|Matthew 6:2-4||Matthew 6:5-6||Matthew 6:16-18|
|Practice Assumed||When you give||When you pray||When you fast|
|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 honoured by men.||And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.||When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.|
|I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.||I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.||I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.|
|But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,||But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father,||But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father,|
|so that your giving may be in secret.||who is unseen.||who is unseen,|
|Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.||Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.||and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.|
1. The Practice
Assumed (Matthew 6:1-2)
Notice Jesus says, "when you give..." "When you pray..." "When you fast..." Jesus assumes his disciples practice these disciplines. That they give to the poor, that they talk to their heavenly Father and that they discipline their bodies. Now there is some debate as to what extent Christians should fast. I don't want to dwell on this subject today, other than to say, I believe it is a healthy discipline to regulate your intake of food occasionally. (quote from Sunday Times - the god of food). Fasting helps to focus the mind and can be an aid in special times of prayer when we have important decisions to make (see Acts 13:2; 14:23). Next week Graeme Paris will examine in more detail how Jesus taught us to pray. Today therefore I am going to dwell on the first column and verses 2-4 which dwell on giving, but the principles equally apply to praying and fasting. The practice is assumed (Mark 2:18-20). Jesus assumes that you will give to the Lord's work.
2. The Pretence Exposed (6:1-2)
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them... When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. (6:1-2) Jesus used many figures to describe hypocrisy. He compared it to leaven (Luke 12:1), to whitewashed tombs (Matt. 23:27), concealed tombs (Luke 11:44), tares among the wheat (Matt. 13:25), and to wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15). Jesus says, 'beware' meaning pay attention to me, be on guard about what I say. The expression 'to be noticed'' is related to the word theatre. In other words, Jesus is warning about showing off. The term hypocrite originally described a Greek actor who wore a mask portraying in an exaggerated way the role that was being dramatized. It described someone who lay aside his true identity and assumed a false one, no longer himself but disguised, impersonating someone else.
Hypocrisy comes in two forms. The first is of non believers masquerading as Christians. The second is of true believers who are sinful but pretend to be spiritual. This warning of Jesus applies to both. Hypocrisy is so dangerous because it is so deceptive. It uses things that are basically good for purposes that are basically evil. "Hypocrisy," Augustine once said,, "is the homage that vice pays to virtue." As you know water is scarce in the Middle East, and a water carrier is a welcome sight even today. In those days, when someone wanted to perform a charitable act and bring blessing to his family he would find a water carrier with a good voice and instruct him to give the thirsty a drink without charge. So the water carrier would go into the market place and cry out "O thirsty ones.. come to drink the offering" The giver would stand beside him saying "bless me who gave you this drink." Today people do it in more subtle ways, like publishing a list of benefactors to some good cause, or putting little plaques on donated church furniture to remind people of their generosity. Maybe that's why certain cathedrals use glass cases to receive donations. The practice assumed but the pretence exposed.
3. The Pronouncement
is Final (6:2)
Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (6:2) Such false righteousness, Jesus assures us, will never qualify a person for God's kingdom. A few years back I received a load of raffle tickets to sell on behalf of another church in town with a building project. They had completed the building... its just they hadn't paid for it, in fact they were still paying off the interest on the loan. Presumably they thought people would contribute more with the incentive of winning a prize, the more generous they were, the more likely of a reward. I threw them in the bin. Jesus is saying here, "If you give to demonstrate how generous you are, you'll certainly be admired by some people, but that is all you'll ever get." At its simplest, seeking other people's blessings forfeits God's. The practice assumed, the pretence exposed, the pronouncement final.
4. The Procedure Simple (Matthew 6:3)
5. The Place Hidden (Matthew 6:3)
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret. (6:3) Some have questioned whether there is not here a contradiction with what Jesus said earlier in the Sermon on the Mount where He had specifically commanded, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). The difference between these verses has to do with purpose and motivation. The discrepancy is only imaginary. In the first passage Jesus is dealing with cowardice, whereas in the second He is dealing with hypocrisy. A. B. Bruce gives this helpful explanation, "We are to show when tempted to hide and hide when tempted to show." Never in the history of the church have Christians been so bombarded with impersonal appeals and slick advertising to give money, many of them legitimate and worthwhile causes. Knowing how and where to give is sometimes difficult. Here are 5 Biblical principles to guide us.
Giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
"On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper". Christians are to give regularly and systematically. We should give to the Lord of our first fruits not our left overs. Have you ever got home late and found the left overs cold in the fridge? That's what our giving must sometimes appear to God. A frozen offering instead of a fragrant offering. Regular giving.
5.2 Local Giving (Acts 4:32-35)
"There were no needy persons among them." The early church shared their resources with one another. There was a personal link between the givers and receivers mediated through the local church. The heart of Christ's work on earth today is the local church. As you will see from the leaflet in the News Sheet we rightly depend entirely on the church family to sustain the ministry here in Virginia Water. Our records are confidential and only the treasurers know the source and amounts of our giving - yet, for the British among us, I think you would be surprised if not embarrassed to know the degree to which we already depend upon the generosity of our expatriate community to fund the ministry. At this moment in time there is a short fall and without everyone prayerfully reflecting on their first priority to give to the local church we will need to cut back on our planned ministry in the second half of this year. So please read the enclosed leaflet and reflect upon the level of your tithe to Christ Church. Your freewill offering in respond to requests from those in need should be over and above our collective responsibility for our witness in Virginia Water. Regular giving, local giving.
5.3 Secret Giving (Matthew 6:3)
"do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret." This is a proverbial expression for doing something spontaneously, with no special effort or show. Giving should be our normal response, done as simply, directly, and discreetly as possible. The most satisfying giving, and the giving that God blesses, is that which is done and forgotten. It is done in love out of response to a need and when the need is met the giver goes on about their business, not waiting for, or wanting, recognition. The principle is this: if we remember, God will forget; but if we forget, God will remember. Regular, local, secret giving.
5.4 Joyful Giving (2 Corinthians 9:7)
"Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver" You know the joy of receiving a gift from a child that cost pence to buy but represents a great sacrifice from them. How can a child outgive an adult? How can we ever outgive God? Giving is meant to be fun. Its our way of saying "Thank you" to God for all he has given to us and trusting him beforehand with what we need. Regular, local, secret, joyful giving.
5.5 Sacrificial Giving (2 Corinthians 8:3-4)
"For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints." God expects us all to give sacrificially, of our time, our talents and our treasure. The biblical principle is called tithing which means a tenth. Just imagine our impact in the world if every Christian tithed a tenth of their income to the Lord's work, every church free of financial worries, every church a missionary church - releasing one in ten members to serve the Lord full time. We would truly be the salt of the earth. But generosity is not measured by the size of the gift itself, but by its size in comparison to what is possessed. That means for some their tithe should be 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%. How much food can we eat in a week? How many new clothes can we wear at the same time? The widow who gave "two small copper coins" to the Temple treasury gave more than all the "many rich people [who] were putting in large sums". Why? Because "they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on" (Mark 12:4144).
A person who is not generous when he is poor will not be generous if he becomes rich. That is why it is important to teach children to give generously with whatever small amounts of money they get, because the attitudes and patterns they develop as children are likely to be the ones they follow when they are grown. The question is therefore not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God's money we should keep for ourselves. You've probably scene the film Schindler's List. The book is actually called something different. Its called Schindler's Ark.... A telling description of his mission.
Giving is not a matter of how much one has but of how much love one has. Giving that is regular is exciting because its a sign that we trust God to supply our needs. Giving that is local ensures we see a return on our investment. Giving that is secret is between you and the Lord. Giving that is sacrificial ensures we care what the church is doing with it. And that's exciting. Regular, local, secret, joyful, sacrificial giving. Giving - the practice is assumed. The pretence is exposed. The procedure is simple. The place is hidden. Finally,
6. The Promise is Comforting (Matthew 6:4)
"and your Father who sees in secret will repay you." Running right through the Bible is the principle - giving from the heart is investing with God. Giving is God's cycle of blessing. "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered" (Prov. 11:25). As we give, God blesses, and when God blesses us we give again out of what He has given. Jesus makes a similar promise in Luke 6:38.
"Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38).
Lets clear up this matter of rewards. Jesus promises a reward if our motive is pure. What kind of reward does Jesus mean? The health and wealth Prosperity Gospel which says 'give and you will get' is seriously mistaken because it turns grace into a law. C. S. Lewis put it this way "Money is not the natural reward of love. Marriage is the proper reward for the real lover." Jesus is describing the reward of being entrusted with more as we prove faithful with what he has already given us.
Worldly reward promises the chance to put our feet up. The reward God gives is often of more work to do. Take Mother Teresa. She was a millionare, millions and millions of pound have passed through her hands. It continues to do so through her charity only because she could be trusted, because she gave it away to those whose need was greater. God found in her a channel for his compassion for the poor. Jesus is speaking of the reward of looking forward to the greatest reward of all, that when we depart this life, this transitory life we may see Him face to face in all his resplendent glory. Story of John Sascus' £300....
To those who are faithful with mundane things such as money, the Lord will entrust things that are of far greater value (Luke 16). It is God's perfect plan and will to give rewards to those who faithfully trust and obey Him. The greatest reward we can have is the knowledge that we have pleased our Lord. Our motive should be the anticipation of casting our all as an offering at His feet, even as the twentyfour elders one day "will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power'" (Rev. 4:1011). Lets pray.