shy, humble Jews could leave their gifts without being noticed. Another place nearby was provided for the shy poor, who did not want to be seen asking for help. Here they would come and take what they needed. The name of the place was the Chamber of the Silent. People gave and people were helped, but no one knew the identities of either group. This sounds like a good idea on the surface, but it contradicts Jesus’ earlier teaching in the sermon on the mount. In fact some would argue that Jesus contradicts himself!

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had specifically commanded, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The question is not whether or not our good works should be seen by others, but whether they are done for that reason. When they are done “in such a way” that attention and glory are focused on our “Father who is in heaven” rather than on ourselves, God is pleased. But if they are done to be noticed by men (6:1), they are done self-righteously and hypocritically and are ignored by God.

There will be times when our good deeds are a public testimony to God’s goodness. There will be other times when our good deeds are held in confidence between you and the person you have helped. Both are to have the same end result: the glory of God. If we give to someone in need and expect something in return from them, then we have not done a good deed. If we give to someone in need and expect their gratitude or appreciation then we have not done a good deed. When we give to someone in need without expectation and for God’s glory, then we have truly done a good deed.

In the end our acts of righteousness and giving to the needy may be an effort to either attain status with others or substance with God, but not both.

Notice that Jesus’ teachings in these four verses give us an insight to acts of righteousness that is much deeper than what we at first perceive. Why we give is as important as how we give. Separately they help us understand God’s heart. Together they become like powder in the air that exposes our true laser. As we are exposed one of two things will be made clear to everyone: either we are truly righteous and God is credited with our generosity or we are truly hypocrites deserving of the world's applause and God’s revulsion.



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