Living for the Praise of God - Pure-Hearted Giving - Matthew 6:1-4

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To be seen, or not to be seen? That is the question. Early on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells the people of God that we should live as lights so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. But now, just a little further into the sermon, Jesus warns us against practicing our righteousness of the sake of being seen by others.

At first glance it may seem like these verses are at odds with one another, but Jesus is not contradicting Himself. Rather, in both cases Jesus is calling His people to pursue the praise and glory of God. As we live God’s way we should want people to see Him through us. And, at the same time, we must be careful that we don’t desire to be seen in order to be praised by others.

The Context – A Warning from Jesus  

Matthew 6:1 serves as the heading for the entire section (6:1-18). What’s clear is that Jesus knows our weaknesses and that we will be tempted to live for our own praise and to long for the approval of men rather the approval of God. 

In 6:1-18 Jesus deals with three areas of righteous living that He saw as being used for the praise of men rather than for the praise of God. Giving to the poor, praying and fasting are all things that God calls His people to do, but they are also things that can easily be used for selfish gain.

Using these three acts of piety as examples, Jesus calls us to avoid hypocrisy. He calls us to live for the praise of our heavenly Father instead of living for the praise of people. He wants us to recognize how subtle sin is and that we can take good things and use them in sinful and selfish ways. 

An Expectation of Giving and Caring for the Poor (6:2a)

  • The Biblical expectation – Throughout the Scriptures this is clear: That God calls His people to be caring and generous and to give freely of what we have in order to help others – especially those who are poor and in need (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). We live in a fallen world and so there will always be those who find themselves in places of need – God calls His people to be ready to step in and help.
  • When you give (v. 2a) – Jesus doesn’t say, if you give to the needy. As He moves into this section there is already the expectation that the people of God will be active in meeting the needs of the poor.

The Wrong Way to Give – Don’t give to be seen by others (6:2)

  • The way of the hypocrites
  • An acting term – Hypocrite is a term that comes from a Greek word for actors. In that time actors wore different masks in order to play different roles. For that reason, a hypocrite is a person who looks a certain way on the outside, but it’s not who they really are.
  • The hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees – The hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees is a common theme throughout the Gospels (see Matthew 23). Over and over Jesus makes it clear that these leaders were outwardly religious but their hearts were selfish and their motives weren’t pure.
  • Tooting your own horn – We don’t know if people actually blasted trumpets to announce their gifts, but the point is that they were using extreme measures to draw attention to their giving. It’s reminiscent of our phrase, tooting your own horn. We are tempted to want praise for things we do and to loudly announce our good. 
  • Their motivation – Jesus makes it clear that the scribes and the Pharisees weren’t trying to encourage generosity or to give praise to God – everything they did was for the sake of the praise of men. 
  • Their reward – Reward is a word that is repeated throughout 6:1-18. Jesus wants us to see that if we live for the praise of men, then the praise of men is our reward. When we live for the applause of people we forfeit the praise and blessing that comes from the Father. 

The Right Way to Give – Give to be seen by the Father alone (6:3-4)

  • Hide it (even) from yourself – Using an illustration of the right and left hands Jesus tells us that when we give, we should give quietly – keeping it a secret even from ourselves. Sin is subtle and even if no one else praises us we may be prone to pride and self-congratulations.
  • The motivation – While the hypocrites were motivated by being seen by others, Jesus calls His people to a different motivation. We should want our giving to be secretive – to be seen by God alone.
  • The reward – Jesus doesn’t tell us here what the reward of God is – but we should be sure that the reward of “our Father who is in heaven” will be greater than anything we gain from the praise of men. Other passages of Scripture tell us that God will be generous toward those who are generous (Luke 6:38). While our reward may at times be material, there are also great spiritual blessings for those who live generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-12).