An Ethical Principle of Kingdom Living
Take heed that ye do not your alms [benevolent gifts] before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
There were two ways to give to the poor. One way was to give a donation to the synagogue. The other was to see a beggar in the street and give alms directly.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms [charitable deeds], 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.
In chapter 6, the Lord Jesus Christ provides the fundamental motive for kingdom living, which is to have a sincere desire to honor God. The Lord issues a strong warning as He says, “Take heed!” Without a careful guarding of the heart, a Christian disciple might seek out, and accept the praise of men, for normal gospel duties.
There is a fine balance here, because Jesus has already taught, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Moreover, it is natural for people to want to express appreciation to those who are ministers of the gospel.
One popular religious figure who struck a balance between the inclination of the head, and the desire of the heart, was Evangelist Billy Graham. On October 15, 1989, Billy Graham received the 1,900th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was the first clergyman to be so honored for a preaching ministry through radio, television, books, magazines, films, and various other avenues. While Mr. Graham received numerous rewards over the years worldwide, having a star on the Walk of Fame was unique. “My primary desire today,” he said, “in having my name inscribed on this Walk of Fame is that God would receive the glory and that it would be a witness to Christ.” “There is a subtle but profound difference,” he continued, “between erecting a memorial to a man and leaving behind a marker for the glory of God. This marker is left behind for the glory of God.”
The fact that Mr. Graham made his remarks the way he did, indicates he was trying to guard his heart. In contrast, there are individuals who believe they deserve the adulation of the multitudes and the blessing of God. What Christ commands His disciples to do is to look inward and ask, “Why do I do what I do in Christian ministry?”
“Is it for fame?”
“Is it for money?”
“Is it for position?”
“Is it for the praise of men?”
Socrates, the Greek philosopher, said,
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The apostle Paul wrote,
“Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates [tested]?” (2 Cor. 13:5)
The context for Paul’s command concerns the behavior of the Corinthians. Despite their profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the confessing church was behaving in a very self-destructive manner. There were divisions in the Church. The people argued over the Lord’s Supper, and who should be allowed to participate in the fellowship meal.
The people argued about their spiritual gifts.
There were questions about marriage.
The people could not define Biblical love.
The people argued about the resurrection.
“Examine yourselves,” said Paul, “whether you are in the sphere of saving faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Know yourselves.” There are Christians who are in doubt about their salvation. This was not the case with the apostles and early Christians.
“I know,” said Paul, “whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him” (2 Tim 1:12).
“We know,” said John, speaking for all Christians, “that we have passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14). “We know that we are of the truth” (1 John 3:19).
“We know that Christ abides in us” (1 John 3:24).
“We know that we dwell in Jesus” (1 John 4:13).
Job said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand in the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25).
Confident faith is the language of scripture. Nowhere, in the Bible, do the sacred speakers and writers express doubts about their commitment to God and the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The language of confident hope must be found in all professing Christians, as we express our love for God. A confessing Christian might believe it is a sign of humility to question whether they are going to heaven or hell. However, biblically, to question the promises of God is not a matter of merit, but shame. Let the confession of the heart of the Christian be,
“God said it.”
“I believe it.”
“That settles it.”
Without a sincere guarding of the heart, without a pure motive for ministry, unholy emotions will spring up and defile many. There is the emotion of in ordinate pride. There is the emotion of envy. There is the emotion of irritation. Martha became irritated in the work of her domestic ministry. Jesus came to visit her home one day and her sister Mary sat down at the feet of Christ to fellowship with Him. Martha continued to be busy about the house and finally exploded at Mary for not doing what Martha thought she should be doing (Luke 10:38-42).
When pride or envy, greed, or anger become the compelling motivational force in the work of the ministry there is no reward of our Father in heaven. The Father’s reward will be withheld because of the presence of hypocracy. In common usage a “hypocrite” is usually considered to be a person who talks one way and acts another way in more private surroundings. The word for hypocrite in the Greek is hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’), and refers to an actor under an assumed character (a stage-player). It is not always easy to discern who is merely a religious stage player, but there are some signs, manifested by those in the synagogue, and those in the street (Matt. 6:2).
First, there is the inordinate need to be seen of men.
Many, if not most, acts of true righteousness, go unnoticed. This is the essence of private piety. In small ways and large, day by day, good deeds are done for others in the name of Christ. But there are some who will do good deeds in such a manner that is sure to be noticed. In Rockledge, Florida I visited a Jewish synagogue. Prior to entering the worship sanctuary, there was a white-board on which individuals were encouraged to write what good deed they had done that week. Jesus would not have approved.
A second sign of a religious hypocrite is the magnification of their deeds.
Jesus spoke of those who would literally sound a trumpet in the synagogues, and in the streets, to let people know that they were about to perform a religious deed. An interim pastor at a Baptist church in New Kensington, PA once said to me, “I have done things with this church that no one else in the world could do.” When an individual comes to believe God’s work cannot progress without their help, there will be a day of rude awakening. No one is indispensable to God.
King Saul discovered this truth when Samuel the prophet informed him the kingdom would soon be given to someone else. Saul had disobeyed God, and the Lord was not pleased. The story begins in 1 Samuel 15:10-12. “Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, 11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.” The tears of Samuel were of no avail. Saul was going to be replaced because no one is indispensable in life.
The Lord can make a donkey talk to rebuke the madness of a wayward prophet. God can make the ravens to feed His servants. He can raise up out of stones people to praise Him. God is dependent on no one. The hypocrite tends to magnify his deeds and must learn the lesson that God’s work is not dependent upon human ability but availability. “Here am I Lord, send me.”
With that being noted, it can be observed that, in matchless grace, the Lord allows the religious hypocrite to have a reward.
First, there is the reward of the glory of men (Matt. 6:1). Acts of piety can be seen by others. But the glory of men is never permanent. Ask any politician, artist, actor, or athlete. The reward of the glory of men is so unstable that bigger and better things must constantly be done to be kept in their memory.
Second, there is the reward of self. The religious hypocrite is usually quite pleased with himself. “Look what I have done,” he can say secretly. Some projects of a more permanent nature serve as monuments to feed the ego. For those who wish to live according to kingdom principles, and engage in acts of private piety, there is a righteous way forward. Jesus explained. When you perform your religious deeds, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Normally the hands work together. They complement and balance out each other.
Spiritually speaking, the hands must not be so co-ordinate. The right hand must not know what the left hand is doing. There are several ways to fulfill this command of Christ. First, do so many good deeds that neither self, nor others, can get a chance to record them all. The four gospels record many good deeds of Jesus, but they became so numerous that John finally said that if all the deeds of Christ were recorded the world itself could not contain the books that should be written (John 21:25). Second, do so many good deeds that self is lost sight of.
The whole problem of the religious hypocrite is that he is the center of activity. His own ego is being honored and re-enforced and that is what drives him to perform. That is his reward: recognition. For the Christian, inordinate recognition is to be deflected to God. As the moon reflects the glory of the sun, so should the Christian reflect the glory of Christ.
“ To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done.”
For the Christian, inordinate recognition is to be deflected to God, and sometimes, to others. Barnabas is a wonderful example of this truth. “At the church in Antioch, the name of Barnabas was listed first (Acts 13:1). As they set out on the first missionary journey they went as “Barnabas and Saul” (see Acts 13:6). Barnabas was in the forefront. But very soon this changed. Paul became the key leader on the team, even in Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. By the time they left Cyprus Luke speaks of “Paul and his companions” (Acts 13:13) and after Mark left it was “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:42). From this point forward their names were nearly always listed in this order. (See exceptions in Acts 14:14 and 15:2, 25).
After the disagreement Barnabas had with Paul in Acts 15 , Barnabas made a missionary trip that Luke did not even include in his history of the church and the name of Barnabas is not mentioned again. Only a humble leader can continue serving after losing recognition. His humility did not make him a weak leader but a serving leader who focused on others rather than himself. Barnabas shows all leaders how to serve with humility” (Jon Byler, “Leaders Serve”).
A third way to fulfill the command of Jesus is to pray.
Let us pray that God will humble our hearts and keep our motive of holy service pure. People are hurting. People need help. Let us help people by giving financial resources, by giving emotional support, by giving spiritual counsel, and by giving our hearts. The promise of Jesus is that our Father in heaven shall be a personal witness to discern our motives and then move to reward His own openly. If the reward is openly revealed in time, it means that the heart of a person will be perceived as being genuine.
There is nothing sadder than to discover that a person did not really want to give of their heart, their time, and resources and energy to the work of the ministry. There is nothing more wonderful than to have revealed that a life of service and sacrifice was based upon a willing spirit as found in Christ.
“He left the splendor of heaven, knowing His destiny, Was a lonely hill on Golgotha There to lay down His life for me. If that isn’t love the ocean is dry,There’s no stars in the sky, and theSparrow can’t fly!If that isn’t love, then heaven’s amyth. There’s no feeling like this,If that isn’t love.
There is no higher compliment than for another to recognize someone as being without hypocrisy. If the reward of our heavenly Father for a life of sacrifice and service is to be openly revealed in eternity, then there will come a moment when the angels and saints of the ages come to know that a life of righteousness was lived out in secret. By cultivating a life of secret righteousness in the performance of good deeds, a measure of humility will be manifested. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress said,
“He that is down need fear no fall, He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall Have God to be his guide.”
A secret life of personal piety is an ethical principle of kingdom living.
Spiritual Lessons to be Learned
First, there is a right spirit to be displayed when giving alms, and that is a cheerful spirit.
Second, the giving of alms is to be done for the glory of God. We who have received grace must give grace to others.
Third, our charitable giving is an act of worship. Worship may be defined as a human response to the perceived presence of the divine, a presence which transcends normal human activity and is holy (Holman Bible Dictionary).
When Jacob encountered the Lord while fleeing from Esau he awoke and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Gen 28:16-17 NRSV). The giving of alms can be an act of worship when it perceived that God is present in the transaction. The presence of God is an act of faith. It is faith that moves a person to make a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice of their blood animals, a sacrifice of their grain offering, or a sacrifice of their finances. Jesus taught that God makes a distinction between a sacrifice that is self-serving, and a gift that is given from the heart.
Fourth, Christians are to seek to be authentic. One of the ten top reasons people say give for not becoming a Christian is that the church is full of hypocrites. Dr. James D. Kennedy used to say, “That is all right. There is always room for one more.” He also added, “If you ever find a perfect church, do not join it. You will ruin it.”
But the point is well taken. Christians are to be authentic. We are not to be pretentious, or unfairly judgmental. We are to be honest representatives of Jesus. There is no room for spiritual arrogance in the Church. The humble heart says, “There but for the grace of God, go I to a certain damnation.”