Giving to Give, Not Giving to Get
Sermon on the Mount – Part 12
Matthew 6:1-4 ~ January 7, 2014
After a break for the holidays, we are returning to the Sermon on the Mount this morning. We haven’t been in this portion of Scripture since November 26, so let’s do a little review. Since this is the 12th part in this series, I will simply review the big idea rather than try to summarize all the ground we’ve covered so far.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ longest recorded message in the gospels. It is Jesus’ own words of what life and community look like when they are done God’s way. In a word, they are different. British theologian John Stott explains:
“Jesus emphasized that his true followers, the citizens of God’s kingdom, were to be entirely different from others. They were not to take their cue from the people around them but from him…. There is no single paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount in which this contrast between Christian and non-Christian standards is not drawn. It is the underlying and uniting theme of the Sermon; everything else is a variation of it. …the followers of Jesus are to be different—different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious.”
Author Jen Wilkin helps us understand why we should study the Sermon on the Mount carefully: Because it will challenge us to think differently about Jesus. It will challenge us to think deeply about grace and law. And it will challenge us to think soberly about what it means to be a disciple. In short, it will do for us what it did for its original hearers: it will re-orient us to understand that, as [Dietrich Bonhoeffer] observed, the call to follow Christ is nothing less than a call to come and die. Death to sin through the gracious atonement, daily death to self through sanctifying obedience, and thereby, new life in the kingdom of heaven, which is even now at hand.
Now, we’re ready to pick up where we left off at the end of November. This morning, we are looking at Matthew 6:1-4.
Matthew 6:1–4 (NIV84)
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 “So 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. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
As we delve into this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, I need to point out that verse one is an introduction to verses 2-18, so we need to spend some time with it before going on to verses 2-4.
Jesus said, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
From this verse, we see that righteousness—being right with God—isn’t just an internal personal reality. Being right with God also affects what we do outwardly. Jesus uses this introduction to set up three activities that his followers will do: giving, praying and fasting.
He lays the ground rules before addressing any of the activities individually. Religious activity should never be done to get attention or recognition from other people. The only attention we seek is God’s. This introduction applies to the first three topics addressed in Matthew 6—giving, fasting, and praying. I think we can safely say that these are representative and that the ground rules also apply to every other religious activity.
Also from this verse, we see that God wants to reward his people for living their faith with outward actions. We’ll talk about the nature of this reward later in the message. For now, though, let me point out that when Jesus’ followers do live their faith with outward actions, they are not earning extra credit, they are not earning brownie points, they are not creeping closer to God than others, nor are they making a financial investment that will automatically be returned in kind. Let’s leave it there and we’ll come back to the reward later.
So, with these ground rules as the backdrop, we can move ahead to verses 2 through 4.
So 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. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
First, let’s note that these verses assume God’s people give to the needy. This is evident in Jesus’ use of the word “when.” He did not say, “If you give to the needy…” he said, “When you give to the needy…” Whether it’s through the church or in the community, God’s people give to the needy.
While this is assumed, the remainder of this passage has nothing to do with what is given, but how it is given.
Since Jesus’ followers are supposed to be different, they are not to give in such a way as to draw attention to themselves. Religious activity, in this case giving, is not performance art staged to draw a crowd. It is content to perform for an Audience of One—God. There is no need to hear “Bravo” as people demand an encore!
Evidently, for some in Jesus’ day, giving to the needy had turned into performance art. Whether it was really accompanied by trumpets or Jesus was just using absurd hyperbole to make a point, a segment of religious people gave in such a way as to draw attention to themselves and to be honored for their giving.
According to Jesus, when that happened, they received all the reward they were going to get. It ceased to be religious activity and simply became activity. There was nothing spiritual about it.
Jesus used what we consider to be a harsh word for these kinds of people—he called them hypocrites. Dictionary dot com has two definition entries for hypocrite:
- a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, or principles, that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.
- A person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.
We can easily transport these definitions back to Jesus day. This was his assessment of religious people who turned giving to the needy into performance art to get attention. They cared more about their reputations than they cared about needy people. Their actions were bathed in selfishness, not compassion.
While we can easily transport these definitions back in time, I find fascinating to explore the word hypocrite from a first-century perspective. In classical Greek, the hypocrite was first an orator and then an actor. The word came to be applied to anybody who treated the world as a stage on which he played a part. He laid aside his true identity and assumed a false one. He was no longer himself but in disguise, impersonating somebody else.
In Jesus’ eyes, these religious hypocrites were acting like they cared for the needy and were concerned for their welfare when, in actuality, the charitable giver was a part being played when they were on stage and the theater was full.
Religious people did this then…and I’m sure there are religious people who do it today. But Jesus said his followers are not to be like that. He said his followers are to be different. He said we are to be different. What did he mean?
As I consider this passage, I see two ways to be different. One, if you don’t care about the needy, don’t act like you do. Two, don’t give to be seen, give to meet a need. It all comes down to motive. We see this in both verses 1 & 2. In verse one, Jesus said don’t give to be seen and we can infer from verse 2 that he said, don’t’ give to be honored.
He saw this as such a potential pitfall for his followers that he prescribed the impossible! I think he was again using hyperbole to make a point when he said, when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Does anyone want to tell me how that’s possible? You can’t…because it’s not. What did Jesus mean, then?
Let’s hear again from John Stott: It is not possible to obey this command in precise literalness. If we keep accounts and plan our giving, as conscientious Christians should, we are bound to know how much we give away. We cannot very well close our eyes while writing out our checks! Nevertheless, as soon as the giving of a gift is decided and done, it will be in keeping with this teaching of Jesus that we forget it. We are not to keep recalling it in order to gloat over it or to preen ourselves on how generous, disciplined or conscientious our giving may have been. Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.
When we give this way, Jesus said that God will reward us, what did he mean? Again, I can’t say it better than Stott: 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 clothed, the sick healed, the oppressed freed, and the lost saved, the love which prompted the gift is satisfied.
How great does that sound!
How many of you are familiar with the phrase pay it forward? In essence, it means to pass on the blessing when you’ve been blessed. The concept has been demonstrated in some incredible ways. I want to share just one. I saw this headline on Christmas Eve: Man leaves $3,000 tip and inspiring holiday message on bill at diner. Here’s just a part of the story: In Washington state, a regular customer left a $3,000 tip on a bill for $39.60 without saying anything to the diner workers. But he did leave a note on the back of the receipt: “You guys do a great job! When I was 7, I washed dishes and my mom cooked in a diner like this. We were dirt poor and didn’t have money for Christmas. Hopefully, this will help all of you have a better Christmas.”
I love stories like this. I find them to be inspiring. I love hearing about them in the news and I love reading about them online. As I was preparing for this message, however, I thought how much different those stories would sound if the people staged the event by calling for a photographer or camera crew before paying it forward. I don’t think they would be as inspiring if they continued to be inspiring at all. I have a feeling that if that’s what paying it forward was all about then it wouldn’t be lauded as much as it is. Why? Because giving to the needy is supposed to benefit the needy, not the giver…and as Jesus’ followers, I think we should have more motivation than others to pay it forward…not for our benefit, but for the benefit of those in need. Would you agree?
Our righteousness—or being right with God—is so much more than just an internal personal reality. Our righteousness plays itself out in how we react to the needy around us. We are to give—God expects that we will. But we are to give with no expectations attached. We don’t give to get, we give to give…and we trust God from there.
This morning, I want to present you with a great opportunity to give. You all know that through the C32 program we have invested monetarily in the ministry of CityBeat Baltimore. There is now an opportunity to give again.
[Note: Visit this site to see what items are needed. We are collecting through January 21, 2018.]
Let’s give so that so that the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the sick are healed, the oppressed are freed, and the lost are saved…and remember, My attitude makes my actions acceptable.
 Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (pp. 18-19). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Hypocrite. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/hypocrite (accessed: January 4, 2018).
 Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 129). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 130). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Stott, John. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (The Bible Speaks Today Series) (p. 131-2). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Christopher Carbone, “Man leaves $3,000 tip and inspiring holiday message on bill at diner” Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/12/24/man-leaves-3000-tip-and-inspiring-holiday-message-on-bill-at-diner.html, accessed January 2, 2018.
Over the course of three chapters in Matthew (5-7), we read some of Jesus' most challenging teaching. This series will exam this "Sermon on the Mount" section by section to see what we can learn.