Bible Passage: Matthew 6:1-4
In chapter 6, Jesus continues to contrast the life he wants for his followers with that of the leaders of the day, but now he turns his attention away from interpretations of the law to what it looks like to practice their faith. In verses 1-18, Jesus makes this contrast by giving three case studies: giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. These verses pick up on the area of giving to the poor and it serves as a great illustration of the principle that could apply to any spiritual or religious practice.
WHO You Do It For: The primary point in Jesus’ critique of the leaders of the day is that they did their good deeds in order to be seen buy other people . He describes how they would sound a trumpet whenever they gave to the poor, and really their goal was to look impressive to other people. But if all they were after was the plaudits of a crowd then when they had received this they had their entire reward. Jesus teaches that his followers should do their good deeds not to be seen by people but to be seen by God.
HOW You Do It: In contrast to the showy way in which the religious leaders were giving, Jesus says that his followers were not even to let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. This is obviously hyperbole, but the idea is that we are to keep tight-lipped about our giving and our good deeds. We should not be looking for opportunities to drop our righteous acts into conversation and should be as discrete as possible. This is not to say that nobody should ever know but that the posture we take towards giving should be discretion and humility.
WHY You Do It: When Jesus speaks of the hypocrites in verse 1, he is clear that they will have no reward from the Father in heaven. In contrast, he points out in verse 4 that those who give in the way he is describing will receive the gift of the Father. This seems to be central to Jesus’ teaching on doing good deeds. It is not wrong to do good out of the desire for a reward, but it is the nature of that reward that changes everything. A reward of human applause leads to hypocrisy, but a desire for the reward of the Father is appropriate for the righteousness of faith.
- At a simple level, there is an assumption here that followers of Jesus will give to the poor. This could be a challenge to each of us that we live a life of generosity to those in need.
- This passage asks some uncomfortable questions about why we do the good things that we do. It should make us look inside and examine our own motivations for what we do.
- You could challenge people to do one good deed or give one gift this week and never tell anybody that they have done it.