Sermon on the Mount - Almsgiving

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Mount (Bible Study)

Matthew 6:1-4

  • Anyone who adheres to the teachings of Chapter 5 will be engaged in religious activity.
  • Now chapter 6 shows that Jesus begins to look at how—how one is righteous.
  • He talks about the pitfalls, about those actions that can be very dangerous for spiritual health.
  • The first thing Jesus says is, “Beware!”
  • “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
  • Don’t showboat your religion; don’t impress others with your piety.
  • Jesus is rejecting the motive of notice. This is not to be confused with his earlier command to “Let your light so shine….”
  • It is right to do good works so that people think of God. It is not right to do good works so that people think of us. Even in the earlier passage, we are to do good works so others would see and glorify the Father, not us.
  • The reason for this warning is that if we do this, we will “have no reward from the Father who is in heaven.”
  • This is not the first time the idea of rewards has come up leading some to believe that heaven can be earned.
  • Is heaven merely an accounting system after all? No, this has to be thought of in terms of spiritual realities. What does the person who is practicing humility get? More humility. This is not payment in kind, but the natural result.
  • This is like the blessing about being merciful and obtaining mercy. Being merciful and humble draws us nearer to God; the lack of these qualities makes us feel distant from God.
  • The divine reward belongs to no material or temporal frame of things. God’s rewards are eternal and, in comparison, all worldly rewards are trifling.
  • Jesus gives three examples that have to do with “prayer, charity, and fasting.”
  • These are the three major tenets of Judaism. Charity involves relations to others. Prayer involves relations to God. Fasting involves relations to ourselves.
  • Jesus is covering it all. Notably, these haven’t been mentioned before.
  • In the New Testament, the care of the needy is a very important aspect of the Jewish religion.
  • Jesus says, “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 men...”
  • Apparently, sometime during the worship service, the very generous are summoned up to the front to be honored. The spiritual leader blows a trumpet, and then the people march forward.
  • Unfortunately, there is no known actual practice of this. Trumpets are blown at the time of almsgiving, but the practice described here is unknown.
  • That’s no guarantee that it didn’t happen, it means that we don’t know.
  • The point, however, is well made; where people are made too much of up front, God leaves by the back.
  • If their motive is human accolades, that’s what they get. They have their reward, here. They look in vain for any further payment because they have already been paid in full.
  • The word for hypocrite is a transliteration of the Greek. That means the Greek letters are simply replaced by English ones.
  • In Greek, it is the ordinary word for an actor in the theater. The actor plays the part assigned to him and wins applause for his performance.
  • It is the hope for applause that is stigmatized here.
  • Even if the people are very generous, in this example they are misguided, manipulators of the law. They are misguided because they are aiming for a double reward.
  • They want the human and the divine reward. Jesus is saying that it doesn’t work that way. “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”
  • He gives further instructions: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.”
  • It really says, “But you, when you give…” This is emphatic in the sense that the pronouns are used.
  • The analogy of right and left hands suggest a very close relationship. Neither hand acts independently of us.
  • He is saying that even in the closest of close relationships, do this in secret. This is to liberate us from having to impress others. God will notice.
  • “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
  • The person is rewarded by the interest and the presence of the Father. First and foremost, it is the Father’s closeness that we are after.
  • It is a highly personal, living experience.
  • We are to focus our desire to be noticed in the right direction. We are to look away from the desire to be impressive, either to ourselves or others.
  • We are to look to God alone for our reward. He will notice.

Bible Characters