The other morning I was in a hurry to get somewhere. I had skipped breakfast, so I stopped in at McDonalds to get a little something to eat. As the lady slid the window open to hand me my food, I could tell that she wasn’t having a stellar day.
Her eyelids were at half-mast. She was moving in a way that enabled her to conserve as much energy as possible. And when she spoke her tone was anything but enthusiastic:
“Welcome to McDonalds. Your order will be ready in just a moment.”
When she handed me my food and slid the window closed, she put the cherry on top of her warm and gracious performance by saying, (again, in a bland and cheerless tone):
“Have a good one.”
I drove away smiling. I was sorry that she was having a bad day, but the contrast between what her words meant and what her tone said was, well, humorous.
I’m sure she said what she was supposed to. I’m sure that she had been taught to greet customers and say something nice to them as they left. But as far as greetings were concerned, she was missing the point.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day missed the point to, not when it came to greetings, but when it came to what God’s Word meant. The Pharisees said they were teaching the people to act like God wanted them to. But they were getting it so wrong, they were actually teaching the people to act like everyone else in the world, and not like God’s followers.
Jesus addressed these false teachings of the Pharisees, in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. For the past few Sundays we’ve heard Jesus correct their bad interpretations of God’s Word by saying, “You’ve heard it said… but I tell you”.
Now Jesus is moving on. Now Jesus is going to address their false worship in the second part of the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew, chapters 5-7. Chapter five was about the Pharisee’s false teaching, chapter six is about the Pharisee’s false religion.
In Matthew 6, Jesus is going to talk about religious things. Charitable giving. Prayer. Fasting. These were things that the Pharisees were doing. But, they were doing them all wrong. They were doing these things with hidden motives.
Later on in His ministry, Jesus told the people why the Pharisees did all the things they did. Why they gave so much to the poor. Why they prayed out loud. Why they fasted so frequently.
Turn to Matthew 23, verse 5. This is a key passage to remember when we’re looking at Matthew 6. Speaking about the Pharisees, Jesus says…
“Everything they do is done for men to see…” (Matthew 23:5a NIV).
Their acts of worship were done to buy attention. They hadn’t been teaching the truth with their words, and they weren’t teaching true religion with their actions either.
In the first part of His sermon Jesus led His followers and all who were listening to a deeper understanding of God’s Law. Now, He helps them to see what genuine religion is.
The first religious topic that Jesus deals with, is charitable giving. Take your Bible’s and turn to Matthew 6, verse 1. You can also follow along in the bulletin. This is the sermon text.
1“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:1-4 NIV).
Here Jesus talks about God’s followers giving to the needy, and being rewarded by their heavenly Father for doing so. The idea of “rewards” from God makes some Christians uncomfortable. It sounds too much like paying for past sins with good deeds.
But Jesus isn’t talking about sinner earning forgiveness. Forgiveness CAN’T be purchased by our good deeds. Forgiveness was purchased for all sinners when Jesus suffered our punishment. We receive this forgiveness, as a gift from Jesus. When Jesus talks about rewards here, He’s not talking about salvation from sin.
That said, some Christians are still on their guard when someone starts talking about God rewarding Christians for doing what’s right. They’re on their guard because they’ve seen people use Christianity for profit.
I was watching television late one night, when I stumbled on a late night preacher. He was going off. He was so charismatic and so entertaining. So I watched for a while. I couldn’t believe my ears. Here’s his offer: send him 24 dollars as a “faith offering” and in 24 hours you’d experience a miracle.
God doesn’t work that way though. He doesn’t set up a star chart for our good deeds. This many will earn you a pony. This kind of good deed will get you a yacht. This many prayers will ensure good health. God doesn’t work that way.
God certainly promises to bless His followers when they do what is right. But He doesn’t usually tell us exactly what the blessing will be.
Let me show you one place where God does say how He’ll bless His followers for their behavior. Turn to Mark 10, verse 29.
“29“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-31 NIV).
Here Jesus says exactly how those who put Him and the Gospel first will be blessed. But usually we aren’t told what our blessing will be.
When it comes to giving to the needy, our Father in heaven says He’ll bless us but He doesn’t tell us how. Perhaps with possessions. Maybe with peace. Maybe wisdom. Stronger faith. Experience. Greater perseverance. Increased love for those around us. Long life. Joy. He doesn’t tell us which. He just says, when you give in secret, there will be a reward.
Now, when it comes to giving to the needy, Jesus says that there are two possible rewards that can be received. Let’s look again at Matthew 6, verse 2.
2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:2-4 NIV).
First of all Jesus says, WHEN you give to the needy. He’s assuming that this is something that God’s followers will not neglect to do. When you give to the needy, you will either have the reward of…
A) Human recognition and honor.
B) God’s recognition and blessing.
It’s not just a matter of doing it! For it to be valuable in God’s eyes it must be a true act of worship, not just some religious publicity stunt. It must be an act intended FOR GOD’S EYES ONLY. An act, of faith.
TO help the people remember how give and how NOT to give, Jesus attaches two funny pictures to His teaching.
First, a trumpet. When you give to the needy, do not announce it with TRUMPETS, as the hypocrites do!
After the sermon we’re going to pass the offering plates around as we usually do. This gives our members an opportunity to support the preaching of the Good News with their own money. Now, imagine that the guy next to you has a trumpet slung around his neck, and when the plate comes down your row and gets to him, he stands up, and… Tum Ta-da-dah Tum-tum-Tum TUM!!!
He sounds off on his trumpet and says, “I just wanted you all to know that I’m putting an extra $30 in the collection plate today because, well, I’m a giver. Thank you.”
If someone actually did that you’d know why, and God would know why too. Jesus says, that type of a person has their reward in full before they even sit down. Human recognition is what they way. A moment in the spot-light. A bit of honor. And that’s all they’ll have.
Don’t toot your own horn.
Jesus continues with another funny picture to help us remember what Christians SHOULD do when it comes to giving to the needy. Jesus says, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Okay, I’ve got to warn you, this is going to get a little silly.
(Holding his hands up, pastor puts googly eyes on them so they look like rudimentary hand puppets)
I told you this was going to get silly.
This is what Jesus says, don’t let your LEFT hand know what your RIGHT hand is doing.
(When the left hand is looking away from the right hand, the right hand picks up a dollar bill and tosses it in the collection plate.)
Christians, when we give to the needy, we don’t want to do it in order to get a pat on the back. In fact, we don’t even want ourselves to know about it so that WE don’t pat ourselves on the back. Jesus says, AVOID SELF CONGRATULATION too!
(Pastor pats himself on the back)
We don’t wan tour pride to grow. Wow, I gave to the needy, IN SECRET! Wow, I’M really CHRISTIAN!
The right attitude is this: He’s watching me. My Father in heaven is seeing this. He’s my audience, and the only audience I need.
Jesus talks about people who give like this in Matthew, chapter 25. Turn there if you’ve got your Bible, Matthew 25, verse 34. Here Jesus is talking about the Last Judgment when all people are gathered and He sorts them. The righteous on the right. The faithless on the left.
On that day Jesus will point to the good deeds of the Christian as evidence of their faith in Him. But they won’t remember. Their left hand didn’t see what their right was doing. Verse 34…
“34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mathew 25:34-40 NIV).
The other day I was online looking at an old high-school classmate’s Facebook page. Somewhere on his page he had typed this interesting statement:
“Religions kill. What I have is a relationship with Jesus Christ”
In our day and age, “religion” has come to be viewed in a negative light. We might say, “He balances his checkbook religiously”. Or “She drinks religiously”. It’s not a good thing. Doing something “religiously” has come to mean doing something consistently, without thought, or maybe even obsessively.
Too many people think that religion is just a rigorous DOING of what the rules say. That’s what the Pharisees thought. To them religion was DOING what you’re supposed to do. Give to the poor, pray, fast, etc. Just go through the motions.
Jesus says, NO. True religion is more like a relationship. More like a FRIENDSHIP between a person and God. In this friendship…
God talks to you through the Bible, and you talk to Him in prayer. God does things for you, and you do things for God. You enjoy each other’s company. You feel happy to see each other if it’s been a while since your last meeting. This friendship with God is different than other friendships you have though. He’s a friend who’s really out of your league. A friend whom you’re indebted to. He saved your life once, by giving up what He love the most. His own Son.
The Pharisees didn’t have this kind of relationship with the Father. They were only God’s FAKE friends. They used their connection to God for personal gain. And this motive of theirs was only slightly hidden.
That’s not us though. That’s not us. We have a real relationship with the Father. He has chosen us to be His friends. Called us to believe. Cleansed us by His Son’s blood. We’re not just connected to God in name, but by faith. So, when we do our acts of worship, let’s make sure they’re done TO HIM, and TO HIM ALONE. With no hidden motives.
Now, before we close I’d like to say one more thing. Jesus isn’t saying that we are never to do anything good in front of people. Just that our INTENTION should not be to get ATTENTION.
In Matthew 5, verse 16 Jesus says,
“…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16b NIV)
Our hidden giving might be found out. But that should never be our intention. Our good actions are done with our Father as our audience, and so that HE IS PRAISED, not us.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.