************ Sermon on Matthew 6:1-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 28, 1997
"What is Ted Turner Doing?"
Maybe you heard this, maybe you did not, but last week Ted Turner announced that he was donating one billion dollars to the United Nations. The billion dollars is the amount his Time Warner stock climbed in the last 9 months. He himself admitted that he was giving away only one third of his wealth. Regardless of how you look at it, though, making a decision to give away one-third of your assets is a remarkable decision. Therefore, we have to give Ted Turner his due.
And look at what he is giving it to. Not to the typical causes of the rich: not to the Turner Museum in some lucky city; not to endow a Turner chair at some fine university; not to create a spacious football stadium with gilded sky boxes; not to build a center for the performing arts. Rather, Turner is directing his dollars to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the poorest of this world's poor. And, he has virtually dared his fellow billionaires to follow suit. "If you are rich, you can expect a letter or a call from me," Turner promised-threatened last week.
All of this is laudable. However, I do have one problem with what Turner did. This is a guy who cannot help but be self- promotional, calling Larry King to tip him off before his announcement. And, he made his announcement in a New York ballroom filled with tuxedos and evening gowns and reporters and television cameras.
Now, you may wonder, what is wrong with announcing what you are giving away? Let's take a close look at what Jesus says to us.
In our text Jesus speaks against strippers — spiritual strippers. "Spiritual exhibitionism" is repulsive to Him. According to Jesus the secret of religion is to practice religion in secret. Therefore He says in our text, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them."
Having laid down this principle, Jesus illustrates it with giving, praying, and fasting. Today we want to look at the principle itself and then illustrate it with the matter of giving.
I Do Not Display Your Piety
A Exhibitionism or being a "spiritual stripper" is a real danger in the Christian life. We see it in our public worship services, we see it in church and kingdom work, we see it in our devotional exercises.
For instance, every minister runs the danger of presenting a beautiful sermon in which his ability receives more emphasis than God's glory. And, many in the congregation are more intent on appreciating the talents of the preacher than on glorifying the Lord.
But we don't have to pick only on the preacher. Church musicians and special music presenters can put more emphasis on their talents and abilities than on glorifying God. And, many in the congregation can too easily give glory to those who present special music rather than to the Lord.
Some people have the gift of prayer. They have the ability to offer beautiful prayers in public. But do we realize that the gift of praying can be a dangerous gift? We can use it to glorify self rather than God.
What about those who labor in the church and in all kinds of Christian and community organizations? Our goal should be that the Lord will increase and we will decrease, that the Lord will become greater and we become less; all too often, however, the opposite is true.
Ruth Harms Calkin speaks to this subject in her poem entitled, "I Wonder." She writes:
You know, Lord, How I serve You
with great emotional fervor in the limelight.
You know how eagerly I speak for You at a Women's club.
You know my genuine enthusiasm at a Bible study.
But how would I react, I wonder,
if You pointed to a basin of water
and asked me to wash the calloused feet
of a bent and wrinkled old woman
day after day, month after month,
in a room where nobody saw and nobody knew?
I wonder, too, about me and you. How faithful would we be if we were not in the limelight? How faithful would we be if no one was watching? How much of our religion and faith and devotion are show?
A prayer everyone of us should pray is, "Lord, deliver me from myself." "Lord, deliver me from my vanity." "Lord, deliver me from putting my piety on display." "Lord, deliver me from spiritual stripping."
B We are to be like the Lord Jesus. His one goal in life was to please God. He lived entirely for God. The words He spoke were God's words. The works He did were the works the Father had given Him to do. His whole life was given to glorifying God. He never thought of Himself; He did nothing for Himself; He did not push Himself forward. He did not keep His eyes focused on Himself. He did not keep one eye on self and the other eye on God. He kept both eyes fixed on God. He lived entirely and always and only for the glory of God. His goal was not to please Himself. Nor did He desire the praise of men more than the praise of God.
C How do we keep ourselves from grandstanding, from showing off, from being a spiritual stripper? One way is to remember that we are always in the presence of God. We are always in His sight. He sees our every action, indeed our every thought. He sees it all. He knows our heart; other people do not. We can deceive them, and we can persuade them that we are quite selfless; but God knows our heart.
Every morning when we wake up we should immediately remind ourselves that we are in the presence of God. Throughout the whole of the day everything I do, say, attempt, think, and imagine is under the eye of God. He is going with me; He sees everything; He knows everything; He misses nothing.
A father had the habit of helping himself to the fruit of an orchard just down the road from his house. One time his little boy tagged along. Before climbing through a hole in the fence the father looked all around to make sure no one was watching. Just as he reached out to grab some fruit his little boy cried out, "Dad, you forgot to look up to see if God is watching." The little boy did not know this but his father surely should have: God is always watching!
The Psalmist knew all about this. He tried to get away from the all-seeing eye of God and discovered there is no escape from God and His presence.
(Ps 139:7-12) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (9) If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, (10) even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (11) If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," (12) even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
I cannot get away from God. If we only remember this, all hypocrisy would vanish, self-adulation will disappear, and there would be no more spiritual stripping.
II No Rewards for Spiritual Exhibitionists
A Jesus tells us what happens if we imitate Jesus and seek glory for God rather than self: "Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (vs 4).
Jesus also tells us what happens if we are a spiritual stripper: "... you will have no reward from your Father in heaven" (vs 1). There is no reward from God for those who seek it from men.
B Let me put it very bluntly. If I am concerned as I preach the gospel as to what people think of my preaching, then the only reward I will get is the praise of men; I will get nothing from God. If your service in worship, in the church and kingdom, is laced with concern as to how others think of you, then the only reward you will get is the applause of men; you will get nothing from God. If you are seeking a reward from men you will get it, but that is all you will get!
Think about your religious life, your devotion, your worship, your service in the church and kingdom. How many times have you worked for the praise of men? Can you, by grace, expect any kind of reward from God? This is a terrifying thought, isn't it?!
III How You Give
A Now that we have looked at the general principle let us see how it is to be applied when it comes to the matter of giving.
Some people have a lot of money to give; others have little. But how they give, not how much, is Jesus' concern here. Jesus tells us there is a right way and wrong way to give.
The wrong way is to announce our giving.
According to the law of Moses poor people and beggars should not exist in Israel.
In spite of this law there were many of them in Jesus' days. We know that the rulers of the synagogues sometimes started a public assistance program. There were also rich individuals who arranged for a distribution of money in the streets.
Consider what some of these rich would do: they would blow trumpets in the street just before they would pass out money. They argued they did this so the poor would know to come and get some money. But notice what really happened: the distribution of money became a public event in a public place.
Jesus condemns this whole system. He calls the Jewish leaders who acted this way "hypocrites." Their main purpose was to be praised by the poor and by others who watched the event. They did this "to be honored by men."
Jesus points here to an evil which has spoiled true benevolence through all the centuries of Christianity. There are people who are willing to donate large sums for Christian organizations or institutions on the condition that a plaque with their name on it will be placed somewhere in the building.
There are churches where stained glass windows, baptismal fonts, organs, pianos, or other objects in the building bear the name of the donor.
Some people will give only through public events like bazaars and auctions.
The world is filled with gimmicks through which generosity and publicity are combined. For instance, no big corporation will make a donation unless they get the appropriate news release. That's what Ted Turner did. I'm afraid this combination of generosity and publicity has crept into the church and kingdom too. But Jesus tells us they don't belong together.
When generosity and publicity are combined people have their reward. They get their names and pictures in the paper; articles are written about them; others talk about them. Poor men, that is all they will get; they will get nothing from God. "I tell you the truth," says Jesus, "they have received their reward in full."
B The combination of generosity and publicity is the wrong way to give. What, then, is the right way? The right way, says our Lord, is this:
(Mt 6:3-4) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
We've heard the phrase of left and right hand often enough, but what does it really mean?
It means two things. First, it is customary in the Oriental world to call an intimate friend your left hand. In that case it was Jesus' intention to say that you should not inform even your most intimate friend how much you give. In other words, do not announce to others in any shape or form what you are doing.
Years ago The Chaplain magazine told how the noted preacher Charles Spurgeon and his wife were called miserly because they sold all the eggs their chickens laid and wouldn't give any away. Because they always made a profit on their butter, milk, and eggs, rumors circulated that they were greedy.
The Spurgeons, however, took the criticism graciously, and only after the death of Mrs. Spurgeon was the truth revealed. The records showed that their entire profits had been used to support two needy, elderly widows whose husbands had spent their lives in serving the Lord. The Spurgeons had refused to defend themselves because they did not want to call attention to their giving.
Jesus' word implies that contributions of church members should be kept secret by those who are in charge. The same must be kept in mind by other Christian organizations.
At the same time we all know that some people abuse this word of our text. They refuse to give a contribution through a check because then it will be known by the deacons. They defend their refusal by saying that the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing. This is an easy way to hide greed and stinginess.
C There is also a second explanation for Jesus' words about the left hand and right hand. The right and the left hand belong to the same body. Therefore, Jesus' words can also mean: You must try to forget what you gave. Don't add it up in your mind so that you become proud of your own generosity. Do not take your little book and put it down. Don't keep these books at all; don't keep a spiritual ledger; don't write a diary in this sense; just forget all about it.
You must not keep the account. God does that. He sees everything and He records it all. And do you know what he will do? He will reward you.
Because they don't keep an account there are people who will be surprised on the day Jesus returns and blesses and rewards them. In their surprise they will ask Jesus a question:
(Mt 25:37-39) Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? Truly, their left hand does not know or remember what their right hand is doing.
How do we give? Our giving — like our piety, our religion, our righteousness — should not be done to receive the praise of men. Our giving — like our worship, our church and kingdom work, our devotional exercises — should not be done to be seen by men.
How do we give? Do we make a show of our giving? Do we do our giving before men? Or, is our giving done in secret? Is our giving a matter between us and the Father?
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