Helping Those in Need

Matthew 6:1-4

May 10, 2009 | Brian Bill

I know my mom loved me when I was unlovable – actually I think I’m still unlovable.  I want to mention at the beginning that this sermon will not be a “typical” Mother’s Day message. Several years ago, after deciding to begin an expository verse-by-verse series from a book of the Bible, I asked the Women’s Ministry Team whether they thought I should devote Mother’s Day to a message for mothers like I’ve done in past years.  I was surprised by their answer.  They felt that it was not necessary to dedicate an entire sermon to mothers and preferred that the sermon series stay on track and include an application to mothers.  So that’s what I’m going to do today.  You can never go wrong listening to mothers about Mother’s Day!

Having said all that, this passage captures both the motives and majesty of motherhood.  When I put this series together, these verses made me think of moms.  We’re in the middle of a series from the Sermon on the Mount called, “Finding Hope in Hard Times.”   We’ve discovered how to handle conflict, we’ve learned how to pray and last week we looked at some practical ways to overcome anxiety.  Today our focus will be on helping those in need.  My prayer is that God will use us individually and as a church to reach out to the hurting during these tough economic times.

4 Correctives

In the middle section of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is contrasting true inner commitment with external ritual.  The Jews were especially focused on giving to the needy, prayer and fasting.  Here Jesus addresses each of these topics by telling his listeners to focus on inner motives not outward methods.  We could summarize the sermon like this: Secret service results in rewards.   Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6 where we will see four correctives to apply when we have opportunity to help those in need.  

1. Manage your motives. 

Verse 1 is the summary statement that covers the topics in the first part of chapter six: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.  If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  The phrase, “Be careful” means “to take heed, to hold the mind on a matter.”  Jesus used a similar expression when he warned people about greed in Luke 12:15: “Watch out!  Be on your guard…”  These “acts of righteousness” refer to any deed that we do in Christ’s name.  And the phrase, “to be seen” is the word from which we get “theater.”  It’s the idea of making a spectacular performance, but it’s all an act.  

Years ago Ted Turner announced that he was giving a billion dollars to the United Nations.  But before he made the gift, he notified talk-show host Larry King so he could start circulating the news.  His announcement was then made in a New York City ballroom filled with tuxedos, evening gowns, reporters and cameras. 

As best we can, we really need to get our reason for serving straightened out.  It is the Lord God we serve.  We shouldn’t serve to impress others or to try to gain favor with God.  Even the Apostle Paul struggled with this in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.”

Some of you are probably wondering how to reconcile this verse with Matthew 5:16 which tells us to let our light shine before men.  The issue is one of motive.  It’s good to let your light shine in order to put the spotlight on God but it’s not good to let your light shine in order to put the spotlight on yourself.  In Isaiah 42:8 God declares that He will not share His glory with another: “I am the Lord; that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  It’s unbiblical to equate man’s applause with God’s approval.  One practical way to deflect glory from yourself to God is to simply point up when someone pays you a compliment related to your serving or giving or helping or teaching or whatever.  John Ortberg facetiously says, “I know I’m supposed to be humble, but what if no one notices?”

Marc Axelrod explains a new disorder that he’s discovered called AGD.  Here’s what he says: “There’s nothing wrong with being appreciated.  But when we cherish the praises of men more than we cherish the praises of God, then we have a problem.  When we care more about the applause of earth than we do about the applause of heaven, then we have an Attention Getting Disorder.”  Even a good deed can be done with bad motives.

Eugene Peterson has a helpful paraphrase of verse 1: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it.  It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.”

2. Don’t fake your faith. 

Verse 2 challenges us to be the real deal: “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”  The first thing I notice in this verse is that giving to the needy should be a given.  Jesus doesn’t say if you give, He says when you give.  

Giving to the hurting was an important part of ancient Judaism where farmers were told to leave some of the sheaves behind while harvesting so the poor could gather and have food (Leviticus 19:9-10).  In a recent men’s breakfast, Geoff Trembley pointed out that those in need still had to do some work to get what they needed.  Proverbs 14:21 says it like this: “He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.”  Proverbs 21:13: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry and not be answered.”  I love the picture painted in Deuteronomy 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in the land.”

I wasn’t able to find any verifiable sources that stated that actual trumpets were blown when some people would give but I guess it was possible.  Rather, I think this is an idiom much like the one we use when we say, “He’s tooting his own horn.”  I did find out that the offering box where the giving was done was shaped like a trumpet and probably made quite a bit of noise when coins clattered through it.  When speaking of the religious leaders, Jesus delivered a pretty strong indictment in Matthew 23:5: “Everything they do is done for men to see…”  Someone has said, “If you worry too much about what people think of you, you’d probably be disappointed to discover how seldom they did.”

Henry Ironside has said that, “Nothing is more objectionable than advertised charity.  It is extremely humiliating to the one who receives, and hurtful to the soul of the one who gives.” When we’re faking our faith and just doing things to be honored by others, it’s as if God says, “Why should I look at what you’ve done, why should I notice, you didn’t do it for me, you did it for yourself.”

Hypocrites are performers and pretenders who just want to be honored by people.  One of the best definitions of a hypocrite I’ve come across is this: A hypocrite is a person who isn’t himself on Sunday.  I read about what happened in a small college town before Parents’ Weekend.  A popular tavern ran an ad in the campus newspaper: “Bring Your Parent for Lunch Saturday.  We’ll Pretend We Don’t Know You!”  The ad was soon challenged by the college chaplain who posted a revised version on the campus bulletin board.  It read: “Bring Your Parents to Chapel Sunday.  We’ll Pretend We Know You!”  That reminds me of Mark 7:6 when Jesus said: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” 

Secret service results in rewards.   Let’s manage our motives and make sure we’re not faking our faith.  There’s a third corrective.

3. God sees your secret giving. 

Because of that, make your giving as private as possible and then don’t take yourself too seriously.  Check out verse 3 and the first part of verse 4: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” This basically means that when you give; don’t draw attention to your giving.  It might be helpful to say out loud: “God, this is for your eyes only.”  To not let our “left hand know what our right hand is doing” means we’re to hide our giving even from ourselves somehow, not using one our hands to put ourselves on the back.  MacArthur adds, “If the left hand doesn’t know, the left hand can’t get involved.  It’s very hard to clap with one hand to applaud yourself.”  The basic principle here is to not gloat over your giving and don’t dwell on what a great person you are because you’ve helped someone out.  Our prayer should go something like this: Deliver me from myself and from spiritual exhibitionism.

Perhaps you’ve seen the story this spring about how some mysterious donor has given over $68 million to a dozen colleges across the country?  The one stipulation is that the donor insists on anonymity.  This story has made national headlines because it’s very unusual for a giver to a college to give in secret.  

I read different accounts this week and found it funny that people are so surprised.  One blog reported on some theories that philanthropy experts have set forth.  Maybe the donor wants to be secretive because he or she doesn’t want to get hit up for some more shekels.  Or maybe they’re sparing the college from writing thank you notes.  A number of other possibilities were given but no one has suggested that perhaps this individual was simply applying Matthew 6:4 

I return to Petersen’s paraphrase of this passage: “When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks.  Just do it – quiet and unobtrusively.”  There’s no limit to the good we can do if we don’t care who gets the credit.

4. Receive your rewards later. 

We are saved by grace and not by works but we’ll be rewarded for our works once we are saved

Here’s the deal.  When we give and forget, God remembers and rewards.  When we give and remember, there will be no reward from God.  We see this in the last part of verse 4: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  How you and I do in the area of giving to those in need determines how we’re rewarded.  We don’t have time to fully develop this but let me be clear: We are saved by grace and not by works but we’ll be rewarded for our works once we are saved.

God’s rewards are worth waiting for.   Some rewards are immediate, like the satisfaction of being in His will, seeing people get saved, and watching children being taught.  And we know that there are more rewards to come for the Christian who serves with good motives.  Check out Paul’s perspective in 2 Timothy 4: 8: “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who long for His appearing.”

Friend, as you serve in secret remember that your Father in heaven sees all that you’re doing.  I’m greatly challenged by this quote from Andrew Bonar: “The best part of all Christian work is that part which Christ alone sees.”  Mark 9:41 tells us that even the supposedly small things that we do are remembered and will be rewarded: “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”  That should give moms great encouragement because your days are made up of a steady stream of simple acts of service.

Did you catch that the word “reward” is used three times in four verses?   The first time is in verse 1 where we read that there will be no reward if we’re doing things just to be seen by others.  This word “no” means “absolutely not any.”  In verse 2, we’re told that if we do nice things just to be noticed, the only reward we will receive will be some fleeting honor by people.  In verse 4, we’re reminded that our Father will reward us if we serve Him in ways that are secret to others.

Our rewards come from the person we do it for.  If for people, maybe we’ll get a plaque we can put on the wall.  If for God, we’ll get so much more.  Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” 

Years ago The Chaplain magazine wrote about how the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon and wife were called miserly because they sold all the eggs their chicken laid and wouldn’t give any away.  Because they always made a nice profit rumors circulated that they were greedy.  The Spurgeon’s, however, took the criticism graciously, and only after the death of Mrs. Spurgeon was the truth revealed.  The records showed that the entire profits had been used to support two needy, elderly widows.  Charles Spurgeon and his wife had refused to defend themselves because they didn’t want to call attention to their giving.

Action Steps

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned today.  Secret service results in rewards.   

  • Manage your motives
  • Don’t fake your faith
  • God sees your secret giving
  • Receive your rewards later

In order to help us live out these life-changing words, allow me to make some suggestions.

1. If you’re a mom, take these correctives to heart. 

When you’re feeling discouraged or unappreciated, remember that God sees your secret giving and will reward you later

Do you need to take a look at your motives?  How’s your faith today?  When you’re feeling discouraged or unappreciated, remember that God sees your secret giving and will reward you later.

2. For those of us with moms, let’s be sure and thank them today. 

Tim Keller imagines two guys in a room who are given an assignment of folding papers for 12 hours straight.  The first guy quits after three hours and says, “I can’t stand this.  This is driving me crazy!”  But the second guy is delighted.  He keeps working saying, “This is the greatest day of my life!  What a joy!”  He folds papers for 12 hours straight.  What’s the difference?  The first guy is working for minimum wage.  The second guy is promised a million dollars if he stays.  

Friends, there’s a reward in store for those who are faithful and don’t care who gets the credit.  Will you keep working?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?