In our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began with the Beatitudes, challenging His disciples to look in and consider the blessed attitudes that must be in their hearts (Matthew 5:3-12). Then He challenged them look around and apply those beatitudes in their relationships, their loved ones, their neighbors, and their enemies (Matthew 5:13-48). We start this sixth chapter with Jesus taking a turn in His teaching, directing His disciples to look up. Discipleship includes discipline. Jesus invites us to daily come before God, and to live in this physical world led by God’s spiritual values.
“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. “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. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4
You can call the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees “horizontal”: for the sake of being seen by the people around them. We can then call the righteousness Jesus taught and demanded “vertical”: coming from relationship with God and done to glorify God, not ourselves. Some say the Pharisees actually carried a small trumpet in their robes and before they dropped a coin in the cup of a beggar, they blew that trumpet. They wanted people to see their giving and honor them for being pious and generous.
Hypokrites is the Greek word for the actors who performed plays while wearing masks. When Jesus calls the Pharisees, “Hypocrites,” it is a strong rebuke, saying that their actions do not match their hearts. Jesus taught that the attention they were seeking would be the only reward they would receive. Their heavenly reward was gone.
Do you care more about what people think of you or what God thinks about you? Hebrews 11:6 tells us “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Do you trust that God will reward you for faithfully seeking and serving Him? Or do you make sure that people will praise and recognize you? What you do when no one is watching reveals the truth. Do you want the fullest reward for your giving? Jesus teaches to give in a way that draws no attention to yourself.
It is interesting that the first spiritual disciple Jesus teaches here is stewardship. Stewardship is being responsible for our resources, the money, time, food, gifts, and other things that God has entrusted to us. We thank God for them and use them to build His Kingdom, and not our own kingdoms. Jesus teaches later that God will withhold the true riches - spiritual blessings - from a disciple who is not a faithful steward (Luke 16:10, 11). This makes giving one of the most important spiritual disciplines in the life of a disciple.
Have you ever given to God but secretly wanted to be seen and admired by others? If so, how did you feel afterward? How can you give in secret?
Take a moment to pray, thanking God that He sees into our hearts. He wants our motives to be pure, and He rewards us for the sacrifices we make. Ask Him to help you have pure motives in all that you do.
This post is adapted from a lesson of the Mini Bible College, an online study of the whole Bible. We highly recommend their audio resources and written materials, available in many languages, to anyone who wants a stronger understanding of the Bible.