Matthew chapter 6, we have finished now chapter 5 - the first chapter in the Sermon on the Mount - now we're entering into this next chapter. The rest of this great sermon of the Lord Jesus is given over to true righteousness. You know that the theme of the sermon has been this true righteousness - not externalities of ritualistic, Pharisaic religion, but true righteousness, which is the righteousness from our hearts. We've been looking at that in the first few verses of chapter 5 of the sermon, but now He takes us a little bit further and He talks to us about righteousness in our relationships with one another. We've been instructed in chapter 5 to avoid, negatively, heart unrighteousness - you remember that. We were told, not just not to hate, but not to hate in our hearts. OK, you're not to speak hateful words, murderous words; you're not to kill. But the Lord goes further and says: 'You're not to hate in your heart'. Concerning adultery He warns us about heart unrighteousness where that's concerned. It's not just the sin of adultery that the Lord prohibits, but it's actually heart unrighteousness, heart adultery - if you look at a woman with your eyes and lust after her, you've committed adultery already in your heart.
So He has told us in chapter 5 to avoid, negatively, heart unrighteousness. But now in chapter 6 He's telling us to do the positive, to engage positively in heart righteousness. Chapter 5: 'Don't get involved in heart unrighteousness', chapter 6: 'I want you now positively to engage in heart righteousness'. In verses 1 to 18 He speaks of it concerning God and the worship of God, how we relate righteously to God. In verses 19 to 34 you have a relationship, righteously, to material things. In chapter 7 verses 1 to 20 you have a relationship in righteousness to other people. Our devotion to God is described in this chapter, through alms, through prayer and through fasting. Prayer is a relationship of the soul, our soul's relationship in righteousness to God. Fasting is our bodily relationship of righteousness to God. Alms is our relationship of righteousness to other people, and our relationship to our possessions that we own. To the Jewish mind, those three things that we will encounter in chapter 6 - almsgiving, prayer, and fasting - were the three pillars to a righteous life. Because of that, the Lord addresses it, and the irony that He says about these three things - charity giving, praying, and fasting - is that these three righteous acts lend themselves ably to hypocrisy and to unrighteousness.
So let us read these verses together; verses 1 to 4 just this morning: "Take heed", the Lord says, "that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, 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. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly".
The title of our message today is: 'Why Are You Working?'. Why are you working? What are you doing for God? I mean, what are you doing within the Iron Hall? What are you doing outside the Iron Hall that could be said to be a service for the Lord Jesus Christ, and even a service for others for the Lord Jesus Christ? I think there are possibly three groups of people who would answer to that question. There are some who are doing nothing. There are some here, sadly there are some in membership within the Iron Hall, that are doing nothing for the Lord. There are some who are doing little. The opposite extreme of doing nothing is there are some who are doing absolutely everything. The answer often comes back: 'No one bothers with me! Why should I help out? Why should I put my shoulder to the plough? Nobody comes to me, nobody talks to me, no-one visits me'. Have you ever asked the question why no one helps you, why no one visits you, why no one encourages you? I think the answer can be given in the poem:
'Somehow, not only for Christmas, but all the year through
The joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing the poor and the lonely and sad,
The more of your heart's possessions return to make you glad'.
What are you doing for the Lord? We need that question asked to us. What are we doing for others? Evangelistically, we need to make sure we're not underestimating the impact of what it is to do things for other people in this district around us to show them the love of Christ.
In 'Newsweek', an American magazine, there was once a cartoon that had a starving man standing in front of an empty bowl, and a man with a big cigar hanging out of his mouth came along to the bowl and poured out a great sack of words to fill that bowl. The caption at the bottom said: 'We need more than just talk. We need to take action'. We can preach and we can teach. We can sing our hymns and we can say all the verses, but at the end of the day what this world around us, what our brothers and sisters in Christ need to see is not words but action!
These verses are mighty, because the Lord Jesus presupposes a few things. First of all, He presupposes that we are doing alms. Look at verse 1: 'Take heed that ye do not your alms'. He doesn't even tell us to do them, He is assuming that we're doing them already. 'You should be doing them', the Lord says, 'already!'. Before you get a complex as you sit in the Iron Hall today - you're maybe saying: 'Well, I'm not the only one. Don't be looking at me. You're thinking of me? Well, I'm not the only one. What about so-and-so? They don't do anything'. Then the theologians get up on their high horse, and they open the word of God and they say: 'Well, we want to avoid a social gospel'. We're afraid to get like the establishment and provide for the poor, provide for the homeless and helpless - and so they get the loophole out of the verses by doing nothing, theologically.
Listen to Matthew Henry, and I am sure there is no one that would find fault with this man in his holiness and devotion to the Lord, and even in much of his theology. He said in his day, as a Puritan: 'If superstitious Papists have placed a merit in works of charity, that will not be an excuse for covetous Protestants that are barren in such good works' - now, listen to this - 'It is true: our alms deeds do not deserve heaven, but it is as true that we cannot go to heaven without them'.
What did the Lord say? What is the basic sentiment of this message that we look at today? This is it: you may say: 'Well, so-and-so's not doing it. I haven't had it done unto me. The evangelical church at large isn't doing it, and we wouldn't like to stand out and be different'. What does Christ say? 'Be ye therefore not like unto them. They are carnal but be you Christlike' - that's our standard!
We could spend a whole series of meetings on that one thing, but that's not even what the Lord's saying. I'm saying something that He's not saying. He's saying: 'I'm taking it for granted that you are already doing those things'. The real issue of what the Lord is saying is that you could be doing absolutely everything for the Lord, but why are you doing it? Why are you doing what you do? The Lord says works are to be expected, but what is the motivation? That's the real question! What is your motivation for what you do? 'Why does motivation matter?', you might say, 'Surely is it not good enough that you're doing something? Is it not good enough that you're involved?'. Listen - it's not good enough!
Oh boy, we're trying to get people involved, and I don't want to try to discourage anybody getting involved. We have great needs in this fellowship that must be met, but one of the common misconceptions of Christians, and indeed non-Christians, is this: all good will be rewarded. 'All good will be rewarded'. The unconverted believes that, and that's what takes them to hell! They think by living a moral and a charitable life that they will go to heaven, but all good will not be rewarded. The believer believes that: 'As long as I do something; it doesn't really matter about the motive, as long as I'm doing something' - that will take you to the Judgement Seat empty handed!
The word of God teaches us that not all good done by Christians will be rewarded. Paul said: 'Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire'. Here's our question: what is the difference between good that is rewarded and good that is not rewarded? What is the difference between Christian work that will receive reward from God, and that which will be burnt up and receive nothing? Here is the keyword, here is the difference: motivation!
At the end of a concert on one occasion there were two ushers applauding harder than anybody in the whole of the crowd. The people who were music-lovers smiled up to see two music-lovers who appreciated all of the notes that were played. They were all in the right order, until one of the ushers stopped and the other said to him: 'Keep clapping you dope, for if we get another encore we get overtime!'. What is their motivation? It was not the love of music, it was their overtime. They were doing what was right in the eyes of all the crowd around them, but what was the reason that they were doing it? Why do you do what you do for Christ? The big question the Lord asks us is, do you do it for men or do you do it for God? Do you do it to be seen of men or to be seen of God? Do you do it to be rewarded of men or rewarded of God? The tragedy that many fall over is that you can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and the question that we have to grapple with today is: how can you make sure that your fruit will remain unto the Lord Jesus? Do you want to know that?
Well, the Lord tells us. He says to us in verses 1 to 4 - listen - if you do good works for people your reward will be from people. Have you got it? If you do good works for people your reward will be from people. If you like, it is like for like, what you put in you get out. If you're doing something for a person you will get your reward from that person. The Lord tells us to do it in secret, not to glorify our giving or what we do. Many people ask the question: 'Is this not contradicting Matthew 5 verse 16, where the Lord says, 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven?'. On the one hand the Lord is saying: 'You do good works so that others can see My glory', yet in this passage He's saying, 'You cover up your good works. Don't blow the trumpet about it'.
The Lord is speaking about two different sins. In Matthew 5 He's talking about cowardice. He's speaking against the fact that you're afraid to go out and declare your faith, and do good works. But the sin that He's talking about here is overdoing it in insincerity and hypocrisy, and trying to show yourself to be something that you're not. Two different sins! One writer said the difference is this: 'Show when you are tempted to hide, and hide when you are tempted to show'.
It is again the hidden thought of the heart that the Lord is concerned with - motivation. What does He say? He says - the first thing in verses 1 and 2: 'Are you doing it to be seen of men?'. These alms (and 'alms' simply means works of mercy, pity, righteousness), do you sound a trumpet when you do something good? That's probably a proverbial statement in the day, a bit like we use the statement 'sounding your own trumpet'. Do you bring attention to what you're doing for God? The picture that the Lord is conjuring up in the Jewish mind is of the pompous Pharisee on his way down to the temple or the synagogue to put money in the special box for the poor, or to give a gift to the poor. As he walks down there's a whole parade, and in front of him there are trumpeters blowing a fanfare as they walk, and it's quickly attracting a crowd. People hear the noise and they all run out to see what's going on. It's reported in the history books of one Rabbi, that he carried an alms bag on his back so that the poor might help themselves. C.H. Spurgeon said rightly, encapsulating the spirit of what our Lord is saying: 'To stand with a penny in one hand and a trumpet in the other is the posture of hypocrisy'.
Hypocrites! If you draw attention to what you do for God, you are a hypocrite. This word 'hypocrite' is fascinating. Literally, in the Greek language, it means an actor who uses a mask. In other words, someone who is covering up who they really are. This happens in religious life, it happens in this fellowship. There are people who use religion to cover up their own sins, and indeed to get profit as the Pharisees did. It's anyone whose world is a stage, who are acting out a role, but it's a false role; who are impersonating something or someone that they're not. They are trying to get others to believe that they are, but deep down their heart is impure.
One other translation put this verse like this: 'Be careful not to show off your religion before men'. Because people who tend to cover over their sinfulness with religiosity are usually people who are arrogant show-offs with little deep sincere spirituality in their heart. If you want to know a hypocrite, insincerity will be the stench that will come from them. There will be an aroma of falsehood that will hit you, and it comes across every time, for the Pharisee's religion was insincere, it was dishonest. They practised their religion to be praised of men, but true righteousness was not within. Now, you can't tar all hypocrites with the one brush. There are several types of hypocrites. One type is an evil man who is trying to portray goodness, like those who tried to trip up the Lord Jesus, who tried to test Him and, in His words, tried to bring accusation against Him. They were evil. They knew what they were doing. They were being deceptive, but not all hypocrites are like that. There's another type who is puffed up with his own importance and self-righteousness. In fact, he's blind to his own faults. He may be genuinely unaware that he's being hypocritical, but even though he's harsh to other people, even though he's unloving and does not portray the fruit of the Spirit, he's still a hypocrite and he doesn't know it. The irony about hypocrisy is no matter what type you are, everybody notices it.
But the hypocrisy here in verse 2 is different than those two, because this man actually talks himself into believing that, at heart, deep down in his heart, he is conducting himself in the best interests of those people that are poor and deprived in the society. He truly believes, deep in his heart, that he is doing good. The fact is this: he is doing good for the betterment of other people, but the thing that makes him a hypocrite is his motivation for doing it - it is still self! He is genuinely, from his heart, doing it for the good of other people, but he is doing it to be praised of those people. He is doing good works for people, and he is getting his reward from people.
Why does he do it? To be seen of men. Secondly, verse 2, the Lord says: 'To be praised of men'. He receives the reward that he wants, he gets what he asks for. He's seeking the praise of men - he gets it. They're not living, these men, for the applause of eternity, they're living for the applause now - here on earth. The Lord testifies to that when He said: 'These men' - Pharisees - 'receive honour one of another and seek not the honour that cometh from God only'. John the Baptist said they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. The spirit of their giving is found in this poem:
'I did a favour yesterday,
A kindly little deed,
And then I called to all the world
To stop and look and heed!
They stopped and looked and flattered me
In words I could not trust,
And when the world had gone away
My good deed turned to dust'.
Their account is closed. That's what the Lord is saying. Their payment is given down here. There's nothing that goes forward to heaven for their reward. They get the receipt in full for all that they have done down here, not from God but from themselves and from those around them. You see the picture - a performance, and at the end of the performance everybody claps and applauds. That's the reward, and they get it. There's many different motivations for giving, even in wrong ways. There's a sense of duty, isn't there? 'I have to do this. I'm a Christian. I have to give'.
I read a story this week about a man in Glasgow who used to bail out drunks on a Saturday evening, in order that they could get out and make sure that they got to their job on Monday morning and wouldn't lose it. But that same guy that went around bailing them out for half a crown insisted that the first wage packet they got back, that his half crown was given back to him. It's duty, but really he hasn't given himself. That's a motivation that is impure, a sense of duty. Then there is prestige - what is being talked of here - to glory in the praise and thanks that you get. But there's one more motivation and this is the pure one that we want to dwell on today - listen: those who have to do it! Not a sense of duty, not in order to get prestige, but there is a group of people called Christians - apparently! - and they can't help being Christlike. They've a Christlike heart, and they can do nothing else. They can't help giving in love!
If you do good works for people your reward will be from people. But the second thing the Lord says, in verses 3 and 4, is this: 'If you do good works for God, your reward will be from God'. Verse 3 tells us to do your works, not to be seen of men, but to be seen of God: 'When you do your alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does'. Here's the big question, OK? This happens every week I preach on the Sermon on the Mount. Everybody misses the point - well, not everybody, but a lot of people miss the point - and get taken up: 'Now, what does that mean? Does that mean I can join the covenant scheme, or is that letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing? Does that mean I can't put the thing in the box at the back, because somebody sees me doing it? Is that what that means?'. You're doing what the Pharisees do, by the way. You're missing the point of the message and getting taken up with the little idiosyncrasies around it. Must your giving be anonymous? Well, I think what the Lord is saying is: 'Make your giving anonymous as far as you can'. But, you know, in the early church, the church knew that Barnabas had given his income for the sale of land, in Acts chapter 4. The church knew all about it. The church was encouraged to take their giving and lay it at the apostle's feet. It was not done in secret, but the difference was the motive and the manner in which it was done. You can see the antithesis of that in Ananias and Sapphira. They did the same thing, but it wasn't the act that was wrong; it was the motivation from within. The Lord is saying, if you want to guard your pure motive you've got to, as far as possible, do your giving in secret. It doesn't mean if you can't do it in secret you don't do it at all. Sure that's nonsense!
The Lord is talking about the individual, as He has been talking right throughout this sermon. You're not to blow a trumpet. You're to give in secret as far as possible. But my friends, you need to watch, because the irony of this passage is this: if you give in secret (and we're all encouraged in these verses to do it), you can actually, by preserving your anonymity (nobody knows you're giving), you can take pride in that yourself! You can quietly give and nobody knows about it. You maybe didn't put a name on the envelope or anything, but you put it through the door and as you went away you gave yourself a spiritual pat on the back - 'Well done, you're great! You didn't even tell anybody. The wife doesn't even know that you did that'. Whose hands are not to let one another know? It's your left hand and your right hand. It's not somebody else's left hand or somebody else's right hand. It's your left hand knowing what your right hand is doing. The Lord is using an illustration to say you're to even go as far as keeping this secret from yourself!
What does that mean? Does that mean you close your eyes the next time you write a cheque? I'd love to do that every time I write a cheque! Is that what it means? No. You're to close your eyes in your heart. In other words, we can take pride even in ourselves when we're doing a thing secretly. But what this verse is meaning is not so much what your hand is doing as it passes over the blank cheque note, but rather what your heart is thinking while the hand is moving. That's what matters!
We are not to be self-conscious in our giving. We are to keep it secret from ourselves. It is possible to turn an act of mercy into an act of vanity. Do you know what this really is? This is what you can miss if you taken up with the wee things here. Do you know what this sermon, all of it is? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: 'It is the death knell to the old man'. The death knell to the old man: self-centredness, self-consciousness, self-praise, the great characteristics of our old nature - it is a death to it. You cannot literally obey this, but what the Lord is saying is, as far as you can, give in secret, but when you give in secret you've got to forget about it yourself. Don't summon it to your mind and gloat over it. The Lord is saying - this is remarkable - do good until it is an unconscious habit of life, you do it and you don't know that you're doing it. That's what He's saying!
When you do it, oh my friend, what do we do? If the Lord rewarded us as we were giving - not reward of men and applause, that's not what we're talking about, but if the Lord gave us a crown when we gave some money to somebody, or we gave some help, we would say: 'Oh You noticed, didn't You? Oh You felt about it the same way as I did. It was good, wasn't it?'. This is hard, what did the Lord say? He said that the spirit that will be in His disciples, who literally give and don't realise they're doing it because of a heart that is so like Christ - when they are rewarded they don't say: 'Oh Lord, you noticed!' They said, 'Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee?'. They didn't even know they were doing it. He replied: 'And as much as ye have done it unto the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'. Listen to what Oswald Chambers says about this: 'Get into the habit of having such a relationship to God that you do good without knowing you do it. Then you will no longer trust your own impulse or your own judgement, but you will trust only the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, and the mainstream of your motives will be the Father's heart, not your own; the Father's understanding, not your own. When once you are rightly related to God like this He will use you as a channel through which His disposition will flow'.
To be seen of God, secondly and finally, verse 4, to be praised of God. Have you ever sung this hymn?
'Riches I heed not,
Nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance
Now and always.
Thou and thou only,
First in my heart,
High King of Heaven:
My treasure Thou art'.
The Lord said to Abraham: 'After these things the word of the Lord came to him in a vision, 'Fear not Abram. I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward'. Paul said: 'But as we are allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men but God who trieth our hearts'! Is He the reason?
In the Revised Version, in Darby's translation, the word 'openly' is omitted. God says, 'If you do this in secret I will reward you', and when it says 'openly' it may not be there, but the point is this: when God rewards us, if He does on earth, men won't see it to praise us; and when God rewards us in heaven it will not be so that we can strut about Glory like a peacock with all our crowns around our brow, but it will be for the glory of Christ!
Who are we doing it to? Are your eyes on God or are your eyes on men? What are you motivated for? What rewards? Let me finish with this. There was once a fable told about a dog, and the dog boasted his ability as a runner. One day his friend said: 'If you're such a good runner, you chase after that rabbit there'. The dog - away he went and chased after the rabbit, and he failed. The other dog stood and laughed at him, and ridiculed him because of all the boasting he did. But this was his reply: 'You must remember that the rabbit was running for his life, while I was only running for my dinner'. Are you working for your life in heaven, or are you working for your dinner down here? What's our example? I'll tell you what it is: we don't do good works because people deserve it. We don't do it because they need it. We do it because it is unto God, and our example is this: we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that we, through His poverty, might be made rich.
Let's bow our heads. Can I ask you please, are you working for the Lord? If you are, are you working for people and your only reward is being praised of them, or are you working for God? You may not get a 'Well done' down here. You may not get a pat on the back, but you'll get your reward in heaven.
Father, this is so hard. This sermon is devastating to me, and I suspect to the most of us that are willing to let it penetrate our hearts. I seek my own glory, for I am a sinner. Lord, what it takes is that we die to self. We pray, we thank Thee, that at Calvary the old man was put to death, but we pray that You will help us day by day to reckon him dead, to reckon all that self-seeking and pride and self-gratification; that we will be absolutely oblivious to even the good that we are doing, that the life of God will shine and manifest itself so radiantly from us that we're not even aware of it, that men will see it and not glorify us but glorify our Father which is in heaven. In His Son's Name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twelfth tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Why Are You Working?" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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