PRACTICING RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR PUBLIC ACCLAIM FORFEITS HEAVENLY REWARD – TRUE VS HYPOCRITICAL PIETY — EXAMPLE OF GIVING ALMS
Grant Osborne: In one sense, this section, like the previous one, exemplifies the authoritative teaching of Jesus on matters of OT law, for the three things mentioned in these verses are three basic aspects of Jewish piety and summarize one’s relationship with God. France suggests that 5:20–48 centers on a positive righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees while this section centers on the wrong kind of righteous conduct done to impress others rather than God. As with the antitheses, Jesus shows how the people of his day all too often understood these aspects, but he also tells how the people of the kingdom will perform them more deeply.
This is a very Jewish section and as such shows a situation in Jesus’ day, not just Matthew’s time. It demonstrates that our piety is part of our relationship with God and should never be done to impress others. Our motivation must always be God-oriented, never earth-centered (see also 6:19–21; Col 3:1–2). The section is composed of three admonitions (6:2–4, 5–6, 16–18), into which the Lord’s Prayer is inserted. The parallelism between the three is striking: a “when you” clause followed by “not like the hypocrites” and a report of their actions, concluding with an amēn statement about “fully receiving their reward.” Then comes a positive command to give/pray/fast “in secret” and a promise of true reward. . .
When the believer gives, it must never be out in the open to be seen (and admired) by others but always secretly as an act of worship to God. Giving is a private affair done entirely to please the Father. Both have their reward, but the former yields an earthly reward (applause) and only the latter has an eternal reward.
D. A. Carson: In each act the logical structure is the same:
(1) a warning not to do the act to be praised by men,
(2) a guarantee that those who ignore this warning will get what they want but no more,
(3) instruction on how to perform the act of piety secretly, and
(4) the assurance that the Father who sees in secret will reward openly
J. C. Ryle: Observe that our Lord takes it for granted that all who call themselves His disciples will give to the poor. He assumes as a matter of course that they will think it a solemn duty to give according to their means to relieve the needs of others. The only point He handles is the manner in which the duty should be done. This is a weighty lesson. It condemns the selfish stinginess of many in the matter of giving money. How many are rich towards themselves but poor towards God! How many never give a farthing to do good to the bodies and souls of men! And have such people any right to be called Christians in their present state of mind? It may be well doubted. A giving Savior should have giving disciples.
Charles Swindoll: Few things were more of a turnoff to Jesus than religion on parade. He reserved His severest criticism for religious hypocrites who liked to be seen showing off their piety in order to impress others. Jesus was a master at exposing what lay beneath the veneer of all that nonsense. And frequently He urged His followers to practice total honesty, authenticity, and simplicity.
Daniel Doriani: When we do something good, Jesus says, we can seek one of three goals: the praise of society, the praise we give ourselves, or the praise of the Father. Hypocrites seek glory from men. They love “praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). But we can also do good so that we will feel good about ourselves, and not really for the sake of others.
E. Michael Green: Next, Jesus takes the three main areas of traditional religious devotion: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He warns his hearers against the ostentatious devotion sometimes to be found in the religion of his day, as of ours; and equally against the mechanical formalism to be found in some pagan circles. No, sincere obedience to God’s word is the key to an authentic devotional life. Not playing to the gallery, but humbly living in the light of the Father’s will. Such is the attitude he can reward.
That simplicity, that lack of ostentation, applies to our giving (6:1–4). It goes without saying that disciples will be generous givers. But they will not make their donations in a way that will draw attention to themselves. They will not do it publicly or to gain respect. It will be quiet. It will meet real need. It will be offered in love and gratitude to the heavenly Father who has given us all we have.
David Thompson: The great theologian Augustine said the greatest enemy of true spiritual piety is the love of honor. All other vices produce evil works, but the love of honor does good works out of evil motives. G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Probably the vast majority of people are more influenced by what men will say, than by what God Almighty thinks.” It is clear from this passage that not only does God see everything we do under the auspices of good works, but He monitors the motives behind the good works. In this section, Jesus addresses all kinds of good things which may be done from evil motives.
WE WILL LOSE REWARDS IF WE PLAY ACT OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR SHOW IN FRONT OF MEN.
It is possible to do the very things mentioned in this section with bad motives. Our rewards will not just be determined by righteous acts, but by the motives for the righteous acts.
(:1) OPENING THESIS STATEMENT
A. Warning: Don’t Seek Public Acclaim
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them;”
Grant Osborne: This introduces the theme of 6:1–18, true “righteousness” (cf. 5:20), and Jesus is establishing a strong antithesis between the earthly and the heavenly in achieving this righteousness. There is a geometric progression: the more you have an earthly perspective, the fewer your rewards in heaven. We have stated throughout that “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) must be understood as action, that is, right conduct in doing the will of God (cf. 3:15; 5:6, 10, 20; 6:33), so “righteous deeds” is the proper way to understand it here. The righteous deeds here are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. The will of God is not to perform these pious acts in order to get attention.
Richard Gardner: This verse is expressed in the plural, as compared with the singular focus of the following examples. It is thus a general exhortation, which introduces 6:2–18 in much the same way as 5:20 introduced 5:21–48, and in each case the key term is dikaiosynē, “righteousness.” Here it is concerned not with personal or social ethics but with matters of religious observance, but it remains something to be “done.” The three examples of alms-giving, prayer and fasting are thus categorized as activities which God requires of his people. Jesus’ quarrel is not with the doing of them — indeed he assumes that the disciple will do them—but with the manner and the motive. The manner to which he objects is “in front of other people,” i.e. publicly; the motive is “so that they will notice you,” i.e. aiming for human approval. Cf. 23:5–7 for a similar criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, using the same verb theaomai in 23:5.
B. Result: Forfeiture of Heavenly Reward
“otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
Craig Blomberg: The principle uniting all three illustrations appears first. Verse 1 does not contradict 5:16 because the motives in the two passages are entirely different. That which is done solely or primarily for personal honor or gain may accomplish its objective (v. 2b), but God will grant no further reward.
I. (:2) FALSE PIETY IN GIVING ALMS
A. Warning against Seeking Public Acclaim in Giving Alms
“When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,
that they may be honored by men.”
David Thompson: In other words, don’t toot your own horn and broadcast the fact that you did something to help someone else.
So the question arises how do we keep our giving in secret? Let me suggest four ways:
- We keep giving secret by not being proud of what we were able to give.
- We keep giving secret by not broadcasting what we did give.
- We keep giving secret by thanking God for what we are able to give.
- We keep giving secret by not thinking that our rewards are determined solely by an invoice of our giving.
Grant Osborne: By the time of Jesus righteousness and almsgiving were virtually synonymous, and almsgiving was an important part of temple and synagogue services. Synagogues functioned as social agencies in the first century, providing relief for the poor who depended on contributions from people in the community. Therefore, it was natural that ostentation became connected with giving; it was a perfect way to be seen as particularly pious. . . it is probably best just to take the trumpet as a metaphor for drawing attention to one’s pious act of giving.
John Nolland: Luz denies rather strongly that a trumpet was actually blown at the giving of a major gift, taking the words as a metaphor of irony (so too, Gnilka; Gundry; Guelich, Sermon; France; Davies-Allison are somewhat less confident in their denial). It is still possible—despite the lack of solid evidence—that a trumpet was blown to draw attention to very large gifts (thus Schlatter; Bonnard; Hill), in order perhaps to encourage others to do similarly; on the other hand, perhaps the association was made because trumpets were blown at fasts (see Büchler), at a time when large gifts were given to avert disaster (see G. Friedrich, TDNT 7:87–88). Or perhaps the sound is that of coins being thrown into the six trumpet-shaped money chests placed in the temple specifically for the collection of alms (the “Shofar-chests” of m. Šeqal. 2:1; see Danby’s note [The Mishnah] on that text) in order to attract the attention of others (so McEleney). The point, in any case, is clear: the hypocrites did all they could to draw attention to their generosity.
Richard Gardner: Hypokritēs (the word originally meant a theatrical “actor”) is used by Matthew not only here in vv. 2, 5, 16 but also for a critic who does not criticize himself (7:5) and as a general term for those subject to ultimate judgment (24:51; in the LXX hypocritēs is used for the godless). Its main use, however, is for those with whom Jesus will be engaged in controversy in 15:7; 22:18, and six times in ch. 23. In several of these uses it probably carries the sense of insincerity, of consciously acting a part, which is close to what “hypocrite” means today. But in general, notably in 7:5; 15:7; 23:15, 23, 25, the focus is not so much on a conscious attempt to deceive as on a false perspective or sense of values which prevents the “hypocrites” from seeing things as God sees them; they are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived (like the enthusiastic but misguided followers of 7:21–23). In this passage there is no necessary allegation of deceit as such—they presumably did give alms, pray and fast; the problem was that they wanted everyone to know it. Rather these religious show-offs are “actors” in that they aim to impress others, but at the same time their behavior demonstrates how far they are out of touch with God’s understanding of “righteousness.”
J. Ligon Duncan: Christ is here criticizing the two-faced spirituality. The fake spirituality of the Pharisees. He is saying that the religion of the Pharisees is not genuine, but it is theatrical religion. Their religious activities were done for the sake of impressing men, not done for the sake of glorifying God.
Christ is making it clear here that the only thing that matters in our religious performances, and the things that we do is what God thinks, it does not matter what others thinks. It only matters what God thinks. And that is important for us to remember. We need to ask ourselves in our giving, why are we giving? Are we giving to be recognized, or we giving because we think that it somehow puts God into our debt. Or, are we giving because of the love of God which has been implanted in our heart. Does our giving bear the marks of genuine Christianity? Does our giving bear the marks of true Christianity? Generosity. Is our giving generous? Or is it stingy? Is our giving grudging, or is it cheerful? Is our giving motivated by our love to God, and the love of God shed abroad in our heart, or is it motivated out of a desire to manipulate God? So that He is beholding to us. We need to ask those questions, and remember Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy.
B. Forfeiture of Heavenly Reward
“Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
William Barclay: What Jesus is saying is this: “If you make charitable gifts to demonstrate your own generosity, you will get the admiration of the world – but that is all you will ever get. That is your payment in full.”
II. (:3-4) TRUE PIETY IN GIVING ALMS
A. (:3) Instruction on Giving Alms Secretly
“But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”
Charles Swindoll: Ideally, our giving is not only to be joyful and generous, but it’s also to be done with a right motive and attitude. The result will be giving in secret —not in ways that draw attention to ourselves, but in ways that keep our own attention on God. This is the direction Jesus moved when He described how we’re to give. When you give to those in need, you should not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3). This idiom probably refers to a kind of “sleight of hand” move, similar to what a magician might do to make a coin or handkerchief disappear. Metaphorically, it means simply to give in secret, without drawing attention to yourself in any way. In fact, go out of your way to avoid attention.
Daniel Doriani: We must clarify Jesus’ teaching. He does not mean we must always hide our good deeds. He does not say that it is wrong to be seen praying. Rather, it is wrong to pray in order to be seen. He does not say it is wrong to be seen giving a gift to the needy. But it is wrong to give in order to be seen giving.
J. Ligon Duncan: You see, the Lord Jesus knows that there are many types of hypocrisy. And He addresses two of those types in this passage. The first kind is the person who gives because they want to be praised by other people. But the other kind is the one that your servant struggles with more frequently. And that is the tendency to self-praise, when we do what the Lord calls us to do. To sort of pat ourselves on the back and feel good about the fact that we have done some duty, and almost feel as if the Lord owes us something for having been faithful in our giving. It is possible to gain all ones reward by self-praise, just like it is to gain all of ones rewards by the praise of others. And the Lord Jesus is saying, seek the favor of God. Seek the reward of God. Seek the pleasure of God, not your own pleasure and not the opinions of others as you give.
B. (:4) Assurance of Heavenly Reward
“that your alms may be in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
John Nolland: Only deeds done for God’s glory will receive an eschatological reward. This stress is in keeping with the emphasis on the inner obedience to God’s commandments, which we encountered in chap. 5. God is concerned with the heart, with the motivation behind a person’s deeds, as much as with the external deeds themselves. The application of the passage is clear and timeless in its bearing upon Christians.
John MacArthur: Let me tell you something, folks. You do it and forget it, and God will remember it and reward it. You do it and remember it and God will forget it and there will be no reward. Take your choice. You want it here and now or you want it forever. You want the blessing of God or the applause of men? Don’t keep mental books on your giving.