Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
Jesus is preaching His inaugural sermon that is entitled by many commentators as “The Sermon on the Mount”. What is perhaps the ethical and spiritual foundation of the New Testament, “The Sermon on the Mount” takes the reader into the heart of what makes New Covenant Christianity tick. Virtually all of its teachings can be found repeated throughout the New Testament. The acorns of truth deposited by Jesus in this grand sermon will prove to be mighty oaks upon which the Apostles will later climb to take their readers into the realms of powerful, practical Christianity.
Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:1 – Do not live to please men, but God alone.
Matthew 6:1-21 is chiefly concerned with how one is to live out the New Covenant truth being laid down by the Lord. The ideas of “motive” and “matters of the heart” are the rulers by which Jesus distinguishes between hypocrites and genuine spiritual committment. In short – is the one living out the practical Christian life doing it for the praise of men or the glory of God? As Jesus opens this new section in the sermon at Matthew 6:1, he warns to “beware” or as it would be rendered in the original language “continually be on the look out” of how you practice your righteousness before men to be “noticed” by them.1 What Jesus is warning His listeners not to do is to live the Christian life for show or for pagentry of men, but rather for the splendor and pleasure of the Father in Heaven.
Jesus Three Main Areas of Focus in the Powerful, Practical Christian life
With the introductory statement made, Jesus launches into the main body of this portion of the sermon. The question before us is to what particulars is He concerned about in regards to the practical Christian life? Whether reading the text in English or in Greek, the passage breaks down into three distinct areas: Giving (Matthew 6:1-4); Praying (Matthew 6:5-15) and Fasting (Matthew 6:16-21). Today’s post will focus upon that first area of the powerful, practical Christian life – stewardship or giving.
The Powerful, Practical Christian Life in the realm of stewardship & giving. Matthew 6:1-4
The Greek text begins with the word translated “when” and is repeated two other times by Jesus to indicated the beginning of a new topic.2 The word speaks of a general occassion, rather than specific times, and thus refers to those actions one would typically expect to find in the life of a “practicing” Christian. In this instance Jesus is going to prescribe some doctrinal instruction on what to do and not to do in the area of giving.
Jesus begins by instructing His listeners on what not to do in Matthew 6:2, followed by instruction on what to do in the realm of stewardship and giving. Jesus’ instructions on what “not what to do” refers to those Pharisees and Jewish people who placed their money in the Temple treasuries for everyone else to see. We are given an actual example of this in Mark 12:41-43 “And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury.’
Alfred Edersheim notes regarding the setting of Mark 12:41-43 “Although the topography of the Temple, especially of this part of it, is not without its difficulties, we know that under the colonades, which surround the ‘court of the women’, but still left in the middle room for more than 15,000 worshippers, provision was made for receiving religious and charitable cotnributions. Along those colonades were the thirteen trumpet shaped boxes (Shopharoth).”3 To picture what Edersheim is talking about, think about similar “trumpet shaped” openings that one can put coinage into when traveling a turnpike or interstate toll road. Such “trumpet shaped” areas in the temple for giving, as well as the blowing of trumpets to announce their presence connect us to the idea that quite literally – certain people enjoyed “tooting their own horns” in Matthew 6:2.
With the idea of knowing not what to do (especially think of the illustration from Mark 12:41-43), now Jesus turns to what should be done when giving in Matthew 6:3-4. Again we can utilize Mark’s description of the poor widow in Mark 12:43 “for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” The widow gives us a flesh and blood example of what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6:3-4. The widow gave “all she had” and was rewarded in the form of Jesus’ commendation of her actions to his disciples. I love especially how Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:4 of “all she had to live on” (NASB) is worded in the original language “she gave her whole life”.4
As Jesus closes out his remarks in this first leg of his teaching on powerful, practical Christianity in Matthew 6:1-4, when viewed in concert with Mark 12:41-43,we can note the following principles of such Christianity in the realm of stewardship and giving. First of all, our motives need to be right. In giving and stewardship the issues of the heart far outweigh how much we give. For sure, the standard of 10% represents the ground floor of the amount we give, but God looks upon the heart. Clearly the widow was commended for her heart’s desire to literally give her entire life to God – including all she had.
In addition to our motives needing to be right, our main purpose is to glorify God. In Matthew 6:3 Jesus notes how in our giving: “do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Commentator James M. Freeman notes regarding this little saying: “The idea of the text may be, that alms-giving is not be a matter of where the hands are put together in token of understanding with someone else, but it is to be done privately.”5 In other words, discretion of the heart for the purpose of glorifying God must be the end goal in all our giving. As we practice the right motives and the right main goal, the door way to God’s power in our practical Christian living will be swung open, and we will find our financial house not only in order, but running smoothly for His glory and purposes.
1. That phrase translated “to be noticed” is the Greek aorist passive infinitive “to the-a-thay-nai” (τὸ θεαθῆναι) meaning “to gaze, to look at with amazement and wonder”. Hence these hypocrites wanted to be objects of wonder and amazement in the yes of people. This same verbal idea is found in a much more positive light in 1 John 1:1 and describes how John and his fellow disciples had the chance to “gaze upon, to look at with amazement” the entire course of life lived out before them by the Lord Jesus Christ. 2. The Greek adverbial particle is “Ho-tan” (Ὅταν) meaning “when, whenever” 3. Alfred Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Volume 2 – Page 387. 4. The phrase in the Greek reads “ὅλον τὸν βίον αὐτῆς” (ho-lov ton bion au-teis) or “her whole life”. 5. James M. Freeman. Bible Manners and Customs. Page 340