I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Our Motives for Giving Matter
There is a story by an anonymous author who wrote about a mother and her little girl that I recently read. It went like this:
"There was a mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson. She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.
When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”
This little story, while kind of funny, illustrates how many Christians see giving. They see it as simply a way to make them feel good about themselves while being careful not to sacrifice too much. Still others see giving, whether their time, talents or money, as some religious obligation that has to be fulfilled to appease God in some way so He will bless them and their families.
And then there are those whose giving is done without much thought of God at all. They give because it makes them look good at their church or in their family or social group.
This is the type of person that the Lord is warning His listeners not to become in Matthew 6:1-4 in His famous Sermon on the Mount.
The truth is that man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7). Motives matter to God. He is the Almighty Sovereign of the universe and doesn't need anything from us. However, He does desire a heart that loves Him and cares for those whom He cares for; the poor, the needy and those who are lost in sin and in need of a Savior.
In this section of Christ's sermon, Jesus is expanding His thoughts that He began in Matthew 5:20, which states:
"For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jesus' point is that these religious leaders tended to soften the law's demands by focusing only on external obedience. In the verses that follow, Jesus unpacks the full moral significance of the law, and shows that the righteousness the law calls for involves an internal conformity to the spirit of the law and not mere outward actions. In other words, doing what is good with wrong motives means that you aren't really practicing obedience. And you aren't really pleasing God.
In this case, giving money, time or talents for selfish reasons, is not something that impresses God or is rewarded by Him. Here is how Jesus states it:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (6:1-4).
When Jesus spoke these words, they were originally spoken to His people, the Children of Israel. However, they have an impact on us today as members of the Body of Christ here in the 21st century as well. God still wants us to be cheerful givers and He has also promised to reward those who serve Him in this age in which we live. But He continues to desire that our service and our giving be done with the right motives which include a grateful heart for what He has done for us. He wants us to have a love for Him and a genuine compassion for those in need.
With these things in mind let us look a little more closely at these verses and see what we can glean from them for our lives today as God's children in this Dispensation of Grace.
I. Hypocrites Seek Temporal Rewards
Jesus begins by telling his listeners not to give just to be noticed by mankind. These are temporal rewards that won't last. Sadly, they may not even last until the following day. People are fickle and forget easily what you've done. Further, we also take it for granted that these people even cared about what you gave in the first place. It was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said that:
"You wouldn't worry what other people think of you if you knew how seldom they do."
Truthfully, people usually think of themselves most of the time. And you and your philanthropy rarely cross their minds. So seeking their approval shouldn't be what you live your life for in this world.
Our Lord then goes on to say in this section of Scripture that His followers are not to act like the hypocrites do. The Greek word hupokrités comes from the theatre describing a character who wore a mask. Actors in those days wore masks to portray the different characters in a play. The word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not.
In the New Testament hupokrités normally described an unregenerate or unsaved person who was self-deceived. That is the sense here. A Christian who seeks temporal rewards from men gets rewarded in temporal way only, just like the unbeliever. God sees that person for the shallow self-seeking unsaved hypocrite that they are acting like. And He is not impressed by their actions. You may fool others with your great gestures but God is not fooled.
One who is a hypocrite makes sure that everyone knows what they're doing. In Jesus' words 'they sound a trumpet in the synagogues and the streets, so that they can be honored by men.'
Sadly, for those who are unsaved, that fleeting reward that they get will not only not be followed by an eternal reward, but Jesus also, in Matthew 23:13-23, warns of punishment for living such a hypocritical lifestyle. That punishment will take place when it comes time for judgment day.
By the Lord's grace and mercy, the true believer will not face this punishment. However, that does not mean that it makes no difference how we act on this earth. God will judge the believer and He sees their motives as well. Further, there are consequences for not doing things with proper motives. We will look at those in a moment
Meanwhile, Jesus goes on in this passage to tell us how we should think in our heart when we do any charitable deeds. He teaches that the true Christian should have a desire to seek God's approval alone.
II. A True Believer Seeks God's Approval Alone
The fact is that if you don't care who else knows what you're doing besides God, then your giving will be done without great public display. It will be as if you do something with your right hand while your left hand has no idea what's going on.
Of course this is hyperbole here. Hands don't literally have minds of their own, so you can't keep something secret from one of your hands. Rather, Jesus is exaggerating to make a point. He is saying that a true believer should be confidential in their giving and not make a public spectacle of it.
This, in turn, demonstrates the humble posture of our hearts. It shows that we know Who we belong to and from Whom we've gotten all that we have. We understand that what we own is given to us, not for our own pleasures and needs alone, but it's given by God in order to help others in need and, by this, to bring glory to the Lord.
When we give in such a secretive manner, there is no danger of us getting the glory from men, for they have no idea that we are giving anything. Only God, who sees in secret, knows what we do. And that is fitting since only He can give us eternal rewards for our actions.
A good illustration of this truth can be seen in the lives of the English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his wife Susannah. Spurgeon and his wife, according to a story in the Chaplain magazine, would sell, but refused to give away, the eggs their chickens laid. Even close relatives were told, "You may have them if you pay for them." As a result some people labeled the Spurgeon's greedy and grasping.
They accepted the criticisms without defending themselves, and only after Mrs. Spurgeon died was the full story revealed. All the profits from the sale of eggs went to support two elderly widows. Because the Spurgeon's were unwilling to let their left hand know what the right hand was doing (Matthew 6:3), they endured the attacks in silence.
Truthfully, none of us will probably ever reach as many people with the gospel as did Spurgeon with his pulpit ministry. He was known as the prince of preachers and at the young age of 22 was already preaching to audiences of over 10,000 people in England. But all of us can reach others through acts of kindness and mercy like Spurgeon and his wife did for those poor widows by selling those eggs and giving them the money. And, like them, our reward will be waiting for us beyond this life in eternity.
III. The Rewards the Believer Seeks are in Heaven
Jesus doesn't get into the details about the rewards that he was referring to for His Kingdom saints. He does, however, tell them that the rewards that He is talking about are not on this earth in this lifetime. Later in Matthew 6:19,20 we hear Him say:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
Paul the Apostle tells us, as members of the Body of Christ, as well:
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad."
This judgment for the believer is not for salvation. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins in full and took our punishment upon Himself. This judgment, for the member of Christ's Body, rather will be for rewards.
In I Corinthians 3:10-15 Paul compares the Christian life to a building whose foundation is Jesus Christ. Upon that foundation we lay works which will either be rewarded or they will be burned up in the judgment. Those things we have done for Christ are like gold, silver and precious stones that get purified in the fires of judgment. They will be rewarded.
On the other hand, those things done for our own selfish motives are like wood, hay and stubble that get burned up by the fire until there is nothing left but a loss of the time and effort that went into them, as well as the reward the Christian might have had. Paul says of these selfish works:
"If any man's work is burned up; he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire." (I Corinthians 3:15).
The bottom line is that we are not saved by our works but we are saved in order to serve and glorify the One who loved us and gave Himself for us. Good deeds should be done out of our love for the Lord and our gratitude for the new life He has given to us. But He also has promised to give us rewards for the service that He makes possible and gives us the power to do. We truly serve a wonderful God!
And we don't have to worry about who knows about us or what we've done that is good on this earth. God never forgets our labors of love for Him when we are in Heaven.
To wrap up this section of Christ's sermon up, I'd like to quote something from an unknown author who wrote this in a Magazine called the Northfield Calendar. He said:
It will make the toils of the road and all the renunciation and willing sacrifices of life seem nothing to have some such words of commendation from the lips of our glorious Savior, and to hear Him say to one who has sought to be faithful at all cost: "Well done! You were never popular on earth, and nobody knew about you. The life you laid down for Me in that Central African village, or in that crowded Chinese city, or lived to My glory in the uninspiring sphere of home duty seemed to be wasted and its sacrifices to be worthless by those who knew it; but ‘thy love to Me was wonderful.’ Men said you made mistakes and were narrow-minded; men thought that you were a fanatic and a fool and called you so; men crucified you as they crucified Me; but 'thy love to Me was wonderful.'"
My prayer is that none of us will try to live our lives in the spotlight of men, seeking earthly glory. But may we spend each day attempting to please the One who really matters. For only as we do this will we live a life that will not be wasted but will count for all eternity. And that truly will be a life well lived.
© 2021 Jeff Shirley