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Oct 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 8, 2017 – Matthew 6:1-4

It’s Okay to Keep Secrets

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Intro: Jesus continues to work his theme of surpassing righteousness (Mt. 5:20)

At first this sounded terrifying
– no one gave more effort to righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees
• but we are beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at
superior may come closer to his thought than surpassing
• Jesus did not mean do the same things the Pharisees did, but more of it
◦ he wanted a different kind of righteousness — a different quality
– Jesus provided six examples of superior righteousness
• each one had to do with a deeper level of the Law reaching a deeper place in us
• when that happens, our actions will not contradict what we hold in our hearts
◦ for example, we will not only abstain from murder,
◦ but we will not hold murder in our hearts

In this next section, Jesus provides three more examples
• these do not come directly from the Law, but from our spiritual practices
◦ these are different also in another way — they are negative examples
◦ they show us what the superior righteousness is not
• we learn from these examples how not to do right things in wrong ways

Jesus begins with “Beware”

The most familiar use of this word may be a “Beware of dog” sign
– this is a message I refuse to ignore
• I won’t walk past that sign unannounced or uninvited
◦ to keep going is to risk a real danger–e.g., an ill-tempered Doberman
Beware tells us someone cares about our safety
◦ what is the danger Jesus warns us to avoid?
practicing your righteousness
◦ who knew this could be a problem?
– there is no question that we do this or that we are supposed to
• but the danger is that we could lose whatever value lies in the doing
◦ the good can be drained from our good works
• what is the wrong way to practice our righteousness?
◦ to perform to acts in front of others to be noticed by them
◦ this is the monkey wrench in machinery of our righteousness,
the weakness in the foundation that could cause the whole structure to collapse

There is a potential problem here that has a simple solution
– in Matthew 5:16, Jesus said,

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven

• he explicitly states that our good works should shine so that others can see them
◦ does Jesus contradict himself?
• the whole issue is whether attention is drawn to the good works or me doing the good works
◦ the point is not whether people see me do some good thing, but whether that is my motive

My first thought when I read this:

“I’ve done that!” I have performed a kind or generous act for someone and hoped that somehow it gets noticed, caught on camera and put on Youtube or written up in local paper. If I donate money to a charitable organization I want may name on a plaque so people know about it.

My second thought:

“But where’s the danger in other people discovering what a good person I am? Why should they not know how much I give? or how eloquently I pray? or how many people I’ve converted? If people see me do something charitable or deeply devout, it will set them a good example. What’s the danger in that?”

◦ the danger lies in the fact that what others think about us is infinitely less important than what God thinks
◦ we are compromised when it can be said of us, . . . they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (Jn. 12:43)

Jesus further explains, you will have no reward with Father who is in heaven
– notice, he does not say “from” your Father, but “with”
• practicing righteousness is a participation with God and his work
• God shares with us both his work and reward
◦ worldly honors and rewards are not even in the same category

In the sermon, Jesus repeatedly refers to God your Father who is in heaven
– or the Father or heavenly Father
• this is a particular way of thinking about God; namely, that:
◦ he is person
◦ we are related to him (derive our life from him)
◦ he cares for us
• but we are especially reminded that God is not our biological (or step-) fathers
◦ some fathers are evil and harm their children
◦ even the best dads are imperfect and poor comparisons to God (cf. Heb. 12:10)
– it was important for Jesus to open our minds to think of God in this way

This verse enlightens us to the danger
– now we are ready to look at the first example
• Jesus presents it in form of a miniature story – a vignette
• and we can easily visualize exactly the scene that Jesus describes

The first example: When you give to the poor

Few examples could be more relevant right now
– in our own country and territories that have been ravaged by hurricanes
• then the tragic bloodshed a week ago in Las Vegas
• the need and opportunities for charity are ample
– God always kept Israel’s attention on the widow, orphan and stranger
• care for the vulnerable members of the community is ingrained in Christian consciousness too

Pure and undefiled religion is in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas. 1:27)

◦ the strong support weak, the healthy care for sick,
◦ the wise instruct the simple, the wealthy sustain the poor
• all of these are relative states–people poor in some ways may be rich in others
◦ it is usually obvious when someone is needier than ourselves
◦ exceptions: person with disability who has overcome it, professional beggars and televangelists

There is a Buddhist exercise in compassion known as tonglen
(I’m not trying to talk anyone into Buddhism, I’m just making a point)
– a person meditates on the specific suffering of someone else or some group of people
• then drawing that suffering into himself or herself, they send out compassion and care to the sufferers

Douglas Abrams tells story of a hospital chaplain who was called to the emergency room where doctors were trying unsuccessfully to perform CPR on two children involved in a drowning accident. The chaplain arrived and saw “the young mother bent over and sobbing from the depths of her being . . . . I felt overwhelmed,” she said and wondered what she could do. “Then I remembered the ‘giving and receiving’ . . . . So I breathed in the suffering as if it were a dark cloud and breathed out golden light from my heart into the room . . . .”

• of course, just doing the exercise was not a sufficient response to the need
◦ but it prepared her to interact compassionately with the mother and provide real assistance
– this kind of exercise can prepare us to not be overwhelmed by the enormity of the need
• to open hearts to what the other person feels
◦ and to open our hearts to God’s Spirit to provide real help

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Heb. 13:3) – “in the body” reminds us of our own pains and sorrows we have felt in out bodies and emphathize with others by imagining they feel in theirs

• it seems that Rainer Maria Rilke captured just these sentiments in the following poem

O you lovers that are so gentle, step occasionally
into the breath of the sufferers not meant for you,
let it be parted by your cheeks,
it will tremble, joined again, behind you.

You have been chosen, you are sound and whole,
you are like the very first beat of the heart,
you are the bow that shoots the arrows, and also their target
in tears your smile would glow forever.

Do not be afraid to suffer, give
the heaviness back to the weight of the earth;
mountains are heavy, seas are heavy.

Even those trees you planted as children
became too heavy long ago—you couldn’t carry them now.
But you can carry the winds . . . and the open spaces . . .
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (translator, Robert Bly)

In this negative example, Jesus says, do not sound a trumpet
– it is doubtful that anyone did this
• until recently, trumpets were used to sound alarms
◦ sirens are electrical, mechanical trumpets
◦ the point is, do not draw attention to your acts of charity
as the hypocrites–the phonies or stage actors
◦ the metaphor is well-chosen
◦ the hypocrites take the stage, like actors looking for an audience
– in what way is it hypocrisy to try to be noticed for doing good deeds?
• their external actions are not united with their internal intention
◦ it appears they are concerned for someone less fortunate, while their real concern is for themselves
◦ they are not loving the poor and needy, but using them
• they creating an image of compassion, but it’s only an image, an illusion
◦ their goal is to gain honor for themselves
◦ the hypocrite is divided, not pure, in heart — not a whole person

What is the right way to practice charity?

I assume that we’ve all heard this expression, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
– it a picturesque figure of speech–hyperbole (exaggeration to make point)

Jonathan Pennington emphasizes that a literal interpretation of this saying would lead to “countless impossibilities and absurdities” and that giving in secret does not require “cash-only gifts (rather than checks used for tracking tax-deductible giving), or that when helping a homeless person the helper must wear a ski mask lest he or she be recognized.”

• in the next verse Jesus’ uses his words more literally
– as far as anyone else is concerned, we keep our act a secret
• as far as God is concerned, he sees in secret
◦ what no one else sees – where no one else can see
• this is where the kingdom of heaven is found, where it does its work
◦ “secret” translates same word hide, hid or hidden in the following verses:

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened (Mt. 13:33)
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field  (Mt. 13:44)

Is it wrong to want any kind of reward for doing good?
– reward is hard-wired into our brains – it’s always there
• our nervous system is designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain
◦ “Will this work to my favor or be hurtful?” “If I work hard at my job, what will it get me?”
• Jesus does not tell us to drop these ulterior motives
◦ instead, do not let them remain ulterior –bring them out into open
◦ weigh your options and then go for best reward – the one that is eternal and with God

Conclusion: Do you know what is missing when we read this passage?

Jesus’ tone of voice
– as he speaks to us, he is giving us the attention we all crave
• the attention we fish for when we sound the trumpet
– I think that his tone is gentle and loving
• and that we can hear how much he values our work
◦ he does not want it to go wrong or to to waste
◦ it and we are too important to him
• what we hear in his voice is the reason we are drawn to him
◦ we trust his diagnosis, his counsel and his cure

And that is why we are going to do our best this week
to keep our acts of charity between ourselves and God

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