Summary: There were times where Jesus started out a sentence by saying, “I tell you the truth”. It was a declaration of affirmation where he was placing a strong emphasis on what followed. Today we'll look at his use of it in Matt. 6:1-4.
“PUT DOWN YOUR BULLHORN”
There were times where Jesus started out a sentence by saying, “I tell you the truth”. We would say that everything Jesus said is the truth. We would also say that everything Jesus said is important so we might wonder why he sometimes used this phrase. What’s the significance? When Jesus said, “I tell you the truth”, it was a declaration of strong affirmation. It meant that he was placing a strong emphasis on what followed. In the upcoming weeks we’re going to be taking a look at some of the instances where Jesus used this phrase and see what we can gain from them. Today it’s Matt. 6:1-4.
1) Put down your bullhorn (1-2). When Jesus says ‘acts of righteousness’ he is including the three practices that follow in verses 2-18: giving, prayer and fasting. Today we will only be looking at the act of giving. Jesus isn’t saying these three are the only acts of righteousness but it is understood that three of the most important displays of devotion in Jewish religious practice were giving, prayer and fasting so it makes sense why Jesus would highlight these three. In giving to the needy, Jesus said not to announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do; in other words: don’t draw attention to yourself.
Why did Jesus call them hypocrites? Because they only did acts of righteousness before men; to be seen by them. In the Greek, the word hypocrite means an actor who wears a mask. Perhaps this is why in the NIV, ‘acts of righteousness’ is printed using accent marks-because for them that’s what they were-just an act.
Jesus didn’t say that the acts in and of themselves were wrong; he was highlighting their insincere motive. If the deeds weren’t going to be seen they weren’t going to be done. If there wasn’t going to be fanfare they weren’t interested in anyone’s welfare. Generosity wasn’t in their hearts. Achieving recognition was in their hearts. Getting true rewards from God wasn’t on their minds; getting rewarded by man was on their minds.
Jesus is going after the sinful nature. It’s part of our nature to want to build ourselves up to others. It’s part of our old nature to want to get praised for our good deeds. It’s part of our sinful nature to do our unrighteous acts in secret and our righteous ones in the open. This might seem natural but it’s not good and Jesus highlights that reality for us.
The genuine act of righteousness is done with the idea of “how can I bless this person”. The hypocritical act of righteousness is done with the idea of “what’s in it for me”. The genuine act of righteousness is not concerned with anybody finding out. The hypocritical act of righteousness is concerned with everyone finding out. We can be doing the right thing but for the wrong reasons.
“There was a news story back in September of 1997 when Ted Turner announced that he was giving a billion dollars to the United Nations. Although he designated that the money be used to help the extremely poor with food, clothing, and shelter, he made sure his huge donation was seen by everybody. Before he made the gift, Turner notified talk-show host Larry King so he could start circulating the news. And then he made his announcement in a New York ballroom filled with tuxedos, evening gowns, reporters and cameras-the publicity. He has his reward—the approval of men.” One way to tell if I’m giving with the right motive is when it feels just as good, if not better, to give when no one sees it.
“I tell you the truth”. Jesus mentioned in vs. 1 that those who do their ‘acts of righteousness’ to be seen (other translations have ‘honored’) by others will have no reward from God. Now here in vs. 2 he emphasizes that by revealing that they have received their reward in full. It’s as if to say, “listen, you may think they are highly esteemed by God because of what you see them do but don’t be deceived; God will not reward them for it. They already have their reward-the praise and accolades of others.” A good deed may seem genuine until you understand the motive behind it.
“Once there were some vandals who cut down 6 huge royal palms along a major Miami Blvd. The city wasn’t sure if they could pay to replace palms that large. Then someone donated 6 more…even bigger ones. Sounds like a very nice, charitable act, right? The old ones were 15 ft. high and were a nice fore-ground to a billboard which read, ‘Fly Delta’. The new ones were 35 ft. high…completely covering the sign. The new donor: Eastern Airlines!” Jesus shows us the true test to determine our motive in being generous to the poor and needy-how bad do you want to tell others about it.