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True Religion, Part 1: Giving

Series: Matthew

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 29, 1997

Matthew 6:1-4

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 6.  We have been studying the Gospel of Matthew and in particular the Sermon on the Mount for the past few weeks.  Concentrating on chapter 5 and Jesus’ teaching on the law.  In that passage, Christ had contrasted His proper understanding of the law with the Pharisees misinterpretation of the law, and in particularly in Matthew 5:17-48, we saw Christ contrast His teaching in six specific areas with the Pharisees.  As Christ moves from Matthew 5 to Matthew 6, His focus turns from the teaching of the Pharisees to the practice of the Pharisees.  He had opposed the Pharisees teaching in Matthew 5, now He addresses their practice.  In Matthew chapter 5, He had said that they had misunderstood the commands of the will of God.  Now He looks at how their misunderstanding of the Word of God was working itself out in their Christian experience and in particularly, their deeds.  And so the Lord Jesus is concerned that we be on guard against the type of spiritual self-deception through which the Pharisees fell prey.  Let’s attend to God’s Holy Word, beginning in Matthew 6, verse 1. 

      "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. "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. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "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; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” 

      Thus ends this reading of God’s Holy and Inspired Word.  May He add His blessing to it.  Let’s look to Him again in prayer. 

      Our Lord and our God, we ask the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that we might understand Your Word.  We would not simply grasp it, with our minds, oh Lord, but we would appropriate it with our hearts.  We would have our wills changed that we might desire to do the work.  And we pray oh God that our actions would flow from a life transformed by that Spirit.  So help us as we come to this Word this day.  By the Spirit apply it to our own situations.  Search us out we pray, if there is an area where we are unclean before You in this regard, in this matter.  We would ask that you would change us.  And we pray oh Lord, as a congregation that you would sanctify us in our giving.  That we might give sacrificially.  That we might give with self-denial.  And that we might give with joy and cheerfulness.  And we pray, oh God, that our reading of the Word, and the preaching of the Word would bring honor to your Holy name.  For we ask it through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

      The Lord Jesus throughout this passage, Matthew 6:1-18, addresses three specific exercises of faith.  Giving, praying, and fasting.  He addresses the issue of religious giving and especially giving to the poor in verses 1-4.  In verses 5-15, He speaks to His disciples about prayer.  About their practice of prayer.  And particularly about the motivation for their prayer, and the attitude that they ought to have as they go to the Lord in prayer. 

      And in verses 16-18, He addresses the issue of fasting.  Religious fasting.  And again, in each of these illustrations, dealing with aspects of religious life, He is concerned that His disciples not simply go through the motions of doing these particular activities, but that they be concerned to ask why they are doing them.  The Lord Jesus is very interested that His disciples not only do what is right, but He is interested that His disciples do what is right for the right reason.  He is concerned for the motivations.  He does not want us simply to go about giving a religious shell, a religious appearance to the world.  But He wants our deed of righteousness.  Those obligations that we have as believers to flow from hearts which are truly motivated to do those deeds for the right reason.  And so throughout this passage, He brings the most searching criticism to bear on the hearts of the Pharisees. 

      But as He does so, my friends, let me say, that His words have peculiar application to us who are religious.  To those of us who are members of the local, to those of us who are active in religious exercises and involved in church activities.  Because the Lord Jesus knows that it is possible for religious people to be self deceived.  For religious people to go about their activities as believers, not attending to their hearts, not examining their hearts to see if their hearts are right before the Lord, and so they are deceived into thinking that they have a relationship that they in fact, do not have.  And so in this passage, the Lord Jesus gives a warning in the first verse, and then in the second, and the third verses, He gives negative and positive instruction about Christian giving.  And then finally in the fourth verse that we will look at today, He speaks about the proper motivation for giving to the Lord and for giving to those who are in need.  Jesus, here, teaches that a real righteousness, a righteousness that God implants in our hearts, by the work of the Holy Spirit, is expresses in life and in actions.  But that we must also be careful for our motives.  We must not simply go through the motions of doing what looks what is righteous, but our righteousness which must flow from a changed heart.  And Jesus speaks in the whole passage about giving, about praying, and of fasting.  We will speak today only of His teaching on giving.  Here in this passage, we learn at least three truths from our Lord about our giving.   

I.  The true believer must be on guard against hypocrisy.
      And the first one is this.  And we find it in verse 1.  We learn that the true believer must ever be on guard against hypocrisy.  Even those who are religious, especially those who are involved it the life of the church professing believers actively participating in the life of the congregation must be on guard against hypocrisy.  Notice the Lord’s Word  in verse 1: Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.  Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 

      Now giving to the poor was not necessarily a problem in Jesus’ day.  It wasn’t that the church wasn’t doing that.  In Jesus’ day, in fact, in the synagogue, you would have been taxed and part of the money that you had been taxed for in the synagogue, would have been given for the relief of the poor.  There were no government agencies that took care of needy people, it was only done by the synagogue.  And then over and above those mandatory offerings, there would be voluntary offerings, free-will offerings.  Free will offerings, alms, that would be given to the poor, to the needy.  Charity being given by the congregation.  This was being done in Jesus’ day.  But, the Lord Jesus was concerned that it was being done all too often with the wrong motives.  You see, the law had commanded that the people of God care for the poor through offerings.  And the prophets had preached to the people of God that they should care for the poor through offerings.  And the Lord Jesus Himself in the Gospels told His disciples that they were to give and to give alms and to care for the poor.  But Jesus’ concern is about the motivation for the Pharisees in their giving.  The Pharisees were giving their charitable offerings.  They were giving their benevolence in order to receive the applause of men.  They were giving their offerings in order to receive the approval of men.  They were doing their good deeds for the sake of public relations, and I must say that there are many today in our government who do much of what they do for the sake of public relation, and not for the sake of righteousness, and we see through this, do we not?  The Lord Jesus saw the same type of activity going on amongst religious leaders of Israel, and so He brings a rebuke against them and a warning to His disciples, and He says to His disciples, don’t be taken in by that type of righteousness, because it is not righteousness at all. 

      Jesus in fact, in the first verse issues two warnings.  The first thing He says, in the first half of the verse, beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.  There the Lord Jesus says that righteousness which is done for the sake of getting the approval of other people, is not the kingdom righteousness which He wants to see in His disciples.  That is not the kind of righteousness that He wants to see cultivated in us as believers.  He wants to see a different kind of righteousness cultivated in us.  A righteousness which cares more about what God thinks, than what people think. 

      And secondly in the second half of that verse, the other warning that He gives is this.  Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father, who is in heaven.  He says there that those who seek such human approval will receiver no heavenly reward.  Notice that He does not say that they will receive a reduced heavenly reward.  He says they will receive no heavenly reward at all.  Why?  Because they are strangers to the grace of God.  They are not in a saving relationship with God, or they would not be attempting to manipulate Him and to defraud the people of God.  They would be willing to be who they are, in front of the people of God, and be who they are with God.  Instead, their own hypocrisy is an indication that they do not know God savingly.  Jesus is identifying here one of the spiritual dangers that which is attendant to religious life.  It is the danger of pretending to be righteous.  And we are all tempted to put on a front in front of one another.  We want to look good in front of one another.   We don’t want to invite criticism of our spiritual walk in front of one another and in that process, we can gradually slip into hypocrisy.  The Lord Jesus knows that hypocrisy is a perennial problem for those who worship God in the congregation of His people. 

      The word hypocrite in this passage, comes from an old Greek word, which actually refers to actors.  In Greek dramas those who were actors were given this name.  The name hypocrite of course in that context, the context of drama and acting, they were expected to pretend like they were someone else.  But when that phenomenon is transposed from the stage to real life, it becomes a problem, and those who wear masks in their day to day life, with their family and with their friends in the congregation, they are dangerous, and they are often self deceived.  Christ is here criticizing the two-faced spirituality.  The fake spirituality of the Pharisees.  He is saying that the religion of the Pharisees is not genuine, but it is theatrical religion.  Their religious activities were done for the sake of impressing men, not done for the sake of glorifying God. 

      Christ is making it clear here that the only thing that matters in our religious performances, and the things that we do is what God thinks, it does not matter what others thinks.  It only matters what God thinks.  And that is important for us to remember.  We need to ask ourselves in our giving, why are we giving?  Are we giving to be recognized, or we giving because we think that it somehow puts God into our debt.  Or, are we giving because of the love of God which has been implanted in our heart.  Does our giving bear the marks of genuine Christianity?  Does our giving bear the marks of true Christianity?  Generosity.  Is our giving generous?  Or is it stingy?  Is our giving grudging, or is it cheerful?  Is our giving motivated by our love to God, and the love of God shed abroad in our heart, or is it motivated out of a desire to manipulate God?  So that He is beholding to us.  We need to ask those questions, and remember Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy. 

II.  The true believer must cultivate a genuine spiritual practice of charity.
      Secondly, and we learn this in verse 2. Christ teaches that the true believer must cultivate a genuine spiritual practice of charity.  He says, so when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be honored by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 

      Notice that Jesus does not say, if you give, or Jesus says, when you give, it is not a question as to whether His disciples are going to give or not.  That is not an option that Jesus is leaving over.  Don’t misunderstand what Jesus is saying here.  He is not saying, the Pharisees were forgiving, that is legalistic.  You just sort of give as the Spirit moves you, it really doesn’t matter.  The structured giving is set aside the tithe, setting aside the Lord’s money, this is all legalistic, and you don’t need to worry about it anymore.  The Lord Jesus doesn’t say, don’t give.  He says, when you give, make sure you give for the right reason.  The Lord Jesus doesn’t say, don’t do acts of righteousness.  He doesn’t say, don’t give.  He doesn’t say don’t do your acts of righteousness when anyone else can see.  He just says, don’t do your acts of righteousness, for the purpose of getting men to praise you.  The Lord Jesus knows that you will have to do some of your righteousness before the eyes of men, after all, in just the previous few verses in chapter 5, didn’t He say, let your light shine before men?  The Lord knows that we will have to live in a godly way before the world if we are to be appropriate as Christians.  But He says, our motivation must not be to get praise from the world.  Our motivation must not be in order to be seen and praised by men.  Jesus is directing us to our motives.  And He is saying that why we do something is as significant as what we do. 

      Our giving, our Lord Jesus knows, will call for sacrifice.  It will call for self-discipline.  It will call for self-denial in the Christian life.  And He assumes that our lives will be well regulated and properly structured and that we will show an increasing mastery over our desires and hence, an increasing ability to give to the Lord.  And He knows that it will require effort, it is not going to come naturally.  It doesn’t just come naturally to mortify the flesh.    But the Lord Jesus knows that in those in whom God has implanted real spiritual fellowship with Himself, they will grow in this area among others.  The Lord Jesus is concerned that our ultimate motive, not be a reward which we receive from men and their praise.  Those who give simply to receive the praise of men, will receive their reward here, but there will be no reward for them there. 

      And so we must ask ourselves about our giving at First Presbyterian Church.  Do we give generously?  Do we give joyfully and cheerfully?  Do we give sacrificially?  And do we give out of love to God?  We have not touched the surface of our potential in giving.  It is a great prayer and dream of mine, and I shall continue to pray this until the Lord answers my prayers.  That we give as we ought.  Because if we were giving as we ought, we would never have a stewardship campaign in this church again.  If we were giving as we are able, your Elders would never have to ask you to meet the budget again.  They wouldn’t know what to do with the money that would come in.  We need to devote ourselves to giving more, that we might give to the poor.  That we might give to the cause of benevolence more than we have ever before.  And that we might do the Lord’s work on the field of missions, more than we have ever done before.  This church is incredibly rich in resources, and incredibly rich in heritage and has been very generous in the past.  But we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can give to the Lord.  And I am going to be praying that God, the Spirit, will move in your hearts to cause you to be generous beyond the bounds of anything that you ever experienced before.  Because the blessing will be all ours in the giving of what God has given to us, for His cause and for the poor and for the advancement of the Gospel.  How is your giving, have you asked yourself?  Am I generous, am I cheerful, am I sacrificial?  And am I giving because I simply want to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. 

III.The true believer must be motivated in his giving to praise His heavenly Father.
      Christ also teaches in this passage that the true believer must be motivated in His giving by a clear and deliberate desire to praise His heavenly Father and to please His heavenly Father.  In verses 3 and 4, we read, but when you give to the poor.  Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  So that your giving will be in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  Jesus, shows here that our relationship to God and others, and our own personal spiritual state, is reflected in our attitudes toward and practice of giving, especially giving to the poor. 

      Jesus teaches that when we give, we are to forget about others and their opinion of us.  And we are even to forget about ourselves, even our left hand is not to contemplate what the right hand is doing.  The picture is of going past the offering plate as you enter the synagogue or the sanctuary and the right hand, very unobtrusively drops the offering in the plate, while the left hand on the other side is not even able to see what the right hand is doing.  The Lord Jesus is saying, don’t give self-consciously.   Don’t give, patting yourself on the back. 

      You see, the Lord Jesus knows that there are many types of hypocrisy.  And He addresses two of those types in this passage.  The first kind is the person who gives because they want to be praised by other people.  But the other kind is the one that your servant struggles with more frequently.  And that is the tendency to self-praise, when we do what the Lord calls us to do.  To sort of pat ourselves on the back and feel good about the fact that we have done some duty, and almost feel as if the Lord owes us something for having been faithful in our giving.  It is possible to gain all ones reward by self-praise, just like it is to gain all of ones rewards by the praise of others.  And the Lord Jesus is saying, seek the favor of God.  Seek the reward of God.  Seek the pleasure of God, not your own pleasure and not the opinions of others as you give. 

      Jesus, you see, has diagnosed the problem of the Pharisees.  What is their problem?  Religiously, they think that they can earn their way into fellowship with God.  They can earn His favor, and they can manipulate Him, by performing the religious duties that He commands in His Word.  The Lord Jesus says, a person who thinks that way, does not understand their own heart and they do not understand the Gospel of God.  In fact, their fundamental problem is that the hypocrite does not know that God is His heavenly Father. 

      Isn’t it interesting that in this passage, from verse 1 to 18, the word Father is repeated by the Lord Jesus no less than 10 times.  What is the Lord Jesus saying is the great defiency in the Pharisees’ religion?  They do not understand that God is the heavenly Father.  And so they attempt to manipulate Him, suspecting that He has somehow wanting to defraud them of what is good and rich in life, and keep from them the things that they need and perhaps many of the things that they want.  But the Lord Jesus says to His disciples, you remember when you give, that you are giving at the instruction of your heavenly Father.  And He loves you and He cares for you better than you could care for yourself.  And He is more concerned about your wants and your needs than you are yourself.  And so you give in light of the fact that the one who commanded you to give is the heavenly Father. 

      You see, the hypocrite is insecure before God.  He doesn’t know that God is his heavenly father, and therefore he seeks his security by manipulating those around him to praise him for being religious.  He finds religious security by getting others to think that he is religious.  On the other hand, the hypocrite is fake.  He is unreal in his spiritual activities before men because he is actually fake in his relationship with God.  There is no real relationship with his heavenly Father and therefore He fakes that relationship.  By attempting to make people think that he is religious.  The hypocrite does not know that God is his heavenly Father. 

      This is of course the message, or one of the great messages of Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son.  The older brother, who is so grudging towards the return of the prodigal says to his father, I have slaved for you and you have never given me such a party.  He does not know that God is his father.  He is grudging.  He suspects that his father is not concerned for his best interest.  And he suspects that he must labor for his father, to manipulate his father into caring for him and loving him.  He doesn’t understand who his father is.  He doesn’t understand the heart of the Father. 

      You see the Pharisees view of God reflected in that older brother in the Prodigal son is a view shared by all religious men, who attempt to gain their fellowship with God by works.  Every one attempts to manipulate God into loving them and caring for them, does not understand the heart of the heavenly Father. 

      And that problem still lingers in us sometimes as Christians.  Why do you give?  What reward do you seek?  John Scott speaks to us, of the proper way to look at this reward.  To even speak as if Jesus does is the reward of the heavenly Father may seem to be contradictory.  I mean, after all, He said give not looking for the reward of the praise of men, and give not looking for the reward of self-praise.  And then suddenly he says, give looking for the reward of the heavenly father.  Well, doesn’t that seem a little self-serving?   Well, C.S. Lewis and John Stott speak to that issue and I give you their words.  C. S. Lewis wisely wrote in his essay entitled the The Weight of Glory, "we must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair."  Now there are different kinds of reward you see.  There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things that you do to earn it.  And which is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things.  Money, for instance, is not the natural reward of love.  That is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money.  But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover.  And he is not mercenary for desiring marriage.  In a similar way, we might say that a silver cup is not a very suitable reward for a schoolboy who works very hard at his studies.  But, a scholarship to the university would be a suitable reward.  C.S. Lewis concludes his argument, "the proper rewards are not simply tacked onto the activity for which they are given.  But they are the activity itself in consummation." 

      What then is the reward which the heavenly Father gives the secret giver?  It is neither public, nor necessarily future.  It is probably the only reward which genuine love wants when making a gift to the needy, namely to see the need relieved.  When through His gifts, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick healed, the oppressed freed, and the lost saved.  The love which prompted the gift is satisfied by the father.  Such love which is God’s own love expressed through man brings with it its own secret joys and desires no other reward. 

      To sum up, our Christian giving is neither to be before men, waiting for the clapping to begin.  Nor, even before ourselves, with our left hand applauding our right.  But before God, who sees our secret heart and rewards us with the discovery that as Jesus said, it is more blessed to give than to receive.  May God give you a heart to give.  To give to the cause of Christ.  To give to the poor and to give as you have never given before. 

And if you do not know the heavenly Father, please pray to Him through Jesus Christ now.  And if you do not know how to do that, you come see me, or you come see one of our elders, and we would like to show you how you can come into saving relationship with your heavenly Father through the finished work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let’s look to Him in prayer.

Our Father, we thank you for Your Word.  We ask that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment.  We ask that you would give us the grace of giving.  That we might reflect your own love in our self-denying sacrifice of benevolence.  We ask it in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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