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24.02.2012 Feature Article


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When Howard Carter and his associates found the tomb of King Tutankhamen, they opened up his casket and found another within it. They opened up the second, which was covered with gold leaf, and found a third. Inside the third casket was a fourth made of pure gold. The Pharaoh's body was in the fourth, wrapped in gold cloth with a gold face mask. But when the body was unwrapped, it was leathery and shriveled.

Whether they are trying to cloak a dead spiritual life, or something else, in caskets of gold to impress others, the beauty of the exterior does not change the absence of life in the interior. Hypocrisy is a façade painted just to give it a touch of reality.

Having finished six comparisons between His standard of righteousness and that of Israel's religious leaders, Jesus next teaches about motives in religious life. Thus Jesus moves from a Christian's moral righteousness to his religious righteousness. In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus lays down some guiding principles regarding the practice of righteous living. In these principles, Jesus provides three practical illustrations that pertain to the religious observances of the Jewish people. They are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. All the three main religious faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam embrace these religious practices. Almsgiving, praying five times a day toward Mecca, and fasting are among the five pillars of Islam. The remaining two are the word of witness (shehadah), and a pilgrimage to Mecca. I would like you to pay careful attention to these things that Jesus is teaching us, because if you get it right it would impact your Christian life in a very positive and significant way.

The fundamental warning Jesus issues is against practicing your righteousness before men in order to be seen by them. At first reading these words seem to contradict what Jesus had told the disciples in 5:14-16, “Let your light shine before men so they may see your good works.” No contradiction exists, however, because in 5:16, Jesus gave the disciples the correct motive: that people might “give glory to your Father in heaven.” The first Jesus commands it, but in our present text Jesus prohibits it. Jesus warns that doing good works or acts of righteousness so that others might see and praise you for what you do would earn no reward from your Father in heaven.

The phrase acts of righteousness can be translated different ways, but it means, “To do what is right.” In verse 1, Jesus is warning us of the danger of religious hypocrisy. Jesus is focusing on the motive behind any good deed. Why do you do good to people? Why do you give money to the church? Why do you help others? Do you do such things to promote or parade yourself? Your acts of kindness and generosity should not be self-centered, but God-centered, done not to make you look good in the eyes of people but to make God look good. God rewards good deeds done for His glory alone. He does not reward good deeds done for personal recognition, display, applause, or honor.

There is much teaching in the Old Testament on compassion for the poor. The Greek word for almsgiving in verse 2 is eleēmosunē, which means a deed of mercy or pity. Since our God is merciful, as Jesus has emphasized, kind to the ungrateful and the selfish, His people must be kind and merciful too. Jesus expects His disciples to be generous givers and this includes you and me today. Jesus' words condemn the selfish stinginess of many Christians today. Nevertheless, Jesus says that generosity is not enough, but motivation behind it is everything. By the way, if you are a Christian and you do not give to help the Lord's work and the poor, then you must examine your life whether you are a true Christian. Why am I saying this? I am saying this because Jesus did not say if you give, rather He said when you give. Jesus expects you to give; but more than the giving He expects your motive for giving to be right or pure. So in this verse Jesus illustrates the wrong way to give and that is “to sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. So Jesus is saying that if you are His disciple He wants you to give to help the poor or needy, but you are to have a different motive in giving than did the hypocrites. Hypocrite was the Greek word for actor, one who wore a mask and pretended to be someone he or she wasn't. The term hypocrites as used here, describes people who do good for appearance only, to be praised by others—not out of compassion or other good motives. A hypocrite is a person who lays aside his/her true identity and assumes a false one. If you are a hypocrite you are no longer yourself but in disguise, impersonating somebody else. You are wearing a mask.

In a concert or a theater there is no harm or deceit in the actors playing their roles. It is an accepted convention. The audience knows that they have come to a drama; therefore they are not taken in by it. The trouble with the religious hypocrite on the other hand, is that he deliberately sets out to deceive people. He is like an actor in that he is pretending, yet he is quite unlike an actor in this respect: he takes some religious practice which is a real activity and he turns it into what it was never meant to be, namely, a piece of make-believe, a theatrical display before an audience. And it is all done for applause. Like actors in a play they give their gifts in front of an audience, hoping for praise. Let me ask you a question, “Are you more influenced by what people will say than by what God Almighty thinks?” Probably the vast majority of people are more influenced by what men/women will say than by what God thinks about them.

You may not employ a troop of trumpeters to blow a fanfare each time you give to a church or charity. Yet, you like to “blow your own trumpet.” It boosts your ego to see your name as subscribers to charities and supporters of good causes. When that happens you fall to the same temptation, because you draw attention to your giving in order to be “praised by men.” Of such people who seek the praise of men, Jesus says with emphasis: they have their reward. The verb translated “have” (apecho) is a technical term in commercial transactions; it means to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” So the hypocrites who seek applause will get it, but then “they have all the reward they are going to get.” Nothing further is due to them, nothing but judgment on the last day. So Jesus has shown you and I the wrong way to give.

Having forbidden His disciples to give to the needy in the ostentatious manner of the Pharisees, Jesus now teaches us the Christian way to give, which is the way of secrecy. He expresses it by another negative: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Some people use this verse as an excuse not to give sacrificially, so in worship they fold their dollar and throw it at the offering plate. Some too don't want the church to keep record of their giving so this verse is their favorite one. However, this is what I have noticed. If such people were giving generously and sacrificially, they won't mind the church keeping record of their giving, but because they give their leftover money after purchasing gas, they contend that nobody is to see how much they give to the church on weekly basis. Nevertheless, their argument has nothing to do with what Jesus is teaching here. The instruction that Jesus is giving is not to prevent the local church from recording your weekly tithes and offerings. What Jesus is saying is that not only are you not to tell others about your Christian giving; there is a sense in which you are not even to tell yourselves. In other words, you are not to be self-conscious in your giving, for your self-consciousness will readily turn into self-righteousness. So subtle is the sinfulness of the heart that it is possible to take deliberate steps to keep your giving secret from others while simultaneously dwelling on it in your mind in a spirit of self-congratulation.

Jesus is teaching us that motives for giving to God and others must be pure. Jesus is saying that don't call attention to your acts of mercy or generosity. There are some people when they do something for you, it would be better for you to go to Channel 8 (ABC) and tell them to telecast it because everybody had already heard it. If it is clothing that the person gave you, when you wear it everybody will be looking at you, because he/she has already broadcast it. That is very embarrassing. Jesus is telling you not to do that. You should not call attention to your act of mercy or compassion.

We live in a fallen world so it is easy to give with mixed motives, to do something for someone if it will benefit us in return. Jesus teaches us that giving should be done in secret. Jesus words do not forbid record keeping, receipting, or reporting procedures used in good stewardship. But He condemns practices to impress others. You and I who are believers should give generously, out of compassion, when there is a need. God rewards such giving. Dr. Billy Graham says it well: “God has given us two hands—one for receiving and the other for giving.”

Christian giving should be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation. What you should seek when giving to the needy is neither the praise of men, nor a ground for self-commendation, but rather the approval of God. The truth of the matter is that, although you can keep your giving secret from others and yourself, you cannot keep it secret from God. For no secrets are hidden from Him. So your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Helping others becomes a real adventure if you remain anonymous. Regardless, you still must help others. You may have to live through times when your acts of generosity are neither recognized nor appreciated. What can you do to give to those in need? What is your excuse for not giving to support the church and others with needs? To those of you who are generous, what is your motivation for giving your money?

Outward forms of religious practice have acceptance with God only if they have the right spirit behind them. If they are done without sincerity, then they are an insult to God. The Old Testament prophets had clarified this centuries earlier and Isaiah was particularly adamant about it (Isaiah 1:10-17).

It is nearly impossible to keep secret the amount of charitable giving you do today. The IRS requires donors to keep accurate records of their giving, and the larger the gift, the more people must keep a record of it. It would be foolhardy today not to keep track of your giving for tax purposes. However, you can still apply the spirit of Jesus' teaching even while you keep accurate financial accounts.

Jesus tells us:
1. Do not get proud of your generosity. You are only a steward of resources that belong to God already.

2. Do not give for the honor bestowed on donors. Instead, give in gratitude for what God has given you.

3. Don't count your gifts as merit points for heaven. God will reward you generously, but not on your invoice.

4. Every time you give, count it as a reminder of your freedom from the power of money and of your trust in Jesus alone for all good things.

Before you harden your heart and rebel against the teaching of Jesus on giving in this passage, I would like you to think over this:

God made the sun—it gives.
God made the moon—it gives.
God made the stars—they give.
God made the air—it gives.
God made the clouds—they give
God made the earth—it gives.
God made the sea—it gives.
God made the trees—they give.
God made the flowers—they give.
God made the fowls—they give.
God made the beasts—they give.
God made the plan—He gives
God made man—he . . .
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Kennedy Adarkwa
Kennedy Adarkwa, © 2012

The author has 331 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KennedyAdarkwa

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