Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to do a good deed without anyone knowing about it? Have you ever done a good deed without telling someone about it? It seems like that kind of information always slips out in our conversations, doesn’t it? It seems that most charitable giving in the United States comes from people who know their names will be listed in some periodical or on some plaque. People are motivated by pride!
Although the chapter and verse divisions were not included originally, the division between chapters 5 and 6 signals a real shift in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. In the texts we’ve examined in chapter 5, Jesus describes the inward righteousness that He requires from a negative perspective. We are told that anger is murder, lust is adultery, and that we must love our enemies as well as our neighbors. But now in chapter 6, Jesus describes the inward righteousness which He requires from a positive perspective, when we do good things, but for the wrong motives. Just as it’s not enough to refrain from evil acts if our hearts have evil attitudes, it is not enough to do actual good deeds if we do them for the wrong reason. Once again we see that though man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. Jesus demands heart righteousness.
In vv. 1-18, Jesus addresses what have been called the “three most prominent religious obligations of Jewish piety” (Robert Mounce). These are almsgiving, prayers and fasting.
The word translated “alms” or “charitable deeds” in this passage is a Greek word which has as its root the word for mercy and literally means a “deed of mercy”. It refers to a act of kindness done to one in need. What we today would call charity.
The Hebrew word for “almsgiving” can mean both “righteousness” and “almsgiving”. Perhaps this is why some manuscripts contain the Greek word for righteous deeds and others the word for charitable deeds in verse 1. Giving to those in need is both a righteous and merciful act.
There are three aspects of this text on giving to those in need that I want you to see this morning. There is an Assumption to be Observed, an Admonition to be Heeded, and an Attitude to be Avoided.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. (2) Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (3) But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: (4) That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. Matthew 6:1-4
I. An Assumption to be Observed.
Before we get to the real warning and teaching of this passage, there is an important assumption which Jesus and His hearers had that we need to observe. It is the assumption that “charitable deeds” or “deeds of mercy” would be a regular part of their life. Notice the wording in verse 2 and again in verse 3. It is “when you do a charitable deed”, not if you do a charitable deed.” The assumption is that as a Christian you will be engaged in caring for those in need. Therefore the focus of Jesus’ teaching in this passage is not “if”, but “how” one goes about this.
There are a number of ways in which a Christian can be active in giving to those in need. By giving of your time and resources to ministries like the Good Samaritan Center. By taking meals to those in need. By supporting a child through ministries like Compassion. By giving to ministries like Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse. Of course the greatest need which the people of this world have is of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so when you give to missions you are giving so someone can go and proclaim that gospel to individuals who have this great need.
II. An Admonition to be Heeded.
Now that we have observed the assumption, there remains an admonition to be heeded. Jesus issues a serious warning to those who He assumes will be involved in charitable deeds. The Greek word translated “take heed” in verse 1 has the force of a strong warning. It can also be translated “beware” or “watch out”! What is the warning? The warning as stated in verse 1 is that we can do charitable deeds for the wrong reason and fail to be rewarded by our Father in heaven.
In verse two Jesus says that those who trumpet their giving already have their reward. In verse four, those who give in secret will be rewarded openly.
The warning is that we can do good things for the wrong reasons and thus make our actions ineligible for rewarding from God on the last day.
This brings us to the final aspect of this text that I want us to see. Not only is there an assumption to be observed and an admonition to be heeded, there is an attitude to be avoided.
III. An Attitude to be Avoided.
This attitude is what Jesus is warning against in this passage. It is the attitude of doing what we do for the praise of man instead of for the glory of God. Again, Jesus is focused on the heart. His emphasis is not just on what we do, but why we do what we do. Why do you give? Why do you serve? He assumes that you will be giving and serving those in need, but why do you do it? A 2nd century Rabbi wrote that 90% of all the hypocrites in the world lived in Jerusalem. Today I’m afraid that at least 90% of all hypocrites are in Baptist churches!
If you do what you do in order “to be seen” by men, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven! But if your charitable deed is done “in secret”, you will be rewarded by your Father in heaven. This contrast seen in verses 1 and 4 is illustrated in verses 2 and 3.
In verse 2, the wrong way of giving is illustrated by Jesus. It is the giving of a hypocrite (or “play actor”) who gives noisily drawing attention to Himself. When Jesus talks about those in his day who “sound a trumpet” before them when they do a charitable deed, he could be using the term metaphorically in the way that we will today speak of someone who “toots his own horn.” Or, Jesus could have been referring to a practice in his day when people literally sounded trumpets as they passed through the streets signifying that they were taking their gifts. Another interesting option though is offered by Alfred Edersheim in his classic work The Temple: Its Ministry and Services in which he describes thirteen chests for collecting money in the Temple’s Court of the Women. “These thirteen chests,” Edersheim writes, “were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, whence their name.” He believes that in Matthew 6:2 Jesus is describing those who sought glory from men by carrying their gift before them in full view to be placed in one of the trumpet-shaped alm’s chests. When they noisily placed their coins in, they were “sounding a trumpet.” Jesus says that when you give in such a way as to be seen by men, you have your reward. Here Jesus uses a technical commercial term for someone who has been paid in full with the idea that no further payment will be given. If you get glory from men, you get all you’re going to get. No further reward will be given by your Father in heaven. You’ve been “paid in full.”
By contrast, Jesus says in verse 3 that when we give to those in need, we should be so discreet that even our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand just did! That’s discreet! Of course this is impossible, but it meant to illustrate how much pains we should take not to seek the praise of man.
The question may be raised, how can I do anything if no one can know about it. If I give to someone in need, at least they will know about it. What about Jesus’ instructions in this same sermon (in 5:16) that we should let our light shine so that men may see our good works? Is this a contradiction?
It is not a contradiction, because the issue here is attitude. In 5:16, Jesus is saying that we should let our good works be seen in order that our Father in heaven might be glorified. In 6:1-4, Jesus is addressing the one who does what he does for his own glory, not for the glory of God. Therefore our attitude in whatever good deeds we do should be that God be glorified, and not ourselves.
The good news is that when we do our charitable deed, not to be praised by men, but for the glory of God, we will be rewarded with an eternal reward by our Father. What has been done in secret will be rewarded openly! There are Christians who have lived their entire lives in obscurity. No one knows their name or what they do, but there is a God in heaven who knows their name and has a record of all they’ve done for His glory. There is a day coming when their name will be trumpeted across the loud speakers of heaven by God Himself!
One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 6:10 which states:
For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
Remember that and press on with secret service to others! We are not called upon to do what we do for no reward. Jesus is calling upon us not to settle for the temporary, fleeting praise of man. Instead, Jesus says, there is something far better. It is hearing the voice of our Father say,
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)
On that day you will be glad that your name wasn’t merely on some plaque or some printed page somewhere that has long since rotted away. You will enter into your eternal reward which will never pass away.