We will be looking at Matthew 6 this morning as we continue in our series RED: Teachings From the Words of Christ.
If you do not have a Bible this morning you can find the Scriptures printed on the insert inside your bulletin.
WOW! We have covered a lot of ground in this sermon series. Matthew 5 spoke loudly to us about our moral life. As believers in Christ we are to live lives of integrity and love as we act as salt & light in this world. We learned from Matthew 5 that we to be both a blessing to others and are blessed because Christ has become our King and Savior.
Now we move into Matthew 6 and Jesus is going to begin teaching about how His kingdom is one of righteousness. There is a shift in the language from Matthew 5 (you have heard it said) to Matthew 6 (when you do). Jesus moves from correcting false ideas and teachings to the practical actions one takes as they live out their faith in God.
The actions Jesus points to as righteous acts are 1) giving, 2) prayer, and 3) fasting. Jesus says WHEN you give - WHEN you pray - WHEN you fast. In other words He assumes these will be the normal actions or disciplines for those who have faith in God. I do not think these alone are the only righteous things we can do but if we neglect them our other acts of righteousness can lead to becoming exercises in selfishness and arrogance.
Let me just give you an example from my own life that popped up this week. You folks have been awesome in your giving of gatorade and candy bars for the Odessa Middle School Bulldogs. Logan told me about having the Snickers and Gatorade on the bus and how they were and how much everyone liked it.
It was at that moment I began to think - man I sure hope I get to see the athletic director. I will get to tell him that I am the pastor of Odessa First and how we gave them the snacks and stuff. Now, in and of itself, the director knowing who did what is a good thing. Bu, to perfectly honest, my motivation wasn’t all that pure. There was a part of me that wanted to receive some praise and recognition.
The Lord sort of rebuked me and my attitude. I felt like He told me, “Isn’t me knowing enough?” Again, I am not saying we should not be ashamed of recognition and thankfulness. However, what I was looking for was an approval of my own righteous actions apart from God. So, I repented and ask the Lord to help me be humble and thankful for what you as a church have accomplished.
Now I know that I am in a room full of extremely humble people. None of you would ever sink to the level of carnality that I did this week! But maybe - just maybe there have been times in your life when we have thought, “I wish someone would notice what I have done!” Or, “I wonder if the pastor knows I helped someone this morning.”
I think we should always give credit where credit is due. But sometimes we have to be happy with the fact that the Lord knows and that if He knows our reward will be better than what any human being could ever give us.
(TRANSITION) We are not the only one’s to have struggled with wanting the approval of others for the good things we do. In Matthew 6:1:-4 Jesus teaches us about the first of three righteous actions that help us to place our trust in God and not in the approval or men.
READ MATTHEW 6:1-4
“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. - Matthew 6:1
Now the KJV of the Bible tells us, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men…” The translators of the NIV and most other Bibles use the term “righteousness” instead of alms. But why would one translation say alms and another say “acts of righteousness.”
I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of this too much but to the person hearing Jesus teach about giving alms in the place and time that He did the idea of giving money to the poor and being righteous before God meant the same thing.
For the Jew living during this time in history giving alms to the poor was a way of doing something righteous in order to earn merit with God. Many Rabbis taught that doing righteous things earned one credit in heaven (Jesus say - store up treasure in heaven in verses 19-24) and that a sinful action deducted a credit from God.
Now to our Protestant/Evangelical ears this sounds like heresy. We are justified by faith! You are right. But when the Rabbis taught this way they assumed that faith in God was already present and that all righteous acts were done BECAUSE of faith - not as a way to earn salvation.
Some of this teaching comes from the OT book of Daniel. When the King of Babylon dreamed that he would come under God’s punishment by becoming like a beast the King went to Daniel for advice. Daniel advises the king like this…
“...Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.’” - Daniel 4:27 (NLT)
There is a sense in this passage that doing good to the poor (e.g. giving alms) is considered a righteous act and by doing this act the King will continue to prosper. In other words, when you give to the poor God puts a credit in your heavenly account. This idea is apparent in other places in the Scriptures as well.
The Book of Proverbs tells us…”Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done (Proverbs 19:17). Now this is an interesting idea. Basically the proverb tells us that by giving to the poor we making a loan to God! The OT teachers put forward the idea then that when one gives to the poor they are in actuality giving it too God - a God who is able to pay back anything that He owes.
Now let’s think about this idea in light of our New Testament faith. Jesus gives us an example of an “act of righteousness” - giving to the needy. And He implies that doing such a thing brings reward. Look at what He says,
“I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full” and “Then your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (vv. 2b & 4b)
If there is a REWARD TO LOSE then, by implication, there must be a REWARD TO GAIN by doing giving alms to the needy.
Jesus tells the audience this after He warns them about making a big show of your giving. He talks about those who blow trumpets and announce their giving so that everyone knows just HOW RIGHTEOUS THEY ARE…look at Matthew 6:2
“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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
When Jesus uses the word “hypocrite” He links it with the idea of reward. A hypocrite is someone who does good actions - not because they have a pure motive and compassion - but so that other people will think they are righteous. Even though what they are doing is a good and right thing their motivation for doing it is selfish.
I have found that when this is the case we may not know it but when the person does not get the recognition he or she thinks they should their desire to continue helping fades and they eventually quit. Another way we can understand whether or not a person’s motivation is selfish or personal is how they react if something (like a ministry or position or authority) is taken away from them for some reason.
The Jewish people of this time believed in giving to the poor because of the reasons I have already mentioned. As a matter of fact each member of a synagogue was assessed a certain amount of money based on their wealth for the benefit of the needy. However, there were times when people would give above and beyond their obligation. Sounds like a good thing right?!?! But look at what is happening.
Trumpets - announcements - fanfare
When a person went above and beyond just dropping a couple bucks in the plate some of them expected for trumpets to be blown and announcements to be made. They expected special seating in church along with the rabbis. But here was the problem. There was a habit of making a promise to give to the poor - getting the fanfare that accompanies the promise - then never keeping the promise.
If you strip all this down to its root there is a sense here that they were looking for approval from others and not so concerned about what God thought about it all. It is almost as if they were saying, “OK I got my credit from God for my obligatory giving - now I need credit from my peers - my neighbors.” (Got to keep up with the Jones’s)
As I look at these passages one nagging thing keeps coming to my mind. Giving - whether it be to the poor or to the church or to missions is an act of righteousness. In other words, it is the right thing to do. I do not believe our giving earns us salvation but our giving does create an avenue of blessing through which God is able to work.
There are rewards - on earth and in heaven - that come as a result of our willingness to give money. As we commit to taking care of God’s house we can expect God will help take care of our house.
IN THE END GIVING IS NOT ONLY RIGHTEOUS BUT IT IS ONLY RIGHTEOUS BECAUSE IT IS A PRODUCT OF FAITH IN GOD
WHEN we give (notice I did not say if) we are declaring our faith in God. We are not trusting that others will see just how righteous we are - we are giving to God knowing that what I do as a humble act of righteousness to God expresses my faith in God’s ability to supply all my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (cf. Philippians 4:19).
When I write my tithe & offering check each week it is an act of faith and a statement of dependence. I am declaring to God, “I trust You will help me to be a steward of the other 90%. I trust you are well able to take care of me and my family.”
What motivates you to do the things you do? When you give or serve - what is the motivation behind those acts of righteousness?
Some create fanfare through negativity - “Look what I did! Nobody else would do it, so I saved the day!”
Others give or cease to give as a way to draw attention to themselves, “I refuse to give MY tithe because I don’t like what the preacher said.” (First mistake is thinking the tithe is yours. Second is that you just demonstrated your lack of faith in God to everyone who heard you say that).
Our motives are very important. In the book of James the Apostle tells us that fights and quarrels happen in the church for one reason: 1) we ask God for something and do not get it - so we go to war with humans (crazy). But why are we not getting from God what we are asking? Simply put - God knows that our motive is not care and compassion but “to spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3b).
God does not look on what the outside actions are; instead, He looks at our heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12 that whatever is abundant in our heart is what will come out in our words and actions. God understands, and so do us humans, that what is going on in the outer man is only a symptom of a heart problem.
I believe the whole point of Jesus’ teaching on giving, prayer and fasting in Matthew 6 speaks to the idea that we have to check our motives all the time. We must constantly be asking ourselves - with a sincere heart - why am I praying or fasting or giving? Is it about me looking good or Jesus looking good?
I will be the first to admit that keeping my motives straight is a constant daily battle. But it is a battle that can be won and we can have victory.
FYI: There is little we can do about how others perceive our motives. But here is what I know: if my heart is right before God and I am giving or serving in order to make God look good and not myself - then that’s all that matters. If someone else does not see it that way then I will just have to remember that my identity and self-worth comes from God - not them.
So, how do we respond to this teaching today? I think there are two ways a believer in Christ can respond today.
We can simply dismiss what has been said and continue the way we are - that is certainly your right and prerogative.
We can simply confess that there are times when our motivation is less than pure and ask God to help us.
Help us to love,
to have gratitude,
to recognize that what we do has eternal significance and that our motivation affects other people’s eternity,
If you are not a follower of Christ then you may ask, “What does all this have to do with me?”
Well, quite honestly, nothing! Except for that fact that you have met a few hypocrites in your life. Can I first say that I am sorry that someone may have turned you away from following Christ because of their hypocritical ways. Second, can I tell the church is a place for people with imperfections and quirks and problems and habits. We are on a journey of faith toward living a life that honors the one we call Lord.
So my hope is that you will respond by trusting that Jesus Christ can and will bring you into His family when you place your faith and trust in Him (notices I said HIM - not me or another church member - we might let you down - but HE will not).
If you would like to ask Christ into your life this morning pray with me.
PRAY - (THEN ask them to meet me after service to receive a free booklet to help them get started in their new faith)
Now call the whole church to a season of prayer.