Every Christian reading this would agree that the teachings of Jesus are difficult to understand. His wisdom, being the God of Creation, is far beyond our own understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9). In this blog series, we will unpack some of the most difficult teachings from Jesus which come from Matthew 5-7 in the illustrious Sermon on the Mount. Each blog will touch on a different teaching from Jesus within His most famous sermon in an effort to help you apply His teachings to your life as a Christian working in the sport industry.
In our sixth blog of the Sermon on the Mount series, we’ll help you better understand and apply Jesus’ teachings on how we should practice generosity in Matthew 6:1-4.
How Not to Practice Righteousness
As humans, we have a natural tendency to try to impress others. Jesus knows this little secret about our hearts and that often when we strive to serve other people, we can have a heart condition that desires to impress the people around us. This is why Jesus says in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
This command from Jesus is clear: don’t do righteous things simply for display or an improvement of your image. There is a danger in cultivating an image of righteousness that only reveals itself in the public arena, but is never practiced in private.
Earlier in Matthew 5:16, Jesus teaches that we should let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and glorify God because of those good works. Are these commands contradictory? No, they are not. Instead, Jesus teaches that those around us should recognize our good works, but our heart's desire to do those good works should not be for the approval or applause of others.
At the end of His statement, He says that anyone who practices righteousness to be seen by others will receive no reward from God. The reward that the person who seeks to practice righteousness for the sake of approval receives is the approval itself. Rather than seeking to honor God and serve others through the practice of righteousness, they seek the reward of the applause of men.
Jesus elaborates on this command in Matthew 6:2, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
Jesus provides a direct example of how not to be generous, and that is to be sure not to announce it plainly that we are being generous. In the ancient Greek language, a person who was a hypocrite was known as an actor. The hypocrites Jesus refers to who made their generosity obvious to others in order to impress were nothing more than religious actors. They had no genuineness behind their actions but rather played the role of generosity to fulfill their sinful motives. Once more, Jesus affirms that these religious actors have received their reward, which was not from God but rather from men.
How TO Practice Righteousness
Jesus gives us a clear blueprint for how not to practice righteousness, but how, then, should we practice righteousness? In Matthew 6:3-4 Jesus says, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Sometimes, the commands of Jesus can cause us to scratch our heads. How in the world do we not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing? Obviously, it is impossible to not be aware of your own actions, but the principle behind this teaching is what Jesus desires us to apply to our lives.
That principle is that our giving should be so secret that even you are unaware of it. We must be cautious not to allow ourselves any hint of self-congratulation because that small “pat on the back” reveals an inward desire for the praise of men rather than praise from God.
Jesus cares about our motives more than anything else. If we are generous for any other reason besides giving for God’s glory, even if it is done in secret, then we have no reward from the Father. Our motive for generosity should always be to point people back to the glory of God in Christ Jesus, not for the glory of our name.
Jesus closes this teaching by saying that the person who gives for the right motives will receive a reward from the Father. This is an encouraging reminder that the Lord knows our deeds and will be generous to those who do His work for His glory.
The Lord is diligent in reminding us of the importance of our heart condition. In this teaching, it is an important reminder that too often we as humans can seek the approval of men through our actions that are seemingly done in the name of Jesus. I urge you to be aware of your motives and to ask God to reveal in your heart areas in which you need to repent because it will ultimately be for your benefit and His glory.
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