Thursday, March 12, 2009

Matthew 6:2-4 Shh, it’s a secret

At one of the churches I served as a minister of music, there was a lady who took it upon herself to make sure the flowers on the church sanctuary were always changed out. She did these lovely arrangements without pomp or recognition. In fact, only a few people at the church realized who did the work of putting these flowers in church. Once, when we were having a community revival, Ms. Duncan took the initiative to make sure the stage of the gym were decorated every night. Again, not many people recognized that she was the one doing this service. I made a point the night our church led worship to acknowledge her publically. She was a little embarrassed and probably would have just as soon gone unnoticed. Based on these verses in Matthew that we’re going to be looking at, I would exhort all of us to try to develop the attitude of humility that seemed to come so easily to Ms. Duncan. While Jesus is talking about giving to the poor and not acts of service in the church, the principal of doing our good works for God’s glory and not for ours is still applicable.

First of all, notice that we are commanded to have a different approach to giving to the poor. Jesus calls us to not imitate the “hypocrites” (those who put on an act) who give with an atmosphere of pomp and circumstance. Using picturesque language, He describes them as “sounding a trumpet” as they give. One can almost picture in their mind a Pharisee with his chest puffed out and his head held high strutting down the aisle to give a charitable gift. They look as much like a peacock as they do a human. Furthermore, notice that they do this “in the synagogues and the streets”. Doing good for them is a public spectator sport with other people being the spectators. They take this approach to giving because they are motivated by their desire to be “honored by men”. The word “honored” translates a Greek word that could be understood to mean having a good reputation. They want people to think they’re good, honorable, religious men. Well, let us further notice that if that’s what these people have in mind and that is their goal then, as Jesus says, “they have their reward in full”. They have nothing more to look forward to than the praise of other men which passes away. People typically have short attention spans when it comes to things that make them go “Wow”. Ever hear the phrase “15 minutes of fame”? This kind of behavior might buy you about that much recognition.

That’s a cheap imitation for what the Father wants to give us. Instead of following the example of the hypocrites, Jesus calls us to “not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing”. In symbolic language, Jesus is calling us to be sneaky in our giving. Instead of drawing attention to ourselves, we should be so stealthy that not even our other hand notices what we’re doing, like a magician fooling you with a slight of hand trick. If our one hand doesn’t notice what we’re doing, imagine how unnoticeable our actions will be to other people. The goal, when giving to the poor, should be to meet the need not to meet OUR need for recognition. It is nice to be patted on the back. It is more important, however, for us to follow the command of Christ.

In fact, as Christ observes in verse 4, when our giving is done in this manner, it is done “in secret” (kruptos-2927 root word of our English word cryptic). However, just because we don’t get a standing ovation from people does not mean that our deeds go unnoticed. God is omniscient. He sees and knows everything even, things that are done out of the sight of men. Jesus says our Father in heaven “will reward you”. The God that judges perfectly, in whom there is no shifting shadow, will reward us out of His love and His infinite resources. If we think that men can reward us, how much more can our God reward us?

Of course, ultimately we should give to demonstrate the love of God and be faithful stewards of what He has entrusted us with. Still, we can be encouraged to give as the Lord has given us knowing that God will reward our faithfulness.

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