Sermon Title: “Let God See You and Be Pleased with Your Life”
Date: Sunday, February 3, 2019
Text: Matthew 6:1-4
Speaker: Pastor Joseph
Text: Giving to the Needy
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.
What is it exactly that God desires from you? What is that thing in you that could move God’s heart and make him rejoice and delight in you? What is it in your life that impresses God?
In this morning’s sermon, I shall attempt to answer these related questions. My subject has to do with true Christian piety and the life that honors and blesses God. Jesus has not called his followers to make disciples of themselves, but to make disciples of Jesus. Let people imitate the life of Christ that is in you and his character that you embody in your everyday practice and use.
Exposition: Matthew 6:1-4
Matthew Chapter 6 is divided in five thematic parts. The first theme focuses on the right attitude of giving/almsgiving (6:1-4); the second theme emphasizes the proper attitude in praying (6:5-15); the third on fasting (6:16-18); the fourth is on the right location to hide one’s treasures (6:19-24); and the final part is a cautionary word about being worried (6:25:34).
Nonetheless, the thesis statement of this passage is arguably 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.” The thesis is developed in verses 2-34, followed by supporting evidence and details. In the first four verses in the chapter, Jesus discusses the three major acts of Jewish piety and religious righteousness: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. All Jews were expected to give to the poor, to pray, and to fast; those who were devout did all three. In fact, the religious elements of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are found almost in every religious tradition such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. Jesus himself expects his disciples to follow suit; essentially, the phrases “when you give to the needy” (6:2), “when you pray” (6:5), “when you fast” (6:16) all indicate an expectation from the disciples. Jesus expects his disciples to continue this practice; he did not say, “if you give,” “if you pray,” and “if you fast” which eliminates the option not to practice these acts of righteousness. The question Jesus raises in this passage is how should they do it, that is, what should be the proper attitude of Jesus’s followers toward giving, prayer, and fasting?
The underlying claim of this passage lies on true and false religious righteousness in relation to charity. Jesus is teaching the disciples the proper attitude they should develop toward giving to the poor as well as warning his disciples that they should not showcase righteousness that focuses on self-exaltation, seeks to heighten one’s reputation, and promotes one’s social status or honor. The antagonist of this passage is the Pharisees and scribes, and the problem is their acts of public righteousness did not please God.
- According to Scot McKnight, “Following the New Testament period, the rabbis created piety around three nodes: Torah study, prayer, and almsgiving, and almsgiving was seen as the substitute of sacrifice once the temple was destroyed. Almsgiving, at least in the minds of many, had become at the time of Jesus the singular act of piety” (Sermon on the Mount, p. 155)
- As Craig Keener states, “One of human religion’s greatest temptations is to act piously to elicit the praise of others. A secret atheist could practice religion in that form without the slightest element of faith (compare 23:5) …Jesus reminds us that true piety means impressing God alone—living our lives in the recognition that God knows every thought and deed, and it is approval alone that matters” (Keener, Gospel of Matthew, p. 135)
- John Stott remarks that “The essential difference in religion as in morality is that authentic Christian righteousness is not an external manifestation only, but of the secret things of the heart” (Sermon on the Mount, p.126)
- Keener also remarks, “In contrast to nineteenth-century evangelicalism, much of today’s church is divided between those who emphasize personal intimacy with God in prayer and those who emphasize justice for the true poor. Like the prophets of old, however, Jesus demanded both (6:2-13; Mk 12:4); he also recognized that without keeping God himself in view, we can pervert either form of piety” (Ibid., 137).
- Stott notes:
This trio of religious obligations expresses in some degree our duty to God, to others and to ourselves. For to give alms is to seek to serve our neighbor, especially the needy. To pray is to seek God’s face and to acknowledge our dependence on him. To fast (that is, to abstain from food for spiritual reasons) is intended at least partly as a way to deny and so to discipline oneself. Jesus does not raise the question whether his followers will engage in these things, but, assuming that they will, teaches them why and how to do so (Sermon on the Mount, p. 127
Verse 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.”
- This verse establishes the thesis of the passage.
- The warning: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people” (parallel 23:5)
- The consequence: “for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (1b)
What does it mean to practice righteousness in front of people? The is issue here is not to display your good deeds, but the motivation (of the heart) of showcasing your deed. Does that mean Jesus’ followers can showcase the good works God is doing in this their lives? Yes, as long as the motivation is pure and not premised on the honor and exaltation of the disciple. In fact, Jesus does indeed command his followers to do good works so they can see the work of the father in their lives (Matthew 5:16). Good and genuine Christian works are a clear sign of those who love and know God.
- What does the word “righteousness” mean in this verse in Matthew?
- It can mean the conformity of God’s will as it is revealed in the Torah, that is “covenant faithfulness.” In this way, righteousness relates to behavior that conforms to God’s will.
- Traditionally, elsewhere in the Bible such as the letters of Paul, “righteousness” means a believer’s right standing before God on the basis of Christ’s satisfactory life, death, and resurrection. In this way, it is a reference to one’s salvation on the basis of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
- “Dikaoisyene, ‘righteousness,” is the term used in LXX to translate Hebrew sedaqa, which is often better translated ‘deliverance’ or ‘salvation,’ sometimes even ‘victory,’ referring to God’s putting right what is wrong. On this basis interpreters have suggested that dikaiosyne here represents not the behavior of the disciple but rather the action of God, understood either as his exercise of ‘justice’ in the world, especially as his intervention on their behalf, or as his saving gift of ‘justification’ in the Pauline sense… But in Matthew’s usage dikaoisyne is overwhelming concerned with right conduct, with living the way God requires (see on 3:15), and 5:20 dikaisyone will be used emphatically in this sense. 5:10 follows closely on this beatitude, and the ‘righteousness’ which is there the cause of persecution can hardly be understood as divine action. It is thus better understood here not of those who wish to see God’s will prevail in the world in general or on their own behalf in particular, but of those who are eager themselves to live as God requires” (R. T. France, Gospel of Matthew, 167)
a) “Righteousness in the book of Matthew”
- 1:19, Joseph, Mary’s husband, is said to be a “just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Because Joseph was a Torah observant/righteous man, he decided divorce Mary to maintain his faithfulness to the law or “to remain observant” (Scott, 44).
- 5:10: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
- 5:20: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
- 5:45: so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
- 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.
- 10:41: The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward
- 13:17: For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
- 13:43: Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
- 13:49: So, it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous
- 21:32: For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him
- 23:28: So, you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
- 23:29: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous.
- 23:35: so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah,[a] whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.
- 25:37: Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
- 25:46: And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
- 27:19: Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”
2. 11 Characteristics of the Righteous in the Old Testament (read Ps. 15; Ps. 1)
- The righteous walks blamelessly and does what is right.
- He tells the truth.
- He is not a gossiper or slander.
- He does no wrong to his neighbor
- He has a good reputation before his friend.
- He hates evil and does not hang out with those who do evil.
- He is a friend with those who honor God in their life and action.
- He loves justice.
- A righteous person does not lend money at an exorbitant rate of interest
- They refuse to take bribes
- A righteous person protects the innocent at all times
- Proverbs 11:30: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls
Verse 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.”
- The Greek word for almsgiving is eleemosume meaning “a deed of mercy or pity” (Stott)
- Many Jesus in Jesus’ era believed that almsgiving or charity would save the giver from death itself and store up treasure in heaven (Keener). The Rabbis in the Talmud emphasize charity to the poor and the needy. This was a standard expectation in Judaism. Some Rabbis even taught that charity must come from the right intention of the heart. The author of Tobit states the essential religious duties in the following phrase: “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” (Tobit 12:8). Simon the Just (third century B.C.) stated that, “By three things is the world sustained: by the law, by temple-service and by acts of generosity” (M. ‘Abot. 1:2; quoted in France, Gospel of Matthew, p. 235)
- According to E. Schurer:
A distinction was made between the weekly between money-chest [quppa, goods and clothing], from which the local poor were supported regularly once a week, and the “plate” [tambuy, food like bread, beans, and fruit], from which any needy person (especially strangers) could obtain a daily portion (A History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.—A.D. 135) qtd in McKnight, p. 155)
The Jews took giving to the poor very seriously, and in each community, there were officials who made weekly collections of goods or money for the poor. Gifts were obligatory; a man residing in a town for thirty days became “liable for contributing to the soup kitchen, three months for the charity box.” But more than this compulsory levy was needed, and almsgiving over and above the charity box was commended (Gospel of Matthew, p. 135)
Schurer outlines the basic rule around this practice:
Whoever had food for two meals was to take nothing from the “plate,” and whoever had food for fourteen meals, nothing from the money-chest (Ibid)
3. Almsgiving in the Old Testament
- Giving to the poor is commanded in Scripture, as it is associated the uplift system in the ancient Israelite culture:
- Leviticus 19:9-10 (This project was established to make provision for the poor and those who are hungry): “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
- 14:28-29 (the uplift program that aims at assisting the economically-disadvantaged population): “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”
- 24:19-21 (The reinforcement of the Leviticus uplift program for the poor): “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
- 26:12-13, “12 “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13 then you shall say before the Lord your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.”
- 112:9, “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.”
***These passages promote a state-sponsored uplift program similar to our modern day welfare system with the goal to assist the poor, the needy, the economically-disadvantaged population, and relieve them from poverty.
Who are then the hypocrites (hypokrites, meaning a theatrical actor), according to verse 2? Jesus warns his followers not to be like the hypocrites.
- Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the identity of the hypocrites is the scribes and the pharisees (15:7; 22:18; 23:13). In chapter 23 of Matthew, the word hypocrites is used six times by Jesus. About the characteristics of the hypocrites, France observes:
Hypokrites is sued by Matthew not only here in vv. 2, 5, and 16 but also for (1) a critic who does not criticize himself (7:5) and as a general term for (2) those who subject to ultimate judgment (24:51, the godless). Its main use, however, is for (3) those with whom Jesus will be engaged in controversy in 15:7; 22:18, and six times in ch. 23. In several of these uses it probably carries (4) the sense of insincerity, of consciously acting a part, which is close to what “hypocrites means today.” But in general, notably in 7:5; 15:7; 23:15, 23, 25, the focus is not so much on a conscious attempt to deceive as on a false perspective or sense of values which prevents the “hypocrites” from seeing things as God sees them; they are not so much deceives as disastrously self-deceived (like the enthusiastic but misguided followers of 7:21-23) (France, The Gospel of Matthew, pp.236-7)
- Why did Jesus give a prohibition to his disciples to imitate the scribes and pharisees? First, they are the hypocrites who practice public righteousness. Second, more explicitly, in Matthew 23:5, “Everything they do is done for people to see” and “they do not practice what they preach” (23:3).
Jesus provides the reasons for his prohibition relating to the practices or doings of the Pharisees and scribes:
- Matthew 23: 4, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
- Public and honorific righteousness relating to their intent (in order to be seen by people):
- Matthew 23:5, “They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long.”
- Matthew 23:6, “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues”
- Matthew 23:7, “They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called “Rabbi” by others.”
****The Pharisees and scribes, although pious and religious, say one thing and do another, act in public in righteousness while their heart is not right with God. Therefore, his followers should not imitate the Pharisees and the scribes, the hypocrites.
Verse 3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,”
- The lesson Jesus wants to teach his disciples, which also applies to us today, is not to draw attention to themselves when they give; their charity should point people to Jesus and draw attention to God the most generous Giver. Jesus cares less about one’s generosity, but the motivation of the inner thought that drives the act of generosity.
Jesus delineates the problem of intent, as reflected in these specific terms:
- 6:1, “to be seen by them” (on general righteousness)
- 6:2c, “to be honored by others” (on almsgiving)
- 6:5b, “to be seen by others” (on prayer)
- 6:16c, “to show others they are fasting”
***The point Jesus is making in verse 3 is that he is discouraging his disciples not to seek to be known as benefactors in acts of giving and showing compassion to the poor and the needy; he wants them to cultivate a genuine heart toward helping the poor and relieving them from poverty. The goal is not one’s reputation or honor, or even public recognition, but genuineness in motivation in helping the poor.
so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The Call to Practice Secret Righteousness
- According to Leon Morris:
The Mishnah speaks of “Chamber of Secrets” in the temple (Sheqal. 5:6) where the devout could leave gifts in privacy and go away; the poor of good family would later come and receive help without knowing who their benefactor was. In the Talmud we read, “A man who gives charity in secret is greater than Moses our Teacher” (B.Bat. 9b) (Gospel of Matthew, p. 138)
Paul, in Romans 2:28-29, “contrasts the person who is a Jew ‘in appearance’ and the one who is ‘secretly’ a Jew, ‘whose praise is not from other people but from Go” (France, Gospel of Matthew, p. 233)
“28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
Jesus’ admonishment to his disciples to practice secret righteousness is premised on the notion that God “sees what is done in secret”
The God Who Sees:
- Paul talks about Matthew 5:6, “your Father who sees in secret”
- Psalms 33 and 139, talk about God’s natural omniscience that predicates his foreknowledge of all things, both visible and invisible.
- 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
- 90:8, “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.”
- Eccl 12:14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with[a] every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
- 23:24, “24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”
Almsgiving is foremost expected from Jesus’ followers. It is an important sign of them imitating God who is generous and gives abundantly. God expects his people to be generous like He is and to be agents of transformation in society. He also wants us to cultivate a godly attitude and that to have a pure heart when giving to the poor. Jesus admonishes us not to be arrogant about our giving (6:2). If you give just because you want people to talk about your generosity and kindness, stop it. Go is not honored impressed by this egocentric attitude.
Public Acts of righteousness that is not encouraged in Chapter 6, which God despises
- When you give to the poor and let everyone knows about it (6:2-4)
- Prayer: praying in public so people can applaud you for your spirituality (6:5-7)
- Fasting: do not fast so you can be seen as pious, sanctified, holy, set apart, distinctive, or for people to exclaim that you are a friend of God (6:16)
- Wealth: do not be earthly minded (6:19-21)
- Being worried and general life attitude: “To worry about your own life as if you were in charge of it and can safeguard your own life is a sin; you dishonor God (6:25-34)
**** The people you should not imitate are (1) churchgoers who pretend to know God, but their heart is far away from Him (6:2b); (2) those who have a likeness of godliness, but they’re very worldly and carnal; (3) those who have a likeness of holiness, but they are carnal and fleshly; (4) The church is full of impressionists, hypocrites, according to Jesu.
Righteousness that pleases God: Some Practical lessons
- Practice your righteousness in public so people can see Christ in you and come to Jesus for peace, salvation, and eternal life.
- Pursue heavenly reward and that which pleases God because the focus on earthly reward is detrimental to your soul and Christian life.
- Seek God’s honor and approval; do not aim to please people or seek for public recognition.
- Give to the needy; do not without food from those who are hungry, clothes from those who are naked, medicine from those who are sick.
- Do not parade your Christian piety or show off your good deeds to bring honor to yourself.
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