August 8, 2004
A hush falls over the crowd as the offering basket approaches. Bob, you can sense the tension of this crowd as they await the outcome. No one knows for sure just what he’s going to do. Wait a minute, Bob. He’s reaching for his checkbook. Whoa! It looks like he’s already written his check ahead of time. Boy, that is strategy! And here it is. It looks like…Yes, it is! It’s $200! What an upset! That was far more than anybody expected from this Cinderella player. I wish you could be here to see the reaction of this crowd. At first there was just this stunned silence. No one could believe it. And then a collective “ah” followed by whispers. Then as people realized just what this man had done, the crowd began to roar. Right now they’re just going wild with applause. Ushers are screaming. It’s a mad house, Bob. It’s simply unbelievable!
Fortunately, we don’t have announcers for our Sunday morning offering. In fact, if you’re visiting with us today, I want to explain that our offering this morning was not what we usually do here at Fellowship Arapaho. You saw some unusual things this morning because today we’re going to talk about something that Jesus had to say about people who give money just to impress others. I hope you’ll forgive the silliness, but I wanted to make the point that it’s not just what we do to worship God. It’s very important why we do it.
This year we’ve been studying Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. I call it “The Kingdom Handbook”, because Jesus is telling us, his followers, about his kingdom, the kingdom of God.
Jesus began by describing the character of the kingdom.
What’s the kingdom like? It’s a kingdom that welcomes the spiritually bankrupt, those who are deeply disappointed with life and those who just can’t do it on their own. It’s a kingdom of justice and mercy at the same time. Those who belong to the kingdom are ambassadors of peace even though they are persecuted in this life. They let people see the good in their lives so that others, too, will come to know God.
Next Jesus explained the code of the kingdom. He said that it wasn’t enough to just conform to God’s rules in our external behavior. He also wants us to change on the inside. He wants us to resolve our anger, to restrain any sexual desire that’s out-of-bounds, to refuse to divorce just because we’re tired of being married, to be truthful inside and out, to forgive those who wrong us, and finally to love even those who are not on our side.
That’s a brief summary of what we’ve studied in Matthew, chapter 5.
Today we come to chapter 6 and to the next series in the handbook as Jesus begins to discuss our motives for worship.
People perform acts of worship for many reasons, but those who belong to the kingdom need to watch their motives. It’s not just an issue of what you do to worship God; the reason why you do it is crucially important. Jesus introduces this new subject in Matthew 6:1.
He begins with a general principle and then follows it with three examples. First, let’s look at the general principle:
“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.
If you think back about what we’ve already studied in Matthew 5, Jesus was talking there about righteousness—that is the good behavior of those who want to follow him—those who belong to the kingdom. In chapter 5 he said that if you want to be in the kingdom, your righteousness needs to be better than the performance of those people who do the right thing on the outside but don’t do the right thing on the inside. God wants you to follow him, not only with your behavior, but also with your heart.
Now he says there’s something else you need to watch: your motive. When you do good things—“acts of righteousness”—make sure that you’re doing it for God and not just to put on a show for the people around you. (We get our word “theatre” from the word used here for “seen”.)2 In our day, just like in Jesus’ day, there are people who do good religious things, not because they are devoted to God, but because they are interested in looking good in front of their fellow human beings.
How can I look like a good guy to my neighbors or friends? Some people go to church. Some give to the poor. Some say their prayers. Some give up a bad habit for lent. Sometimes people are motivated to do these things because they want to impress God. Sometimes they do them also hoping that someone else—someone human—will notice what a great person they are. Maybe they’re trying to impress their pastor, or their fiancé, or their friends, or their parents, or their children. Religious stuff looks good on a resume. Everybody ought to have some.
But Jesus says that if you’re involved in a lot of religious activity just to show people how devoted you are to God, then it doesn’t mean anything to God. That’s not what it’s about. Don’t do good things so that people will see you doing good and think that you’re a great person.
Now we have a problem in this verse because there’s an apparent contradiction in what Jesus is saying here. Some of you might remember this from a few Sundays back. Matthew 5:16, in the last chapter, says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Remember when we talked about that, I said that we should be good people doing good things and we should let people see us doing good, so that they will also be drawn to a relationship with Jesus.
But here, it sounds like the opposite. Be careful not to do good things for people to see. But that is not a contradiction. Actually, the Bible is saying both. These two verses are really talking about two different ideas and the difference is very important. We should do good things so that3 people will see them and give praise to God. But we should not do good things in order to4 show off to other people so they will praise us. It’s really a question of motive. The first brings praise to God. The second seeks praise to myself. That’s a huge difference.
So the general principle that Jesus is trying to teach us is this:
If you perform religious acts
to impress other people
then you’ll miss God’s reward.
If your motive for going to church, or doing some good deed, or helping the poor, or praying to God or performing some religious duty—if you’re doing those things to impress the people around you—then it doesn’t mean anything to God.
It’s always easier to understand a general principle when you have a good example.
And in the next few verses, Jesus gives us three examples to illustrate what he’s talking about. They are giving, praying, and fasting. In Jesus’ day, these three were seen as the three great things a person could do to demonstrate their devotion to God. If you really loved God, then you showed it by giving to the poor, by praying and by fasting. So Jesus says, let’s not just talk about what you do to show your devotion to God. Let’s talk about why you do it. Let’s talk about your motives.
Today, we’re going to take the first example and talk about giving. Then, over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the other two examples, praying and fasting. So, first, how does this general principle apply to giving?
 "So when you give to the needy,
Jesus is not talking about giving in general. He’s specifically talking about giving to people in need. The word he uses here can mean “doing something kind for someone else”, but most often in the Bible, it is the word for money given to people in need. Usually, that meant poor people who didn’t have enough money. It included beggars looking for a hand out. It included the handicapped, who, because of their injuries, were not able to earn a living. Even today in the Middle East, you see crippled people begging on the streets.
For us, today, I think these verses are referring to what we give to people in need. So, for example, that would include giving to our church’s Love Fund that we distribute to help people in need, to help families who are out of work, or people with a financial crisis in their lives. Some of you have brought food to stock the pantry in the church office so we have something to give people off the street looking for assistance. It also includes what you do and what you spend as individuals to help each other in need. It includes things like sponsoring a child through Compassion International or sending a contribution to feed people through World Vision. It includes whatever you hand out the window
to a homeless person. It includes your donations to the Salvation Army. It includes at least a portion of your taxes that goes to help the poor or assist the retired. It includes supporting the kids who went to Mexico to build houses for people that could not afford them. All these things would be the giving that Jesus is talking about: giving to those in need.
Although often this word is used for financial needs, I think it is broad enough that it can also include other needs as well. So, for example, think about the money that you give to our church that we use to hire staff and open the buildings. Those gifts provide counseling, teaching and training for people with spiritual needs—including people in other countries. They provide childcare so parents can grow spiritually. They provide great programs for kids and students. They provide scholarships for retreats. If we charged people for all the services they received from our church, it could be pretty expensive—more than many people could afford. But your support for our church allows us to offer our ministry to everyone for free. That is giving that meets the needs of people in need. That is what Jesus is talking about here.
But I don’t think this is talking about everything you give the church. You know, everyone of us gets something out of this church. We all grow spiritually and get encouragement. We learn. We get a cup of coffee. We breathe the air conditioning. We make some trash and dirty some carpet. In other words, some of what we all give to the church is money that gets spent on ourselves. We’re really giving money to pay for some benefit that we’re getting out of the church.
I don’t think this happened at our church, but I heard a story about a little seven-year-old girl that came to church with her parents one Sunday morning. She watched her parents singing songs. She sat and listened through the sermon and the pastor’s prayer. She saw the offering go by, and watched her parents put something in the basket. And then after church, as the family was driving home, the mother commented, "I thought the music this morning was just awful." And the father added, "And the sermon was not only too long. It was boring." Their little daughter in the back seat heard all this and it really made her think. Finally, after a few moments of silence, she said, "Well, Mom and Dad, you've got to admit it was a pretty good show for a dollar."
Some of what you put in the offering today is just paying for whatever you get out of this experience. But I hope that that’s not all you’re giving. I hope that you’re giving more to this church than what you’re getting out of it—more than what it costs us for you to be here. Because whatever you give beyond that is money that is given not to meet your needs, but to meet the needs of others. That’s the kind of giving Jesus is talking about here in this verse and that’s the kind of giving that brings God’s reward.
I know some of you cannot afford to do that. Maybe our church’s ministry to you costs more than you can possibly give in return. You know what? That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. You have many other things that you can offer the people around you and God has put you here both to benefit from this church and to benefit others—even if you can’t afford to give.
If you’re visiting our church this morning, then what I just said is not really for you, either. It is our great privilege to offer our ministry to you without charge, and without any expectation that you will give us money.
What I’m saying is for those of us who have made this church our spiritual home and for the many of us, including me, who can afford to give more to the church than we receive from the church. If you can give like that, then I hope you are giving like that. I’m being very frank with you. But I’m not saying this because I’d like a bigger salary or more staff or more stuff. It’s because God honors that kind of unselfish giving that goes beyond just paying for what you consume and meets the needs of other people.
The kind of giving that Jesus is talking about here includes a lot of different things. It doesn’t include what we give to meet our own needs. But it includes everything that we give to meet the needs of others.
So, let’s look again at Matthew 6:2 and see what Jesus says about giving to meet the needs of others.
 "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.
There’s really no evidence that people in Jesus’ day actually blew trumpets to announce their gifts. Jesus is using a metaphor here to colorfully describe the people who made sure that everyone knew they were giving to the needy. Basically, he’s saying, “When you give, don’t make a big deal out of it.” Don’t attract attention to it. Don’t advertise how much you’re giving. Don’t show off your generosity.
Jesus refers to “hypocrites”. Once again, this is the word for an actor, someone who plays a role. Here, the idea is someone who is pretending to give because they care about the needs of people or because they want to give as an act of worshipping God, but their real motive5 is to be honored by their peers. They want people to see how generous they are. They want people to be impressed with their spirituality or their devotion to God or their kind heart. But Jesus warns us not to follow their example because God does not recognize their generosity and will not reward it.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
The word Jesus uses here is a business term. It means to be paid in full and issue a receipt. Those who give to impress other people get what they want—in fact, they get precisely what they want and no more. If the reason you give is to get human recognition, then that’s all you get: human recognition. If that is your motive, then your generosity means nothing to God. You have earned only human praise and God owes you nothing in return.
This is ostentatious giving, religious acts of worship designed to impress people instead of serving God. Notice the key elements in this type of giving:
By contrast, Jesus tells us in verse 3 how we should give to people in need:
 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.
This phrase “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” essentially means “Don’t even tell your best friend.” Jesus says that the cure for ostentatious giving is to keep it a secret. The word “secret” refers to “a secret place” and is drawing a specific contrast with the hypocrites, mentioned before, who distributed their gifts in the public synagogues and streets where everyone would be sure to know what they were doing and even perhaps how much they were giving. Jesus tells us to do our giving in private. Keep it confidential.
This is one of the reasons why we handle contributions the way we do here at Fellowship Arapaho. None of the elders or pastors knows who gives to the church and who doesn’t. None of us knows how much anyone gives.
Part of the reason for that practice is for us as elders and pastors. We don’t want to be tempted to treat anybody with favoritism because they give a lot of money to the church. And we don’t want to be tempted to treat anybody dismissively because they don’t give the church a lot of money.6 And so we simply don’t know how much anybody gives. Only the accounting people know and they don’t tell anybody else.
Many of you know that my wife Julie is a CPA and that Julie does the church books. It’s probably hard for some people to believe that Julie doesn’t come home and tell me who gives money and how much everyone gives. But she doesn’t. It wouldn’t be illegal for me or any of the elders to know. And it would be easy information for me to discover even if Julie wasn’t our accountant. But the reason I don’t know is because I don’t want to know. It’s a practice based on a personal decision, not on policy.
So partly, we have that practice for our own sake. But there’s another reason we keep giving information confidential and that’s for you. We don’t want you to be tempted to give to the church so that people will think more highly of you. It’s exactly what Jesus is talking about here.
What would happen if I stood up every Sunday and thanked our major donors by name? Or what if we engraved bricks with the names of the people who pledged to build this building, along with the amounts they pledged? There’s nothing illegal about that. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything particularly immoral about it either. But there is no doubt that it would make it much more tempting to make a contribution only for the public recognition that it would bring. But if no one knows what you give, or how much you give, then there’s not much temptation to give in order to get the praise of men.
So, in case you’ve made a sizable donation to the church, and you were surprised that neither I nor anyone else called you to thank you personally, now you know why we didn’t call. 1) We didn’t know you did it. and 2) We wanted to protect the reward that you’re going to get from God. We wouldn’t dare spoil that by offering you mere human praise.
I don’t think this verse means that all giving MUST remain confidential.
One day Jesus sat at the temple with his students,7 and together they watched how much people were putting into the collection. And when this widow came by and put in two small coins, Jesus drew everyone’s attention to her gift and praised her for her generosity.
Likewise, Paul praises the Macedonian churches for their generous gift for the poor people of Jerusalem.8 And he boasts about the pledges that the church in Corinth made to the same relief project.
Jesus is not laying down a rule here. He’s not saying that only secret giving honors God. He’s saying that if you’re tempted to give for the wrong motives, if you might be tempted to give so you’ll look good in front of other people, then you can remove that temptation by doing all your giving in secret. Keep it confidential and your motives won’t be in question.
I think it’s really important to be precise here in our understanding. Jesus is not saying that you have done wrong if people know about your gift. He’s not saying it’s wrong if people are impressed by your gift. What he’s saying is that it is wrong to give for the purpose of impressing people. It’s not an issue of who knows about it or what they think about it. It’s all about your motive. Why did you do it? For people? Or for God?
The reason it’s so important to guard our motives in giving is because the reason WHY we give will determine how it effects our lives. Jesus urges us to give in secret, so that our motives will be completely pure. And
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Those who give from pure motives will be rewarded by God.
Just what is this reward? (If you have a King James Bible, you’ll notice that it says God will reward you “openly”. However, the word “openly” is not in the original text.) God’s reward could be open or it could be secret. His reward could come now is this life or it may not come until later when we arrive in heaven. Or, he could reward us both in this life and in the next. Jesus doesn’t promise a specific reward or mention a specific time, but he does say that we will be rewarded. The word he uses for “reward” literally means, “to pay back a debt.” That’s the way the Bible describes it. If you give to people in need with a pure motive, not for how it will look, but because you love God and want to honor him and obey him, then God will pay you back. God owes you. Does that sound too crass? Listen to
Proverbs 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.
Giving to the poor is compared to loaning money to God. Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 9:6, 11 that God will meet generosity with generosity.
Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. …  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.
And he gives this promise in Philippians 4:18-19
I have received the gifts you sent. …  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
There is a reward for those who give to people in need. It may be more money. It may not. It may be repayment. It may be recognition. It may be now. It may be later. The one who gives to the needy will be rewarded. But that reward is only for those who give with a pure motive.
Now we can see the complete contrast between ostentatious giving and secret giving:
God wants you to give to meet the needs of other people. It’s not because he needs your money. It’s because giving to people in need is an act of worship. And that’s why it’s so important that you give with the right motive. If you make a huge contribution to the poor so that people will praise you, then all you get is people’s praise. But if you unselfishly take care of people in need because you want to honor and obey God, then God will reward you. The question is not just, “Are you giving? The question is, “Why are you giving?”
1 Copyright © 2004 by Lewis B. Bell III. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Kingdom Worship series delivered by Chip Bell at Fellowship Bible Church Arapaho in Dallas, TX on August 8, 2004. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with credit.
2 Robertson’s Word Pictures, vol. I, p. 50.
3 BAGD: ὅπως 2. as a conjunction, w. the subjunctive
a. to indicate purpose (in order) that
4 BAGD: πρός III. with accusative
3. of the goal aimed at or striven toward
—a. with conscious purpose for, for the purpose of, on behalf of
5 ὅπως same as 1 above.
6 James 2:1-4
7 Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4
8 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:2