Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:2c Introduction
Money is a difficult subject for me to preach on. I often relieve my uneasiness about it through the use of humor. Due to the unfortunate number of charlatans and professional beggars among the clergy, there is a proliferation of jokes about preachers and money. One of my favorites is told by Dr. Gary Grey, pastor of Park Crest Baptist Church here in Springfield, Missouri. After church one Sunday a hippie told the pastor, “Man, that was a crazy sermon.” The pastor, wanting to show his sophistication, replied, “Sir, I do not understand your speech.” The hippie tried again, “That message you laid on me was really wild and way out.” The pastor again demurred, “I am sorry, sir, I do not understand your speech.” The hippie tried once more, “Your sermon was so cool that I’m thinking about giving you a thousand smackeroos.” The pastor immediately said, “Crazy, man, crazy!”
I often feel a need to remind us the handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” (DN 5:25) is not Hebrew for “Money, money, tickles the parson.” Now that I have tickled your funny bone, let me tackle your hip bone, the one next to your wallet.
Matt. 6:2c “. . .do not sound a trumpet before thee,. . .”
Do not blow our own horn. Give without fanfare. Do not make a fuss to attract notice. At all cost, avoid ostentation. Do not make a big deal of our giving. The emptiest vessels, when struck, make the most noise and clang the loudest.
Jesus is not telling us here to hide our good deeds and never let anyone see them. Doing good deeds publicly is not in and of itself wrong. In fact, believers are required to do many things before others, including confessing Christ through baptism, taking the Lord’s Supper, witnessing, and letting our light shine. A holy life must not be hidden. It has a persuasive eloquence far too precious to be lost.
In our present text Jesus is dealing with motives. We are to be seen doing good works, but must not do good works in order to be seen (Levertoff). In every public virtue hides a danger of insidious private vice. It is possible to trample the grandest endeavors under our feet, to profane the holiest of holies. Something can steal into and mar a fine life while in the very act of pursuing the best objectives.
Even the best deed can be corrupted from within. After we overcome every hurdle which kept us from giving, even as we are giving, a final obstacle remains.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
(“Murder in the Cathedral,” T. S. Eliot)
Guard our motives, for they determine the spiritual value of our acts. Motivation is what matters to God. A widow’s two mites can be a treasure to God, the wealthy’s two millions can be a zero to Him. If our motive is holy, the deed is beautiful in His sight, but if our motive is wrong, even our best deeds are ruined.
Matt. 6:2d “. . .as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets,. . .”
“Hypocrites” love to blow their own horn where large numbers of people are gathered. The word “hypocrite” was borrowed from the Greek theaters. It initially referred to an actor in a play who donned a mask and played a part on stage.
A hypocrite is one who dons a mask and plays a part, pretending to be what he is not. If we give with the wrong motives, our correct visible actions are an act, not a true portrayal of what lies within. When our outward religious deeds are not matched by any inward spiritual reality, we are phoneys, carrying an appearance other than what we really are, and assuming a part which masks our true intents.
A Greek actor not only donned a mask and played a part, but also did so on a stage, in order to please an audience. Thus the word “hypocrite” perfectly labels one who is not only a phoney, but who also gives theatrically, “to be seen” (6:1) of men. Hypocrites love to do good where crowds gather, where many spectators can watch the show. People harboring wrong motives give as if acting on a theater stage, playing the part of someone they are not in order to please an audience.
Matt. 6:2e “. . .that they may have glory of men.”
Beware the intoxication of human applause. The sound of clapping can be addicting. We desperately want the approval of people. Our longing for human applause makes this a very painful passage for us, yea, one of the most uncomfortable verses in the Bible. It probes us, and forces us to see ourselves as we really are. By now we should have learned to expect nothing less from Jesus.
When Ann Judson read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to the first Burman convert, he stopped her at this passage, and said, “These words take hold on my very heart; they cause me to tremble.” Tremble indeed. Because we crave “the glory of men” no sin is more subtle or more common among the religious than hypocrisy. This is extremely dangerously, for when hypocrisy rules us, it ruins us.
Let me hasten to say there is nothing wrong with seeking the praise of others as long as this yearning is subordinated to our desire to please God. This order of priority, though hard to maintain, is worthy of our effort because it determines the kind of reward we receive for our labors. . . .
Matt. 6:2f “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”
There is obviously some “reward” in theatrical religion. Otherwise it would not be so common. However, the hypocrite’s reward is not what the faithful want.
Hypocrites “have” (present tense) their reward. It is present, with nothing left for the future, for eternity. The reward they have now is all they will ever have. They have payment in full, the transaction is done, God owes them nothing.
Hypocrites have “their” reward, not God’s. They miss what He wants to offer, and receive instead the “glory of men” they sought. They acted out a theatrical performance, played a part on a stage, seeking solely to please spectators and desiring only to hear their applause. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, they got it. They pretended to be giving, but were actually buying. Rather than giving alms, they were really purchasing applause and goodwill from others.
By her own cackling, a hen catches a fox’s attention and loses her own eggs. In the same way a boastful person loses his best reward. Laying up his reward in the eyes and ears of people, he trades in the there and then for the here and now.
A. B. Bruce gives a good rule of thumb: show when tempted to hide, hide when tempted to show. If we are embarrassed or cowardly trying to hide our faith, it is time to get on a pedestal and let it be known whose we are. If, on the other hand, we are being tempted to ostentation, we need to do our next deeds in secret.