Motives matter. Don't give like a hypocrite. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus teaches how and why His followers should give.
In Matthew 6:1-4, Rabbi Jesus gives clear instruction on how and why His followers should give. First, let's be clear that Jesus assumes His followers will give. Now, let's consider what Jesus said about the how and why of our giving:
Matthew 6:1-4 1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
1. True treasure is bestowed by our Father in heaven (6:1).
Matthew 6:1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Seek the applause of people, and that’s all you’ll get. Our Father in heaven will not reward those who seek their glory above His. However, in Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus reminds us that we are the light of the world, and He implores us saying, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
Is there a contradiction between Matthew 6:1 and Matthew 5:16? Of course not! The difference is clear: Whose glory do we seek? God’s or our own?
John Stott points out that Jesus is addressing different sins in Matthew 5:16 and 6:1, respectively. “It is our human cowardice which made Him say, ‘Let your light shine,’ and it is our human vanity which made Him tell us to beware of practicing our piety before men” to be seen by them."
A.B. Bruce adds, "Show when you’re tempted to hide; Hide when you’re tempted to show.”
What do you suppose Jesus means by “reward” (Matthew 6:1,2,4)? We know heavenly rewards are worth pursuing, because they will never perish, spoil or fade. Most importantly, heavenly rewards come from our heavenly Father. But what are they?
We can be clear what rewards are not:
1) Not works righteousness (grace orientation)
2) Not immediate (forward look)
3) Not materialistic (other worldly)
So what are they? What are these promised rewards?
1) The Blessings of Kingdom Living (Now/Not Yet; See the Beatitudes)
2) A Favorable Evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Divine Favor / Applause of Heaven / “Well Done” from Jesus.)
3) May even include increased responsibility in Christ’s Kingdom Come:
Matthew 20:23 23 He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."
Luke 19:17 17 And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.'
Here in Matthew 6:1, Jesus introduces 3 specific acts of piety or religious expression that are very common to Jewish faith and practice:
- Giving/Serving the Needy
These three acts are also common in the other monotheistic religions, includes Islam and its 5 Pillars. The holiest day of the Jewish religious calendar is Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Consider the following summary from a Jewish website, www.mechon-mamre.org:
"Tzedakah (charitable giving and service) is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins. The High Holiday liturgy states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah can reverse the decree."
I mention this as an illustration of how the three quintessential acts of piety Jesus zeroed in on 2,000 years ago are still the central acts of religious faith and devotion today. In Matthew 5, Jesus seems to have focused on the scribes and their narrow interpretation of the law. Boy, did He blast them out of the water! Now in Matthew 6, Jesus seems to turn to the Pharisees and their public reputation for being pious and righteous. Matthew 5 concluded with these words:
Matthew 5:48 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The immediate context is love of neighbor – even neighbors that don’t like us, even neighbors that are enemies. But this call to be perfect – perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – this applies to all of life. Perfection may elude us now, but we continue to pursue it. Like archers taking aim at a bullseye, we take aim at the perfect character of our heavenly Father as revealed to us in the pages of His Word – the Bible. While we will never hit the bullseye of perfection in this life, aiming at the target, pursuing God’s perfection, will keep our pursuits flying in the right direction. We pursue His perfection, and this pursuit encourages us to strive harder and harder still.
When Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” I bet His disciples thought of three things.
1) “I’ve got to give more to the poor.”
2) “I’ve got to pray more to God.”
3) “I’ve got to fast more from food.”
Jesus considers these pious practices in Matthew 6:1-18. Let’s take a closer look at the first: Giving (Matthew 6:2-4).
2. When giving, don’t toot your own horn! (Matthew 6:2-4)
Matthew 6:2-4 2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
a. “When” – Jesus assumes His disciples will give to the poor.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
2 Corinthians 8:7-9 7 But as you excel in everything- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you- see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
2 Corinthians 8:12-14 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all contentment in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
b. “Trumpets” – Could refer to a material trumpet of some sort or metaphorical “tooting of one’s own horn.”
Important Contextual Clues point to metaphorical use of "trumpet" (street corners & synagogues not temples).
c. “Hypocrites” – Two-Faced, Mask Wearing Fakes and Play Actors
Luke 18:9-14 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
d. “They have received their reward”
Craig S. Keener writes, “Businessmen regularly wrote ‘received their reward in full’ on receipts to indicate that no further payment was required.” This is the word picture Jesus is painting here in Matthew 6. These hypocrites have received their reward in the form of human applause, and this is all they will ever get.
Jesus’s prescription? Secrecy!
e. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
The offering plate hit a road block in the fourth pew on the left side last Sunday. The usher had passed the plate, and the people had passed it down the aisle. Each one placed his or her offering envelope or cash donation in the plate while simultaneously - in one smooth motion - passing the plate on to the next person. The pastor liked precision and performance, and he smiled out at the congregation as he watched the tithes being given and the plate being passed – it was a thing of beauty! But suddenly something caught his eye…what could be going on? In the fourth pew on the left side, the offering plate had come to a dead stop. Little Bobby Thornhill was holding
his offering in his right hand but had his left hand tucked behind his back. How could he give his offering and pass the plate with just one hand? The pastor nervously wiped his forehead and the ushers were beginning to gesture wildly at poor little Bobby. The offertory was almost completed, and there were 6 pews still waiting for the plate! The pastor wasn’t sure he could go on with the rest of the service until the situation had been resolved. Why was little Bobby keeping his left hand hidden behind his back? Finally, one of the ushers crawled over the people in the pew, took the offering plate, put Bobby’s offering in it, and passed it to the next person. The plate barely made it to the last person in the last row just as the soloist ended her offertory song. The pastor wiped his head again and smiled. “Whew! That was a close one!”
After the service, he shook little Bobby Thorndale’s hand and said, “Hi Bobby, I couldn’t help but notice a little hiccup this morning with the offering plate. Can I ask, Why did you keep your left hand behind your back rather than putting your money in and passing the plate like everybody else? “Gee whiz, Pastor,” Bobby looked up with a mixed expression of guilt and surprise. “You of all people should know that. Don’t you remember what Jesus said about givin’? He said, 'When you’re givin’, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.'”
Little Bobby was clearly a little confused in His application of Jesus' teaching, but at least he tried! So how can we make sure our motives are clear when we give and serve? A couple practical points:
1) Don’t purposefully call attention to your giving.
2) Try to the best of your ability to keep your giving a secret.
How can we know if we’ve crossed the line are giving with wrong motives?
Ask yourself: Why am I giving? What’s in it for me? Human applause? Appreciation? Notoriety? A Thank You Note/Gift? Your name on a plaque? A Tax Break? If you’re giving for any other reason than the love of God and the love of neighbor, don’t stop giving, just ask God to help you give in a way that pleases Him. Ask Him to help you focus on the one in need and how your gift can glorify God by meeting this human need. God’s smile, God’s applause, God’s “atta-boy” is what we long for. His rewards will matter 1,000 years from now.
Scott McKnight identifies 4 Warning Signs that we need to back-off and make our giving more secret.
1) Do I grumble, inwardly or outwardly, when my actions aren’t noticed or congratulated? Look out for self-talk like this: "Don’t they know how much I’ve given to this church / how much I’ve done for this church?"
2) Am I jealous or envious when others get credit and I don’t?
3) Am I irritated and upset when things don’t go my way?
4) Am I always focused on numbers? How many people came to my Sunday school class? How many comments and thank-you’s did I get about the great job I did on that project? How many likes did my FB post get? An over-preoccupation with numbers could belie an over-preoccupation with the approval of others rather than the glory of God.
A Concluding Caveat:
Whenever I talk about motives, I’m always on my guard, because there’s another voice, a hissing, deceitful voice that starts whispering in my ear. Satan, the Great Deceiver, says, “You know, you should probably stop giving until you know for sure your motives are 100% pure.” You heard what Jesus said, ‘You’ll have no reward from your father in heaven.' “Just stop giving – you know what, stop praying and fasting too – your motives are so impure, why even try? Am I right?”
Ever hear that lying voice hissing in your ears? Bring the lies of Satan before the Throne of Grace. His lies are a burden God can easily bear. His deceptions are shown for what they are when brought into the light of God's truth as revealed in His Word. Let’s show Satan the door, shall we?
Perfectionists are paralyzed by the impossibility of ever attaining perfection in this life. Don’t let fear of tainted motives keep you from giving, prayer, fasting, and obeying the commands of our Lord and Savior.
What should we do with our hidden motives?
1) Bring your motives out into the open as you confess your sin.
2) Pray for pure motives.
3) As much as is possible, do your giving/fasting/praying in secret.
I love watching young children play in organized sports or participate in music and drama. The young shortstop makes a nice play and throws the ball to first in time for the out. Everyone's cheering, but he's looking into the stands, searching for his father, looking for his smile, longing for his approval. A young pianist sits down at the piano and performs her piece brilliantly. She stands up and bows as all at the rehearsal clap in approval. As she rises, her eyes search the auditorium for her father, looking for his smile, longing for his approval.
What a beautiful picture of life in the Kingdom of God. We serve and give and fast and pray. Many may notice and applaud, but we desire the applause of One. We look for His smile, and we long for His approval. No other opinion is consequential. Nothing else matters.
Kingdom men and Kingdom women follow Jesus by giving to those in need. They give their money. They share their resources. They volunteer their time. They give, and they serve, without concern for who’s watching – save One. They’re always looking to make sure Father is watching. And when they do, they sense His smile, and His smile is enough. They may have little treasure here on earth, but there are mansions full of treasure in heaven. For in Heaven their Father watches, and their Father’s smile is Treasure True.
© 2016, Jason M. Platt, All Rights Reserved