Summary: How can we let our light shine and "not let our left hand know what our right is doing"? This sermon explores that question by looking at traditional acts of piety and their practice.
The Invisible Disciple
Matt. 6:1-6 & 16-18
Introduction: False impressions.
What does a holy person look like? What defines a pious, devout, religious person? Is it the clothes they wear (PP)? Is it the religious duties they perform in their religious clothes (PP)? Or is it the place that one goes to observe a religious duty (PP)? Or is piety defined by a pilgrimage to observe so-called holy relics (PP)? Can religion that God endorses be observed in religious duty and public piety?
We see these pictures, and maybe most of say no that’s not true religion. Well what is? And if the world has the impression that religion is about what you do, at a certain time of week, at a certain place, then who is responsible for giving them that impression? Hey we are here! It’s Sunday morning and the truly religious people are at church doing their pious activities. Now you can be checked as being present. You will be noted for being religious. Just come back next week and you will still be counted as such. The question is for the disciple of Jesus; is this the measure of our religious devotion?
Jesus was concerned about that same question for his first century disciples. In that world religious devotion was measured by how much you helped the needy, how much you prayed, and how much you fasted. And how much you could be noticed doing each one. We participate in similar acts of piety today. Jesus doesn’t denounce them, but upholds them. The key is our motivation that underlies our piety. Who are we doing it for and what do we expect to happen as a result? What Jesus told his disciples many years ago resounds as a loud and clear message for today. In effect, Jesus tells his disciples that if you want to be truly pious…be invisible!
Move 1: Piety through almsgiving (1-4).
V. 1 is the controlling verse for this unit. In chapter 5, Jesus instructed his disciple on how to live with radical devotion to the character of God. Now he switches gears to traditional forms of piety in his day. Maybe it isn’t coincidentally that he first spoke about the character of the disciple before addressing religious devotion. But that is what he addresses here. He calls them “acts of righteousness” which recalls to us the same principle of have a righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees. He may have changed gears, but it is still the same issue. He makes an absolute statement. If you do these acts of righteousness for sake of being seen, then you will not be rewarded by our heavenly Father. Jesus had just finished telling his disciples to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But being perfect is not only defined by action, but motive.
The first illustration that Jesus uses is giving to the needy. This was a big deal in first century Judaism. Some considered it the single most important act of piety. So certain men, whom Jesus calls hypocrites, want to make sure people know just how pious they are. Isn’t the important thing, Jesus, that they helped the needy? Not for the giver it isn’t. Jesus says the motivation is crucial. If you are doing it to be seen, to be noticed, and applauded, then however successful you are at achieving that aim is your reward. The Pharisees often liked to give in the most public way possible. That way their religious piety was on full display, just like the images we saw earlier.
Jesus likens this to blowing trumpets to announce your giving. It would be like you standing in your seat as the plate came around and you yelling out, “Hey! Look at me! I’m putting in a thousand dollars!” Jesus calls this hypocritical because there is no way such actions could be for God when the concern is being seen by man. We laugh at such vivid absurdities as blowing a trumpet or someone standing up in their chair to give their money to the collection plate, but we have more subtle ways. We give to get our names printed in a program or to get a brick in a wall. I’m glad that many of our celebrities give to causes, but most make sure it makes it to the P.R. person before the money even gets to the charity. Jesus calls it what it is…blowing a trumpet!
If you give for that purpose, then you are rewarded by what you seek. But you can’t pretend to be doing it for God, when you are doing it for another purpose. God is not fooled by such duplicity. Jesus says that’s what the hypocrites do.
The disciple gives with no thought of recognition and only mindful of God’s generosity and other’s need. Jesus uses another absurd image. “Don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing.” Jesus is saying don’t even glory in it for yourself. Let the God who sees in secret reward you. The person who has given out of a pure heart knows the rewards of God for such generosity. God’s graciousness is never outdone. This doesn’t mean that every donation has to be done anomalously. There may be some good reasons why a person or group should know who is blessing them. But this is all about motives.