Many of you might be thinking that’s crazy — I’d say its somewhere along a fine line — in many ways its very artistic and a lot of hard work. Yet, bordering on the obsessive.
Still some of us are probably thinking, I’m glad I’m not really on social media like that. But, I think we all live on that border in other ways — how many of us feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety when people are coming over, because we want things to be put in order at our house? Even I do — though my standards for dusting may be well lower than Kristi’s I really want people to see the things I’ve built maybe, I always wish I had time to get one more project done outside to make it look nicer. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves — but it gets to our motivation. Which is what Jesus was speaking about last week — its not just that outward sinful acts — it’s the heart motivations of those acts that are even sinful.
This week — we start a new chapter — but Jesus is still zeroing in on our heart. Specifically He talked about living by the law how to avoid sin. This week He turns to not sin avoidance but rather acts of righteousness. Surely the two go hand in hand — if you do more acts of righteousness — or in older language we could say pious acts — then you will undoubtedly avoid sin more. Hopefully — for that is what this passage gets into. I think the question that will broadly be our focus this week and next is this:
How do I practice righteousness?
There are things that Jesus expects us to do — not just what to avoid. This is Jesus’ first example of three that we’ll cover. One this week — and two next week. With that as our foundation — lets pray and then dig into this passage.
This very first verse acts an introduction to these three examples. And at first blush it sounds to be contradictory of what Jesus had already said about letting our light shine before all— Let’s comb through this verse:
Motivation for Doing Righetous Acts
Jesus begins with a warning — why would He feel the need to warn? He knows human nature — He realizes this is a natural tendency. I’ve told you this before — for much of my life I’ve thought quite highly of myself. I’d say with more humility now that I have had a tendency to be arrogant and proud. Thankfully the Holy Spirit continues to work this out of me — being a pastor has been a great tool for that 🙂 My human natures likes people thinking highly of me — So maybe this warning is just for me — I don’t think it is — but this warning from Jesus is clear — what is my motivation for certain things?
Is it as Jesus warns to be “seen”? But you wisely say — Nate — Jesus just told us to let our light shine for all to see. I’m confused — the good works we do for other to see are done out of —obedience and for people to see, GOD working in us — When we do righteous acts IN ORDER that others will what WE do then those scenarios are the ones that Jesus is warning against. Again — its the heart behind the actions — Are we looking to be lauded by man or by God?
Dig with me further in this — what are the implications of this introduction: Practicing — it is active. The greek word here is ποιεἶν — this root means “do”. The translators put practicing in here because it conveys the meaning better than adding words and reconstructing. This to say “beware that you are not to do”.
But get back to the active part — the implication is what? That you will do righteous acts. Jesus is implying that indeed you are to do righteous acts, but beware that they are not done in order that others will see you (YOU) doing them. To clarify these righteous acts — I’d like to get back to the word piety. These are the things that we do to grow in righteousness — Things that we are compelled to do. In a sense these are the things that are distinctive in religious activities.
I like the way Stott highlighted this comparison.
“Our good works must be public so that our light shines; our religious devotions must be secret lest we boast about them.”
Here is the implication we get to— disciples will do them. The next three things Jesus highlights in chapter 6 are implied that we as Kingdom Citizens will do them. Which leads us to our first point:
A Kingdom Citizen actively participates in righteous activities.
Again — Jesus is not just about abstaining from certain actions that He spoke about last week — He’s about activity. This is that beautiful mystery of our diligent striving to be more like Him — which takes His Spirit to enable us.
Remember Jesus’s two audiences — the crowd and His disciples — His disciples want to do the things that Jesus desires them to do — Not out of obligation — not out of expectation of earning — But out of a heart compelled to obey all that He says we are to do. So many people mischaracterize Scripture as a list of rules to not do— Rather — it is a beautiful representation of what we are TO DO—to BE!
Righteous Act: Giving
Next we move to that first righteous act that Jesus wants to highlight. My first rhetorical question — is this comprehensive? No — Jesus is taking some specifics — applicable scenarios in people’s lives — both 1st century and ours!
So Jesus tackles giving — equating the fact that giving is a righteous act. There are many in our world that fit this description that Jesus is giving— that are in need of material resources. Many times this is more in our face when we are in a larger city, like MSP, but even St. Cloud – we are presented with people in need of material resources.
It is easy to be hard-hearted to those that are in need — because those of us who are more materially stable can tend to see their need as consequence for sinful behavior. There is no doubt that sin is affecting many of these people in need. However, it could be others sins that have also been present in their life. Yet, sinful choices —some actually feeling the enslavement sin. These are factors that go into someone being in need materially.
One of the things I’ll never forget is when I interned as a youth pastor for a summer in Ohio. Myself and the middle school youth pastor took the middle school kids to Chicago to work with a ministry that cared for people living on the street. I was in charge of a small group who were handing out materials that people might need — along with food as well. So we’re standing on the sidewalk talking to a man, who was most instructive. He confessed that he had made some bad choices — and when he got out of jail, he had no support network — he had no community — no family alive — Which is so hard to imagine not having anyone — As we were talking with this man — who often would get passed on the street as if he didn’t even exist. A well-dressed gentleman passed us and tried to shew us away from the man, like he had “caught us”, like he wasn’t worth talking to. We prayed with him — shared some scripture — gave him a Bible and continued in our day of distribution.
That conversation has stuck with me in regards to people in need. Not having a network — not having a community — And the fact that each one of those people are desperately in need of acknowledgment. In the 1st century as well as now — we still have people in need. Jesus is getting to a very practical part of our lives in how we can practice righteousness. The expectation is there — that we will do this type of righteousness. The King James Version translates this as alms giving — The righteous act is the giving of alms— I just keep thinking of the old animated Robin Hood. That is just stuck in my memory banks of “alms for the poor”
This is not to say that we should always just give to anyone on the street a bunch of money — many working with people on the street say that can easily lead to more corruptive circumstances. But, acknowledging their person hood — their image bearing status — We can easily do that — then give to a ministry that works directly with people in need. This brings us to the second point that Jesus is making clear with this specific example:
A Kingdom Citizen compassionately gives to those who are materially in need.
It’s clear that Jesus expects this act for He uses the word WHEN. It is understood that a Kingdom Citizen will have opportunity to give in this manner of righteousness.
Righteous Act: Giving – Motivation
This last portion of the text ties all of these elements together around giving.
Let’s read 6:2-4
Trumpets sounding — this is quite a fanfare event. Jesus may have been speaking hyperbolically. It doesn’t seem likely in the 1st century that even the elite would have actually had trumpets to announce their righteous acts.
The point Jesus is making that the scribes and pharisees were discussing their righteous giving as a notch in the belt so to speak. So their pride would be comforted — can’t you just see their nose going a bit higher relaying the story of one of their gifts to someone in need. Maybe even describing their dire situation and how noble it was that they could come to the rescue and bring a small amount of comfort for their troubled life.
Jesus condemns this type of action — that is their reward — no reward in heaven for doing something righteous — When pride and self-congratulations is the motivation. Jesus is honing in on the heart once again—Why would you give alms — why would you do this act of righteousness — because the act is righteous in and of itself. Or to be made much of yourself — to have the eyes upon you? Then Jesus says — ok — here is the real way to give — Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… The right hand was the dominate hand — the one that would be “in charge”. Sorry southpaws — right hand is dominate from the lips of Jesus….. Unless we’re talking baseball —
But seriously — what does Jesus mean by this?
“The question is not so much what the hand is doing (passing over some cash or a cheque) but what the heart is thinking while the hand is doing it.”
- Are we seeking other’s attention for our giving?
- Are we quietly thinking how great we are because of our giving?
- Are we looking humbly to our Father who desires us to give because He has given us enough to do so?
This is a crucial gut check — Even without trumpets sounding — we need to be sure that we are not being self-congratulatory for our righteousness!! Again — Jesus knows our inclinations — To gain the admiration of man — even if that man(woman) is us. That is the real issue — motivation by praise of man — Either outward or inward. We need to be confident in the fact that we are motivated to do this type of righteous act out of obedience. Rather than out of a ledger we keep — thinking we’ll show God in the end and say look what we did— This tally’s up to life with you God — NO — we practice this righteous act because of the pure desire to obey Christ and His commands — that we will DO these things.
Stott really sums up how we as Kingdom Citizens are to give:
“We are not to keep recalling it in order to gloat over it, or to preen ourselves on how generous, disciplined or conscientious our giving may have been. Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.”
We let our light shine — yes. We do righteous things — pious things — yes. But we do them not for our honor — not to be praised. Rather we do it because it glorifies God by doing these things. That is our heart motivation.
A Kingdom Citizen aims to glorify God alone by his/her righteous acts.
That’s who we seek to please. That’s where we seek our reward — His satisfaction of our obedience. Again — we Do, not out of earning — but out of obedience and desire to please Him. To sum up this very practical way of doing righteousness: We will most certainly do righteousness. But we must know what our motivation is for doing those things.
Take away – 1
We must be engaged in opportunities to grow our righteousness.
Take away – 2
We must wisely use our resources to aid others.
Take away – 3
We must assess our heart’s motivation for our righteous acts.
If you are someone that thinks Christians don’t care about people actually in need, I want to say that is clearly the opposite from Jesus’s standpoint. We fail to do this properly — but along with our own Salvation we thank God that He continues to make us more like Him!
That’s what we invite you to now! Maybe you are thinking I can’t be a Christian — I don’t know how to live like God commands — I’m not worthy — That sentiment indeed is the Holy Spirit working on you drawing you to Him — showing that you are in need of a Savior! So simply believe — believe that Jesus — the one speaking to us on a grassy hill. He lived, died, and rose to be your Savior — to be your substitute — That upon His resurrection — He atoned for your sins and mine — trust Him, confess to Him — they are wiped away — And turn to obey Him — the Holy Spirit will guide you — He will grow you — He will teach you how to obey.
That is how we act as Kingdom Citizens —
1 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 127.
2 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 128.
3 John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 131.