Jesus on Self-Promotion | Matthew 6.1-4 (Snoh)
March 30, 2014 Series: The King Has Come | Matthew
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 6:1–6:4
Matthew 6.1-4 | Jesus on Self-Promotion
Intro| from what to how
In chapter 5, Jesus teaches us what genuine righteousness is. Most of the chapter is devoted to explaining what he meant when he said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus redefines (or rightly defines) what is good and what is bad. Hatred is murder. Lust is Adultery. Unfulfilled oaths are lies. Retaliation is unloving. And though it reads as if Jesus is rewriting the letter of the law, in truth, He is revealing the deeper meaning of the Spirit of the Law. Jesus forces us to see just how deficient, broken, and rebellious we are; and He calls us to righteousness beyond what obedience to moral rules can achieve. Jesus reveals a standard of holiness so impossibly high we find ourselves desperate for a savior—to make us righteous.
But even when we understand the Spirit of the Law and commit to pursuing this new righteousness found in Christ, Jesus warns us about practicing righteousness sinfully. We can be bad in being good. In 1Corinthians 10.31 Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If there is a way to eat and drink to the glory of God, there is also a way to eat and drink, or do anything that is not glorifying. We can direct our hearts and draw everyone’s attention to God or to ourselves by how we live live. As examples, the first half of chapter 6 is devoted to practices that we would all consider part of our religious disciplines – giving, praying, and fasting. And though we may assume that giving, praying, and fasting are always good—Jesus warns us that there are wrong ways to give, to pray, and to fast. Just as Jesus calls us to go beyond the letter of the law, to the Spirit; He calls us to go beyond the action to the heart behind it. Jesus wants more than your good behavior—he wants every word, every thought, every dime, every breath, every decision, every action, and ever motive behind your action. What makes this chapter so uncomfortable to read is that it tests our internal faith. Men are easily fooled by external faith tests, but this passage forces us to ask questions to which we only know the answers to.
Earlier in the sermon, Jesus commanded his disciples to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works…and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5.16). So, Jesus is not contradicting himself here. Jesus does not command us to avoid doing good works for other people to see, rather, he warns us not to do it in order to be seen. The issue is not whether or not you are doing a good work (though Jesus assumes you are), but WHY you are doing it at all.
Seeking Approval | Trumpets
Men like the Pharisees were always more concerned with appearances, and Jesus is always concerned with the heart. They may have been blind to the the darkness in their own hearts, but they saw much light in Jesus. About him they said, “We know you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” (Matthew 22.16b). Jesus is still not fooled by appearances but we are; this is the perspective that Christ wants for us.
Jesus uses giving to the needy as an example of a good behavior that can be done with a bad heart. Giving was a sacred duty for the Jew. The same word for “righteousness” is used in describing this kind of giving because Jews viewed giving to the poor as the highest virtue. Culturally, but not biblically, they believed such giving gained them merit with God and could even cleanse one of sin (Synagogue Story). In fact, the Jewish Talmud taught that, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.” In their view, giving to the poor actually atoned for sins—which it does not. This practice was probably became more attractive than making an actual sacrifice for sin as giving to the poor was less demanding (specific), less involved (bloody), and less shameful (identify sin).
The word for giving here can be translate all kinds of ways: doing charity, social justice work, giving money, helping the poor—basically helping and loving people. This kind of giving allowed one to have the external appearance of spirituality, especially when you blew a trumpet every time you gave something. It is difficult to know what Jesus means. Jesus may be symbolically referring to the trumpet shaped (13) charity boxes that were used in the temple, or jokingly to the trumpets used for calling assemblies to prayer or Sabbath worship. Whether they are literally blowing trumpets or not, the point is made. They are making a big noise, a big stink, or a big deal about what they have just done because they want their service, their sacrifice, their giving, to be noticed by others. When was the last time you did this? (I didn’t ask ‘if’)
Being noticed is not evil; but trying, expecting, or wanting to be noticed may be. And this is where all of us live. Our culture is all about being noticed for the good, bad, or weird thing you do. While its unlikely you’ll post a YouTube video that will go viral, you can still try and get noticed by others on Facebook, or FAKEBOOK. If Jesus were on earth today, I think instead he may have said “what comes out on Facebook proceeds from the heart.” Of course, you don’t believe you’re on there to get noticed…but you are. I will contend that most of what MEN put up on Facebook is motivated out of a desire to make other people think a certain way about THEM—usually positive. Whispering wasn’t invented for compliments and Facebook wasn’t invented for confession.
FAKEBOOK is all about making your life appear better than it actually is. We upload “artistic” profile pictures so people think we’re good looking. We wish our brides happy anniversary to make people thing we’re good husbands. We report the dates we go on with our daughters so that others will think we’re good Dads. We post pictures of our food so people will think we are good cooks. We post quotes from books we haven’t read so people will think we have good brains. We like organizations so that people will think we are good citizens. We friend people we’d never talk so people will think we are loving. We like comments so that people will think we are good friends. We post rants so people will think we are good consumers. FAKEBOOK is all about making your life appear better than it actually is—its’ a giant APPROVAL machine where we pretend to be someone else so that others will like us. FACEBOOK is the biggest trumpet we have today—it’s a 1billion person brass band!
Approval of Men
Jesus condemns such trumpet blowers as “HYPOCRITES”, literally, their like actors who are doing good in order to get applause and glory for their performance. Jesus condemns the trumpet blowers in the streets and in the synagogues, in the world and in the church. In other words, there are both irreligious and religious trumpet blowers whose giving and good works are motivated by getting glory for themselves. Some men give because they want the approval of men. It feels good to be loved, admired, and appreciated; it feels good for others to think better of us. One may say they are giving simply to give, but unless they are recognized or at least thanked for their service, they become disgruntled, disrespected, or discontent. We do good, avoid bad, or even do bad—whatever will make others think we are good.
This happens in at our jobs, in our churches, and in our homes all the time. Someone in the family (job, church) chooses to clean the house, manicure the lawn, or deal with a difficult problem. What happens when no one notices? We blow a little trumpet—because we believe no one notices, that we won’t get credit, or that people will think wrongly about us. It is not completely bad to do this, as it is important to have a culture of gratitude in the home. My point is, that we need to evaluate where our heart is before we give or serve by asking yourself: Do you do things to be noticed? Do you act in order to be encouraged or appreciated? If no one ever knows I am doing this, is it still worth doing?
Approval of Self
Of course, there are a few of us who say, I don’t do things for men’s approval—I’m not that insecure or weak. I give to give. That is still not where Jesus wants you. Jesus says we shouldn’t let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. There could be some symbolism at work here as the left hand is considered unclean and the right hand clean. Jesus says don’t allow the flesh (dirty hand) know what the spirit (your clean hand). I believe that Jesus is trying to show us that, even if we are not “blowing trumpets” for the approval of others, we also must not blow for self-approval. “Not only should there be no external trumpets, there should not even by any internal music suggesting, “I am, after all, pretty decent fellow.” (Frederick Bruner)
Approval of God
Religious men do this and more. I do not know the heart of any man. But I know there are many religious leaders who have gained power, applause, and followers from their good works whether it be serving the poor, planting churches, or preaching the gospel. And there is no issue with the public display of these good works that is the problem, again, it is the public promotion—the blowing of the horn. There are many who want to make Jesus’ Name Famous. In an effort to do just that, these well-meaning Christians boldly broadcast all that “God is doing” through their ministries from the pulpit, through social media, and at conferences. And though they say they are blowing the horn for Jesus---it is difficult to take your eyes and ears off of the one blowing the horn. Sinful men are often more impressed with the horn blower because our hearts are prone to worship men…and men are prone to let them.
Jesus warns Christians particularly because religious trumpet blowing is even more evil. Men not only want men to admire him, he also believes God will owe Him for doing that good. They’re blowing their horn because they believe men are watching others to see and God is watching to keep score. Jesus says God doesn’t reward this kind of giving. These men have all their reward they have now—approval from men that will not follow them into eternity. The people who make a big deal of their religious work now will get a reward now. That is why it is so common for people to do it—there is a temporary benefit. They receive people’s admiration and false sense of God’s acceptance. In truth, their giving is not saving them and their hearts are condemning them.
Why we seek approval?
There needs to be a sense of self-forgetfulness in performing righteousness. He must increase, I must decrease John 3.30. We must forget ourselves; only then can we actually perform anything truly righteous. This is not about thinking LESS of ourselves, but a matter of not thinking of ourselves at all. And forgetting ourselves does not mean just giving to give—it means remembering and finding our approval in the cross of Jesus.
Everything you do is either for self, for, others or god. Two of those are sinful. We seek the approval of men, self, and God because there is a longing in us for approval—all men know something is wrong like a child who knows they’ve disappointed Dad. There is something in us that longs to “get noticed”, to “be somebody”. Like a young child to a Father, we all cry out, “Watch Me”, hoping that whatever we do, or don’t do, will impress enough for us to feel like we’re loved and accepted. We have a deficiency. Doing stuff, whether it be religious or irreligious, are simply attempts to work our way to our Father’s acceptance. Much of our feelings despair, guilt, fear, and anger emerge in our life when we adopt a works-based mentality and allow our work, rather than the work of Jesus, operate as our functional savior.
This is why we seek approval. Jesus does not want us to just give out of need, fear, or duty. He doesn’t want us to give just to give. He wants us to give because we delight to please our Father who delights in us. Our supreme object in life becomes pleasing God only, always, in everything.
And this is only possible when you believe that Jesus stands ready to love and forgive you. There is nothing to do, only to believe in what He has done for you. Before God asks you give anything, he asks you to receive what is free. Jesus could live this way because He knew, God said, He loved Him unconditionally before he did anything. Knowing this, he lived entirely for God. He said the words he spoken were from/for God. The works He did were done for God. He only did that which God the Father instructed Him and sent Him to do. He his Life was given to glorifying God. For those who are in Christ, don't not hate for your brother’s approval. Don't not lust for your wife’s approval. Don't keep vows for your friend’s approval. Don't love your enemies for society's approval. Don't serve church for your pastors’ approval. Love, reconcile, make peace, and give, and serve for the approval which you already have in Christ. Until you see that in Christ you have all the approval you want, will you stop being afraid.
Where we should seek approval?
Jesus never blew his own horn…not in his life and not at his death. He never told anyone what He was doing. On the contrary, he tried to avoid any credit people wanted to give Him publicly. When false accusations came, Jesus didn’t defend himself. The Son of God served, sacrifice, and gave all that He had and never worked to make a name for Himself. Jesus He never thought of Himself. He did nothing for Himself. Why? He didn’t need to. He knew God was watching everything. Deuteronomy 6 calls for parents to be diligent in teaching the words of the Lord. In order to keep them ever before you, the Bible calls us to write them on doorposts and gates. If you are inclined put bumper stickers on your cars, verses on your desk, or Scripture on your wall, then perhaps the best thing to put us is – “God sees me.”
These words are not intended to create fear in his people as if God, like the bogeyman, is waiting to pounce on your immorality. Nor is God to be viewed like Santa Claus making his naughty list. Rather, if we viewed it through the Gospel, we’d see these words are encouragement. They restrain us from seeking the approval or applause of men—because we know we already have it in Christ. No one may say word. No one may encourage. No one may know you gave, served, or sacrificed for anyone. No one may applaud your refusal to fight or be angry. But He sees you give. He sees you serve. He sees you fight. Everything you do is under the eye of God. God sees everything, God sees you and, in Christ, He is delighted. Do you believe that?
Jesus never blew his own trumpet but, God certainly trumpeted Jesus. And what was his reward? Resurrection—a restored relationship with His Father. What is the reward that we all really want from our Father? It’s isn’t material, in truth, we want relationship. The reward is closeness with God the Father again. This is what we truly long for. And no temporary approval or applause can compare with the unchanging, irrevocable, unconquerable eternal approval of our Father. When we have a rich relationship with our Father who loves us—no one else’s approval matters. Stop trying to impress men, yourself, or God with your good works. Be impressed by what God has done through the good work of Jesus Christ to bring you back to Himself. Do not seek approval, find approval in Jesus—then do good work from your righteousness NOT for it.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
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