The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

17 – True Benevolence

Matthew 6:1-4:

“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.  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.  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.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

We turn now to Matthew 6.  Since we are beginning a new chapter in the Sermon on the Mount (the Sermon on the Mount covers chapters 5, 6, and 7), it would be helpful if we begin with a quick review of what we have already covered.  So we know the logic of what Christ is teaching us.

First of all, Jesus began with Beatitudes which describe the essential elements that constitute true Christian character.  Then He proceeds to show us how this Christian character should influence the world.  He uses two metaphors:  salt and light.  One negative and the other is positive.  Salt implies that the world is spiritually dead and is rotting and Christians are to retard that rotting process by mixing with the world.  Light is to give them the knowledge of Jesus Christ; He is the Light of the world.

Then He describes Christian righteousness, which must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.  He gives six illustrations where He demonstrates how Christian righteousness must penetrate beyond our actions, beyond our words, and must come from the heart and from the mind.  In other words, God is concerned not only with good performance, but He is concerned that our motives are right.

I have a statement I would like to read from Steps to Christ [by Ellen G. White], pages 44 and 45:

“There are those who profess to serve God while they rely on their own efforts to obey the law and to form a right character and secure salvation.  Their hearts are not moved by any deep sense of the love of Christ, but they seek to perform the duties of the Christian life as that which God requires of them in order to gain heaven.  Such religion is worth nothing.”

This is primarily the thrust of what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 6.  With this review let us turn to Matthew 6:1-4:

“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.  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.  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.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

What Christ is doing in Chapter 6 is pointing out the life of a Christian in the world and that it has to be lived entirely dependent on God and under total submission to God.  A Christian is one who depends entirely on God and is in total submission to God.  Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.”  If Christ is to do something in me, then I have to abide in Him.

The key verse of the whole of Chapter 6 is verse 1.  Here He lays down the general principles that will govern the religious life of a Christian.  It will cover all of Chapter 6 so that is why I want to spend a bit of time on verse 1.

“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 first thing I would like to mention is a manuscript problem.  Those of you who have the King James Version will read “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men.”  If you have a modern translation, you will notice that the word “alms” does not appear there.  It is the word “piety” or “righteousness.” That is what it really should be, either “piety” or “righteousness.”  He goes on in verses 2-18, giving three examples.  What He is really saying here is, “Take heed that you do not show off your righteousness before men, in order to be seen by them.”  Why don’t you have a reward?  If you are doing it to be seen by men, then you already have a reward:  they have seen it.  Jesus is condemning the same thing as He did in Chapter 5.  He is presenting true religion in contrast to the practices and teachings of the scribes and Pharisees.

With this in mind, and having had explained the verse in terms of the best manuscripts, let us look at another problem.  Compare this verse with Matthew 5:16.  You will notice that on the surface they seem to contradict each other:

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

In Matthew 6:1, He says, “Don’t let people see.”  Is He contradicting Himself?  No.  God wants the world to see our good works, but He wants them to see through our good works to Christ Himself.  I want to give you an example.  Turn to John 14.  You will discover if you read the gospels that the greatest evidence that Jesus gave that He was the Messiah was His works.  Here is an example in John 14:8-11:

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered:  “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Since we are into this, let me give you another text.  Turn to John 15:22-24:

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.”

In the book of Acts, you will notice that by “great signs and wonders” they witnessed Christ.  So please remember that Jesus is not condemning works in Matthew 6:1.  He is not contradicting what He said in Matthew 5:16.  What is He talking about?  He is talking about works to bring attention to self.

I want to share with you a burden (there is nothing we here can do about it) but I want to share this to show you the point.  When the missionaries first went to Africa, they looked upon the Africans as heathens, as pagans.  They came with the gospel (I am talking about Christian missionaries of all denominations) and they said, “We have come to bring you light; you are living in darkness.”  The Africans are very religious people.  They were religious before the missionaries ever came there.  It is true that they were worshiping the wrong god and they were doing good things for the wrong reasons (out of ignorance).

Unfortunately, the missionaries worked hand-in-hand with the Colonialists.  When these African countries began to get independent, the educated ones began to say, “You came with your Bibles and gave us Christianity and you took our land.  Now we want our land back and you take your Bibles.”  This created a problem.  So some of the top African theologians said, “We need to do something about this, plus we need to explain to our people that Christianity is not a Western religion.”

So what did they do?  I want to warn you.  They took the morals of their pagan religion.  You will notice that in any religion there are three basic lifestyles:  almsgiving, praying, and fasting.  You will find this in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, pagan religion, and that is why Christ is taking these three for examples.  The African theologians took these three pagan practices and showed the people that this is also practiced in the Bible.  Therefore, they said, Christianity came to Africa before the missionaries came and they call this the “Africanization of Christianity.”

Now, what is wrong with that?  In all pagan religions you do these things (giving, praying, fasting) in order to gain heaven.  That is the fundamental difference between Christian morality and pagan morality.  A Christian does these things, not to gain heaven, not to earn favor with God, but because he already has salvation.  Out of joy and gratitude, he wants to do these things.  It is not forced.  That is why I read the statement from Steps to Christ that such religion is “worth nothing.”  So we must keep this in mind because, when we read Matthew 6:1, there are two basic facts we must come to.

Number one, the ultimate choice is the choice of not pleasing self but pleasing God.  “I want to do this because I love God and want to please Him, not because I want to earn His favor.”  There are a lot of our people who have been doing things to earn favor from God.  When they hear for the first time that salvation is a gift, what is their reaction?  They will feel this way:  “I was doing all those things for nothing?”  What has happened is that those who were doing these and were very strict about them have gone from that extreme to “Now I don’t have to do anything.”  Both extremes are wrong.  Genuine Christianity always produces a person who wants to serve God.  He wants to do anything for God because he sees that God has been so good to him and he wants to live for Him.

The great champion of the gospel is Paul.  Tell me, was Paul a lazy man?  What does he say in 1 Corinthians 15:10?

No, I worked harder than all of them ...

But he corrected himself (same verse) and said,

...Yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 10:31:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Number two is something a Christian has to cultivate.  You may be familiar with this, but you need to cultivate it.  We must do whatever we are doing as if God is present there, because He is there.  The other day one of my members said to me, “I wish we would have more reverence in our Church like the Catholics have.”  If you go to a Catholic Church you will see they are very reverent there.  I was raised a Catholic.  When you go to a Catholic Church you will notice a little red light.  It may be over the altar, or to one side, but there is a red light.  That red light tells the Catholics that God is actually watching them.  As a kid I was scared of God because He was watching me.  I could do anything outside the Church but the moment I stepped in, God was watching me.  I have bad news:  God is watching you all the time, whether you are in the church or out of it.  But He is not watching you in order to punish you but is watching you because He cares for you.

When Jesus went back to heaven He said, “I will send you another Comforter, the Holy Spirit” [which is a member of the Godhead].  The actual word is paracletos and that means “someone who is by your side to help you.”  Not to push you into the fire but to help you.  Every time you fall, He will help you up.  We need to keep reminding ourself that God’s presence is with us.

The best example is Christ.  When He was here on this earth, He said, “I seek not my own way; I do all things to please My Father.”  That is how we should live.  That is what Christ is teaching in verse 1.  That is the foundation He is laying.  David said in Psalm 139:7-8:

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I go to the moon or depths of the ocean, He is there.  There is no way I can escape God.

The next thing we need to remember is that God doesn’t only see your actions, He can actually read your thoughts.  When you realize that He is there to help you, then you learn to talk to Him with your thoughts.  When you are shopping and tempted to buy more than you should, then talk to Him:  “Should I buy this?”  He is our Friend and wants to listen to you.

With this foundation, let’s look at verse one more closely.  Christ is saying, “Beware, do not practice religion before men to be seen of them; otherwise you have no reward from your Father which is in heaven.”  Christ wants us to do right things for the right reasons, not because we want to be noticed.  Most people who do good things to be noticed are terrible people in private.  That is a typical legalist.  They will do good things in front of everybody but at home you will discover that they can be pretty tough.

One of the crises we are facing in our Church is wife beating and child abuse.  It is a big concern.  Why is there so much of this?  Could it be that legalism has produced it?  Remember when the Pharisees brought Mary to Jesus and said, “We caught her in the act.”  Have you read in Desire of Ages [by Ellen G. White] how she got in that condition?  Who led her?  The same people who were accusing her.

Now let’s look at verses 2, 3, and 4.  Jesus has laid the foundation for Chapter 6 and now He says (Matthew 6:2-4):

“So [here is an example] when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do [He is making a contrast] in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  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.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

If you are trying to show men how good you are and they praise you, then you have got your reward.  What will God say in the judgment?  Turn to Chapter 7.  Matthew 7:22-23:

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name [proclaimed your name], and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Is Christ against proclaiming His name?  Is Christ against casting out devils?  Is Christ against doing many wonderful works?  No.  That is not what He is saying.  He is saying, “You did it not for My glory, it was not me working in you, you were doing it for your own personal glory and selfish needs.”

In contrast, turn to Matthew 25.  This is the same Jesus talking.  Listen to what He says to those on the right, the sheep.  Matthew 25:34-40:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

The true Christians were doing many wonderful works but they were not doing them to be seen of men but were doing them because of their relationship with God.  They were filled with gratitude:  “For me to live is Christ.”  Going back now to Matthew 6, Jesus is saying, “Don’t do this for people to see.”

“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.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

There has been some question as to what this “openly” means.  Most of the scholars take the position that He will give us joy.  The reward may not be material blessings or praise before men but He gives you the satisfaction of seeing someone who is hurting relieved of that fact.  True love wants to see others relieved of pain and suffering.  This is what Christ is saying.

Christ is dealing with a very important issue:  What is true religion?  Is true religion doing nothing?  Is true religion excluding yourself from the world?  No.  True Christianity is going about doing good.  You will notice in this Chapter, in the three examples Christ gives, that He is expressing our duty in three areas:  to God through our prayers, to others through our giving, and to ourselves through our fasting.  (Fasting is primarily for the purpose of self-discipline.)

Christ is saying that He wants us to pray, and to give alms, and to fast, but not so we can get recognition from human beings or do get some merit from Him.  But He wants us to do it because the love of God constrains us.  That is true Christianity.  It is my prayer that we will be noted for that.  We want people to see our good works, but not to glorify us but to glorify the Father in heaven.  The world can only judge us by what we do.  They will know us by our fruits.

I want to close by saying that the greatest test as to whether you are really serving God is when people do not appreciate what you are doing.  That is a real test.  We know that Jesus went about doing good.  He healed the sick, fed the poor.  Did the people really appreciate Him?  At the end of His life, what did these people do?  They crucified Him.  Did Christ retaliate?  Did He say, “After all I have done for them, this is the way they treat me.”  No.  One of the greatest tests of Christianity is when you are unappreciated.  Will you still work for Christ?  That is a great test.

It was a test in the mission field.  In the olden days, the pioneers faced physical hardships primarily.  They lived in mud huts, etc.  But the Africans in the early days really appreciated them; they treated them like gods.  They carried them on stretchers and almost bowed down to them.  Not today.  Today they will say, “Go home.  We don’t need you.”  That is hard to take.  Very few of our missionaries now ever fulfill their full term.  It is hard to handle.  “They don’t need me.  Why should I stay here?”  The question is not whether they need you or not, but did God send you or not.  Whether they appreciate you has nothing to do with it.

God sent Jesus to this world to do a job and at the end of His ministry He said, “Father I have finished the work that You have given Me to do.”  God uses you, He sends you, and whether you are appreciated or not has nothing to do with it.  “For me to live is Christ.”  If Christ was not appreciated, why should I expect to be appreciated?  I thank God for Paul’s example and for that of the disciples.  The disciples were so filled with the love of God that almost everyone of them died as a martyr for Christ.  They were willing to be used, to be spent, to be beaten, to be martyred; they couldn’t care less.  They just went on working for Christ.

I want to give you two examples as evidence that this can happen.  The first one is Moses.  You know what a hard time they gave Moses.  They didn’t appreciate him, they criticized him, and gave him a hard time.  But he said, “God, please don’t destroy them.  I would rather you blot me out of the Book of Life that they may live.”  That attitude is the revelation of Christ in you.

Paul says, “I am willing to be cursed, to be lost forever if that will mean salvation for my people.”  You know how the Jews treated Paul as a traitor, they treated him worse than a criminal, and it was through them that he was taken to Rome and finally lost his life.

The world is watching us.  When you do good works, sometimes they will test you.  They will insult you for doing good.  Christ is teaching that true Christianity is what He wants.  I would like to give you just one text in closing:  1 Peter 2:20-21.  Peter is giving counsel to the believers in this chapter:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

I pray that we will follow in His steps.  God wants us to do good — to give alms, to pray, to fast, and do many good things — but we must do it in a way that the glory goes to God.  He doesn’t want us to sit down and do nothing.  The Church is not an audience; it is the dynamic body of Christ and must reveal Him in all our works.  It is important that we do our works for the right reason, otherwise the Sermon on the Mount will have no value for us.


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