In this continuation of the Sermon on the Mount we will look at several lessons that are just as relevant today as they were in Christ’s time. Some sins never change their form, while other sins adapt their appearance to the day and time of their expression. This is a long lesson, with a great deal of material, so I have had to pick and choose from among a lot of subject matter.
This week’s reading assignment is Matthew 6 – 7
Right Thing/Right Reason
Matthew 6 opens with a lesson about three priorities. The first of the three is alms giving, or doing good to other people. Here are the first four verses.
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Verse one starts with a warning to take heed or beware of the reason for doing good. If we do good so we can be seen as a good person, and not for the selfish person that we are then we will receive no reward for that good that we do. At least the reward will not be coming from God.
A hypocrite, according to the Greek translation used to get the word hypocrite, means a pretender. Someone who makes a fanfare and draws attention to the good thing they do is not seeking God’s approval, but men’s approval. So when everyone claps and slaps them on the back for having done a good thing, that is their reward. The Lord does not reward that behavior because it was done for the glory they could receive from men. They already have their reward.
This reminds of me of a sad video I saw last Christmas. A very popular singer wanted to thank her fans, so she went shopping for them and sent some of her biggest fans presents. How nice. But wait, she didn’t do it to just express gratitude, she sent camera crews to film them receiving the gifts and opening them. Then she compiled all their expressions of gratitude for her kindness and posted it on the Internet so the whole world could share in her goodness to her fans. She has her reward. The whole world was patting her on the back and singing her praises for being such a good person, so kind, so thoughtful. But in reality the kindness was not about doing good for the sake of being good so much as it was about earning the praise of the world. The sad part is that she may not have even realized that was what she was doing.
Look at verse two above. The Lord says not to “sound the trumpet” but to do your good in secret, so secretly that your left hand is not even aware of what your right hand just did. When we give because it pleases the Lord, the acts of giving and doing good become the reward. This kind of generosity is openly rewarded in the form of blessings from our Father in Heaven. He wants us to give and to be generous with each other, but to do it in a godly fashion there can be no hint of glory seeking in the act. Kindness must be done for the love of being kind. This pleases the Lord, because it is one of His character traits.
Okay, so I will admit that this section is the pot calling the kettle black. I am every bit as guilty here as anyone else. Sometimes I marvel at our human ability to whine about our circumstances then grab a gun and shoot ourselves in the foot, then return to whining about our circumstances. Read these verses from Matthew 6:
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We all wish that others were more forgiving of our weaknesses, yet we are so often all too intolerant of the weaknesses of others. And did you catch that message in the first verse? If you want a guaranteed forgiveness of sin, all you have to do is forgive someone else of their sins. We all struggle with sin, and our stubborn natures. But if we would just be willing to let go of the hurt and anger caused by someone else’s weaknesses and choices, the Lord will gladly forgive our own.
It is like two wrestling boys who are angry with each other and who get collared by their father. Dad says, “John, let go of your brother and I’ll let go of you.” Instead of doing the completely obvious, and letting go, John hangs on to his brother all the tighter and choses to complain instead that Dad is not letting him (John) loose. We need to learn to let things go and let the Lord handle them. Our lives will be sweeter as a result.
I think Matthew 6:19 – 21 go well with verse 24. Here they are together.
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
This is about the struggle we all have to let the things of the world go in favor of the things of God. We are taught and tempted to cherish the things of this world. The messages to do so are all around us in everything we see and hear from the world. Get gain. Get power. Get revenge. Get even. Just get more. There is never enough. Excess is never enough. We are never thin enough, rich enough, influential enough. The Lord is busy telling us to let it go. Give to your neighbor. Give to the stranger. Don’t care about power. Don’t care about influence. Focus on the eternities because mortal life is such a blip on the radar that it isn’t important what your station is here. What counts is your station in the hereafter.
It is true, where we put all our time and energy demonstrates where our love and our true heart lies. We cannot be serving God, and still be seeking the approval of the world. They are opposites, and we cannot play both ends of the field at the same moment. We need to pick a side and throw our heart and soul into the side we think will win the end game, not caring for what appears to be the temporary victories of today.
As you read Matthew 6 and 7, think about what you read in terms of how you, personally, view your life. How closely does your life fit in the description of what the Lord is chastising vs. what the Lord is lovingly recommending we do so we can be happy. These are powerful lessons, which, if learned, can make our lives so much richer and happier. I see now more clearly why he lovingly encourages us with the words, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”