When I was young, I would watch or be familiar with shows on TV that had some pretty interesting characters. Mike Brady from the Brady Bunch, Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island, Archie Bunker from All in the Family, Hawkeye Pierce from MASH. As a kid, I could never separate the actor from the person in real life. And often times, these actors were quite different from the characters they portrayed.
While this may throw us a bit, what is even more concerning is when someone who portrays a believer and a follower of Christ is nothing like the character he or she portrays.
As we get into Matthew 6, we find Jesus addressing three particular areas of our Christian devotional life: giving to the needy (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-15), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). But all of these issues come from what Jesus says in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” While some versions say for us to beware of giving alms, the oldest and best manuscripts state that Jesus is merely speaking in general of appearing righteous before men in order to receive praise from men.
Matthew 5 dealt with the inner moral requirements found in the heart. Chapter six is now dealing with the outward religious requirements and the motives behind those religious works. We find ourselves wanting the approval of those who are just like us. Jesus moves back to Matthew 5:19-20:
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
And now we are getting to the nuts and bolts of our religious rituals. Are we doing them to help and grow, or are we doing them so we can be seen helping, giving, and fasting? Dan Doriani in his commentary asks the appropriate question: are we desiring to be holy, or are we driving toward hypocrisy?
Let’s look at Matthew 6:2-4:
1. When you give, what reason do you have?
As we mentioned last week, there are numerous places to give: humanitarian efforts, missions work, charities, churches, television ministries, campus ministries, churches—there is no end. Each of these makes often legitimate cases for your giving. What makes you give to them?
Sadly, many give for what they can get out of it. When I worked in college at a local grocer, I would find myself witnessing to a lot of guys I went to high school with. One told me that he was up late at night going through some particular issue, when a TV minister put his hand toward the TV and said, “I sense someone is out there with a ______________ problem. Send $100 to our ministry and I will send you an anointed prayer towel. Just pray with this in hand, and God will hear and answer.” Sometimes we give thinking that by giving, God will materially bless us.
Yet, some of us are moved by pictures of needy children all over the world and give to these organizations. That’s a good sign. Jesus said, “When you give to the needy.” The operative word is needy. In fact, when the early church began, this area of giving and helping those in need was a very distinguishing mark for Christians. James Montgomery Boice noted
Before Christ’s time there were no homes for the sick or poor, no orphanages. There was a world of toil and poverty, of the exposure of unwanted children, of slavery, of great hunger side by side with great affluence, and appalling indifference. After Christ came there was an instant and sacrifical love of the believers for each other. This was followed by care for the poor, hospitals, reform laws in the status of women, the establishing of change in labor laws, the abolition of slavery, and other things.
Understand that giving is not optional, but it is a sign of obedience—especially if it is for the right reason.
What kind of heart do we have when we give? Part of being God’s covenant people is that we give to the needy. As Eric read earlier from Deuteronomy 15, God commanded and expected his people to help their poor and needy brother. Why? Remember that Deuteronomy is all about Moses giving his last marching orders to the people of Israel before they entered into the Promised Land. But where did they come from? From being enslaved and mistreated in Egypt. God delivered them from their slavery and would always remind them of their former condition.
While the Jews of Jesus’ time did give, it was more of a ritual and very external. Yet, we must realize that giving must not be a ritual, but a matter of a relationship. You see, when we give, we really give unto the Lord. Remember Malachi 3:6-10:
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.  From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
Remember this: when we do not give, we are robbing Him. Yes, we are giving to the needy, but remember there is a spiritual need as well, and God expects his people to give to the storehouse of the local church to which they belong so that physical and spiritual needs may be met.
2. When you give, what reward do you seek?
Rewards. Many people have this conversation about rewards. Will Billy Graham have more rewards in heaven than a regular Christian? Some ask these with their main concern being what kind of ‘stuff’ will we have in heaven.
Yet, I believe this is the wrong angle to take. Heaven is not earth. Beulah Land is not America. Getting to heaven is not the equivalent of obtaining the American Dream where we have everything we want and more. We think about our life and what blessings God can give us both now and in the by-and-by.
Yet, Jesus comes along and in a span of six verses mentions the word ‘reward’ four times. Go back and look at Matthew 5:46-47:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Notice in Matthew 6:2
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Both of these verses deal with a false desire for a false reward. The great snare for many was to give for the praise of men. Those in Jesus’ times were particularly snared because the model being presented by the religious leaders was one of drawing great attention to oneself. When the trumpet sounded from the Temple for a time of giving, the Pharisee would drop what he is doing and rush toward the Temple, giving a great sign to everyone that he was spiritual—he’s going to the Temple to give! But it went even further.
The scribes and the Pharisees even believed that the more one gave, the more sin was forgiven. In one of their writings, we read, “As water will quench a flaming fire, so charity will atone for sin” (The Wisdom of Sirach 3:30). The Pharisees, in a way, felt they could buy their way to heaven with the amount of money they gave to the needy. But ultimately, what they wanted was recognition from men. And since that’s what they desired, that is just the reward they received—but no more!
The word Jesus uses is the word ‘hypocrites’ – as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and in the streets. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be something he is not, much like the actor in a play.
Do we do this? Ask yourselves these questions:
• Will we only give to the needy if someone is around to see us give it?
• Will we give to the church, but only if our name is on a plaque by a window or a nameplate in book or Bible?
• Do you find yourselves “accidentally” bringing up how much you give?
• Do you give, but only if there is no monetary sacrifice, but if there is, you find excuses not to give? In other words, will you only give when you are “financially settled?”
• Sometimes we just give with the expectation of gratitude to the one to whom we give.
• Sometimes, people will only give if things are going well at church, but will withhold their giving if things are not—using it as leverage for implementing change they want to see.
What reward do we seek? The question is, at this point, what reward should we seek? Jesus answers this in Matthew 6:3-4:
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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This is an interesting picture. Jesus here is saying, “Be discreet—very discreet.” MacArthur says, “The most satisfying giving, and the giving that God blesses, is that which is done and forgotten.” When our right hand gives, we should be discreet even from our left hand, not to mention other people.
So are we to give in secret? Does this mean that every good work we do should be done in secret so no one else knows about it? What about what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” So is Jesus saying in one place that people need to “see your good works” and in other place do like your Christian life and duty out in secret? No, the similarity still stands: what is the end result of your good works, to receive praise from men or from God? Wherever you seek praise from, from that same place your reward will come as well.