Summary: 1) The Danger of False Righteousness. 2) The Practice and Reward of False Giving 3) The Practice and Reward of True Giving
With the recent earthquake in Haiti, there has been a world wide outpouring of assistance. In Canada and the United States we just saw two telethons, where celebrities participated to raise funds. One curious phenomena was the participation of John Travolta. "I have arranged for a plane to take down some volunteer ministers and some supplies and some medics," John says. "My church has also arranged for 80 medics and 33 volunteers to go down. What has been suspect, with many of the celebrities has been the ulterior motives as seen by their actions. John Travolta’s actions, for example, were to bring a small army of Scientologists into Haiti. Their charity has been seen to be motivated by furthering their popularity and personal causes.
True charity came into the world through Christianity, and the charity we see today—in the United Way, in the Red Cross, in hospitals, in benevolent foundations, in government—is purely a by-product of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before Christ’s time there were no homes for the sick or poor, no orphanages. There was a world of toil and poverty, of the exposure of unwanted children, of slavery, of great hunger side by side with great affluence, and appalling indifference. After Christ came there was an instant and sacrificial love of the believers for each other. This was followed by care for the poor, hospitals, reform laws in the status of women, the establishing of change in labor laws, the abolition of slavery, and other things (Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount : An expositional commentary (152). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.).
Matthew 5:21–48 focuses on the teaching of the law, on what people are to believe, and 6:1–18 focuses on the practice of the law, what people are to do. The first section emphasizes inner moral righteousness-giving six representative illustrations regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, revenge, and love. This second section emphasizes outward formal righteousness-giving three representative illustrations of religious activity. The first has to do with giving, our religion as it acts toward others (vv. 2–4); the second with praying, our religion as it acts toward God (vv. 5–15); and the third with fasting, our religion as it acts in relation to ourselves (vv. 16–18).
In the teachings of the Islam in the Koran, prayer, fasting and giving are the chief duties required from the Prophet Mohamed. Prayer, it is said, will carry a man halfway to Paradise. fasting will bring him to the gates, and giving will give him entrance. Likewise, with the great prominence which Roman Catholicism assigns to giving—especially when the gifts are bestowed upon herself—to the senseless repetition of prayers, and to bodily mortifications. Similar ideas obtain among other religions, especially in Buddhism-lamaism with its prayer-wheels being a case in point. But in our present passage Christ shows us that, as mere formal works, these religious acts are worthless in the sight of God (Pink, A. W. (2005). An exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. (146). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
In Pursuing God though Giving, we must avoid: 1) The Danger of False Righteousness. (Matthew 6:1) ) 2) The Practice and Reward of False Giving (Matthew 6:2) yet understand: 3) The Practice and Reward of True Giving (Matthew 6:3-4)
1) The Danger of False Righteousness. (Matthew 6:1)
Matthew 6:1 [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. (ESV)
This verse introduces the section on the forms of religious righteousness and applies to each of the three illustrations in 6:2–18.
Illustration: The story is told of an eastern ascetic holy man who covered himself with ashes as a sign of humility and regularly sat on a prominent street corner of his city. When tourists asked permission to take his picture, the mystic would rearrange his ashes to give the best image of destitution and humility.
A great deal of religion amounts to nothing more than rearranging religious “ashes” to impress the world with one’s supposed humility and devotion. The problem, of course, is that the humility is a sham, and the devotion is to self, not to God. Such religion is nothing more than a game of pretense, a game at which the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were masters. Because their religion was mostly an act, and a mockery of God’s true revealed way for His people, Jesus’ most blistering denunciations were reserved for them.
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 amidst the wheat (Matt. 13:25), and to wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).
In New Testament times some people made their living as professional mourners who were paid to weep, wail, and tear their garments at funerals and on other occasions of sadness (cf. Matt. 9:23). It is said that some mourners were careful to tear their clothing at a seam, so that the material could easily be sown back together for the next mourning. Both the professional mourners and those who hired them were hypocrites, hiring and being hired to put on a display of mourning that was entirely pretense.