In the previous chapter Jesus spoke of the righteousness of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. That righteousness must be greater than the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (vs. 20). Our Lord then gives his interpretation of several parts of the law to show what kind of righteousness he has in mind. His own interpretation of the law, which he places over against the interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees, shows clearly that the “righteousness” of the Pharisees was found wanting.
In chapter six Jesus seems to deal with a different subject. Notice the first verse, however. He again speaks of the righteousness of his people. This verse can be used as a theme for the verses one to eighteen. In this section he is not speaking first of all of the righteousness in the sight of God, demanded by the law, but a subjective righteousness, a righteousness in practice. This must be shown in the giving of alms, in prayer, and in fasting.
God looks on the heart. If we do all the things demanded by the Jaw but not from the right motive, it will do us no good and will not receive God’s approval. Righteousness may not be paraded. Jesus here Jays bare one of the greatest weaknesses of the human heart. By nature we seek the praise of men. But, be warned; if we do our righteousness, if we perform our religious exercises, to be seen of men, we have no reward with our Father who is in heaven. His glory must be sought—not man’s praise.
The giving of alms (gifts of kindness or mercy for the support of the poor) is not done only by those who arc truly righteous. Jesus speaks of the hypocrites giving alms. One does not have to be a believer to give money to relieve the need of others. The unbeliever often puts the believer to shame in the amount he gives. Yet, says Jesus, they are hypocrites. They are actors—which is the fundamental meaning of the term. They give alms, but not in the right spirit. They sound a trumpet before them. Some believe that this refers to a custom of sounding a trumpet to indicate the time for an offering for the poor or to call the poor together. However, Jesus lays all the emphasis on the giving of alms with much fanfare. These words about sounding a trumpet are not to he understood literally. Jesus rebukes those who want everybody to know that they have given alms. This they do openly, in the synagogues and on the streets. They want men to praise them for giving. But when they receive the praise of men they have received the reward they sought. No other reward will be given. God will not reward them for tills action. He looks with disapproval on their deeds.
Men will go to great lengths to receive a good name among their fellow-men. They will even use religious exercises to further their own pride! The giving of alms is an important part of our religious life. It may not be used to further our own ends.
Having shown the evil of the Pharisaic method of giving alms, our Lord now teaches his people how it should be done. Notice that he speaks in a paradox. This is common in his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes an extreme statement to put the particular thing he has in mind in the clearest light (vs. 3). The Pharisees give alms in such a way that everyone knows what they have given. This is done to cause people to think well of them. But Christ’s followers are not to do so. To show how wrong this Pharisaic procedure is, Jesus says: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.”
There is need for this warning. There is too much of the Pharisee in every believer. Everyone likes to be well thought of and well spoken of. In instances where credit is given to each contributor, the donation is often much larger than it would have been otherwise. Our Lord here lays his finger on a very sensitive spot in the life of us all.
What does Jesus mean when he says that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing? There are those who interpret these words as though our Lord teaches here that we should give thoughtlessly. Should au individual reach in his pocket, give whatever he finds, and not even realize himself what he has given? Neither God nor his people are served by this haphazard method. In other places the Bible has made it very c1car that giving should be from the heart and that we should give according to the measure in which God has prospered us.
What does Jesus mean by these words? it would be absurd to take these words literally. My left hand always knows what my right hand is doing! My two hands are not separate entities. Remember, Jesus is warning his disciples against the Pharisaic practice of giving alms. They have but one thing in mind to receive the praise of men for their giving. Jesus tells his people that we may not make a show of our giving. We must do it in such a way that no one knows what we have given. We must give alms with the intention of helping the poor. We are to give because we arc merciful. We are to give in the spirit of gratitude for what we have received from our God. The motive for giving will determine the method.
Will no one then take note of the gifts we bring? Men will not be aware of them. Men will not praise them. But the gifts which we have brought in secret will be seen by the God who sees in secret. That men will not be aware of the gifts which the believer brought is not a loss. They were intended to relieve the distress of the poor. The believer doesn’t look for a reward. It is reward enough that he is able to give, instead of having to receive alms. Nevertheless, God rewards. He always gives more than the believer can expect, for by giving alms we have only done that which it was our duty to do. The Father will recompense thee, says Christ. He does not say what this reward shall be. He does not bind himself to one particular reward. These rewards may vary. The believer may be certain of this, however, that though he receives no reward from men, his Father will not forget. The giving of alms will not only be of help to those who receive them; it will also enrich those who have given them. This is, of course, a reward of grace. We do not give in order that we may be rewarded, for we give out of love for God and for our fellow-man. Nevertheless, the reward is certain.
Questions For Discussion
1. Is our giving for kingdom causes an indication of our spiritual life?
2. Why do unbelievers give to charitable institutions?
3. Should we as Christians help support non-ecclesiastical charitable institutions?
4. In the light of what Jesus teaches us in this section, do you think it is wrong to have the “budget envelope” system in our churches?
5. Can a person give intelligently and still not have his left hand know with his right hand is doing?
6. What are some of the rewards which God gives his people when they give according to his will?