The King's Secret Service | Matthew 6:1-4;16-18 (Mville)
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 6:1–6:4
If you have your Bibles, and I really hope you do, I invite you to turn to our text today in Matthew 6:1 and following. While you’re turning, let me set the stage for what we’re about to read.
We’re smack in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – in the 2nd of 3 chapters total. At the beginning of chapter 5, in the Beatitudes, we learned about the attitudes of heart that characterize the people whom Jesus, by His grace, has brought into His Kingdom. People saved by God respond to God’s salvation with hearts liberated from the world’s value system, such that they’re free to be merciful, meek, peacemaking, patiently persecuted and more.
In the rest of chapter 5, Jesus made explicitly clear how all this grace and mercy His kingdom was ushering in didn’t undo and nullify the law, but actually elevates it and raises the bar beyond the reach of mere moral effort and simple checkboxes. He made this clear by walking through an abbreviated list of the 10 commandments that we’re all too quick to break as we sin against one another in our relationships—hatred & enmity, lust for someone who’s not your spouse, lying and breaking covenants and so forth.
Whereas chapter 5 dealt extensively with how we handle relationships with others in a gospel-centered way, in Chapter 6, Jesus turns his focus to acts of worship that we offer directly to God. These acts include giving, praying and fasting are they’re often referred to as spiritual disciplines. They’re behaviors and rhythms we engage in as a means of responding to God’s grace in our lives.
Disciplines like these are just a response to His grace but we’ll see that they’re really the grace of God themselves because in practicing them we learn to rest and remain in Jesus’s sufficiency as he commands us to do in John 15:4-5 where he says:
 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
The Matthew 5 things we’ve read about – not lusting, not hating, loving our enemies, keeping our commitments – that’s the bearing fruit kind of stuff that Jesus is referring to here in John 15. The praying, fasting and giving that we’re about to talk about today is the abiding and the remaining in Christ that allows for that fruit to be grown by God in us.
Giving and fasting are some of the very means that Jesus has provided to deepen our relationship with Him and to give us the strength to fulfill all that He demands of us in chapter 5. We don’t get that strength from sheer will power, but rather through humble dependence upon Him.
So, since these are means of our spiritual strength and health, it’s no surprise that this is one of the key areas where Satan, sin and our flesh try to pervert and prevent. When 2 countries are at war with each other, of course the enemy will try to dynamite the rail lines or compromise the supply routes in some way. These are our supply routes! So let’s pray and then hear what Jesus has to say about guarding these rhythms of grace.
Giving to the Needy – 6:1-4
“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.
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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Fasting – 6:16-18
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, 16-18, ESV)
With our text today, it’d be so easy to turn this into a moral lecture - “Give More –– Eat Less: 2-Simple Steps to your best life now!” It’d be so easy because we’re all often looking for quick fixes to what ails us in life and to what we think our biggest problems are. So I’m going to try and avoid that tendency and keep us focused on the heart of the matter that Jesus seems to be driving at.
APPARENT CONTRADICTION – SECRET OR SHINING
So if you’ve been following along at all in this sermon series, you’ll remember when we covered chapter 5:16 Jesus said, “
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.
At first glance, Jesus seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. In chapter 5 he exhorts His followers to be completely conspicuous in doing good deeds in the same way that a well-lit city stands out against the night’s darkness. Today we read in chapter 6, which is all part of the same sermon, that we’re to be completely INconspicuous, unnoticed, covert, under the radar. What’s going on here? Are we to be salt and light or are we to be low-sodium & lights-out? The answer is YES – both.
At the end of the day, life in God’s kingdom is always about the motives and intents of our hearts. That’s what God is always after—creating in us the kind of Kingdom heart that wants to obey and is bent toward making much of Him, and finding our joy and satisfaction in doing that.
With that, God is forever condemning religious types in Scripture whose hearts and motives are crooked and bent toward self. In Matthew 15:7-9, Jesus hammers the Pharisees and scribes saying:
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
What we have going on in Jesus’ day was a bunch of hyper religious scribes and Pharisees who made sure that the broader community saw just how seemingly righteous they were. Though trumpets were used in worship services, scholars aren’t really certain that they were actually blown when the Pharisees gave money for the poor, but they definitely were, as we say today, tooting their own horn. The best guess as to the blowing trumpets reference is that since all money was coinage during this time period, not paper bills, it’s possible that the boastful, when they went to provide for the poor, let the coins drop from a healthy distance so all could hear.
When they gave in this ostentatious and very visible manner, Jesus called them hypocrites. A hypocrite was an actual vocation in those Days. It wasn’t a derogatory word yet. It was a play actor in Greek theater who would literally put on a different face/mask and pretend to be something/someone they weren’t. So Jesus borrows this imagery from Greek culture that many would understand and says the Pharisees are wearing these pretend masks of care and concern for the poor and the things of God when all they really care about, in reality , is what others think of them.
So back to the apparent contradiction, Jesus isn’t saying “don’t practice your righteousness before others. Don’t let anyone catch you doing good”. He’s simply acknowledging a truth as old as Adam and Eve that Jeremiah captured when he penned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Again, the warning isn’t against our actions but rather our motives. The question isn’t “oh no, was I seen doing a good deed”; but rather “am I doing a good deed in order to be seen”.
Uncovering our motives is a tricky thing for broken people like us. When Jesus says, “Beware”, he isn’t just providing a caution and a warning. He’s calling us call to action – Be-aware. Become Aware. That verb in Greek for ‘beware’ means “turn your mind to”, give careful attention to” or to “concentrate on”. How often do you stop to consider your motives for doing or not doing something? Our Christian life, if it’s healthy and vibrant, should be one of frequent reflection on the condition of our hearts and of confession of the sin God convicts us of. We don’t get to just go through life mindlessly. EX Caleb often saying “I don’t know”. EX – Fostering a child.
Martin Luther provides another great example of the scrutiny we should all humbly have for our hearts. He wasn't afraid of calling out the self-serving intentions of the medieval indulgence-sellers and abuses of papal power. HOWEVER, he was very much aware of the waywardness of his heart and he wisely said, "I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, [whose name is ] Self."
So motives matter, but why? If the poor receive charitable help; if the prayers are prayed; if the fasting was completed, isn’t that job done, mission accomplished? Why do our motives matter? One word – glory. In Isaiah 42:8 God says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”
Glory is this rich biblical term that refers to everything that is right and majestic and full of splendor and beautiful about God. If you take the most beautiful sunset, and the feeling of holding your newborn baby, and the most decadent meal you’ve ever eaten, the richest heart-to-heart conversation you’ve ever had where you felt so understood, and the time when you laughed so hard you could barely breath and your stomach hurt, and your most transcendent music concert experience and you roll those all into one simultaneous experience, you get a glimpse of 1/1 trillionth of the glory of God. In a phrase, God’s glory is everything that makes our lives worth living. It is, in fact, why we live and exist—the glory of God.
We’ve been created in such a way that our deepest satisfaction is supposed to come from recognizing this glory and splendor of God and then reflecting that back to God. But through the fall we’ve perverted all that. Rather than giving God that glory that He’s entirely do, we want to have some of it for ourselves too. We exalt ourselves and seek the approval and esteem and praise of others.
Few if any of us do this explicitly or overtly. No one jumps up and down waving their hands shouting, “like me! Approve of me! Applaud me!” We just do it in a thousand more subtle ways online through our sort-of-social media, “Just took my boys out for a dad and dudes froyo date” #bestdadever. “Read Romans 1-3 today in my bible reading plan. Paul is kicking my butt!” #varsitychristian #not ashamed.
While all of our current forms of self-promotion and glory seeking are definitely more interesting than reading the dumb bumper stickers of yesteryear about your honor student, I think we have to ask ourselves what our motives are. The apostle Paul puts it this way to the Galatians in 1:10:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Jesus puts it this way when he rebukes the scribes and Pharisees in John 5: 43-44:
I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
So the fact of the matter is, from the mouths of Paul and Jesus, that saving belief and faithful service to Christ aren’t just unlikely, they’re impossible. If we’re hungering for the approval and glory of others, we’re hardly concerned with God getting all the glory. We’ve broken the second commandment after a fashion. We haven’t made for ourselves an idol. We’ve made ourselves the idol! And glory isn’t like dollar bills or poker chips where you can divide them 50/50. “Here’s one for you God and here’s one for me…” It’s all or nothing. His glory He gives to no other.
Here’s another sinister thing about seeking glory for ourselves—it enslaves us. What we think we’re the masters of ends up mastering us. Paul says it this way in Colossians 3:22-24
 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24 ESV)
Paul’s phrase about not just giving eye-service could literally be stated as being enslaved to eyes of others. In robbing the King of his rightful glory and living for my own, I end up enslaving myself! Church, in contrast to this, we’re called to live for the audience of One and for the applause of heaven. Our motivation to fast and to give is solely to be seen by our Father in heaven, who sees what’s done in secret and will reward accordingly.
Now for those of you who aren’t very extraverted, you aren’t on Facebook 10 times a day, it’s easy to think that “Jesus is talking to the person next to me who has their smartphone are tablet out right now.” It’d seem like you’re off the hook, right? But then we read in verse 3, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” How is this even possible?
I think what Jesus is getting at here is the tendency that every single one of us has to be proud and puffed up in our own hearts, even if no one saw the good works we did to prove we’re good Christian boys and girls. We receive glory from ourselves with our little pats on the back.
Throughout Scripture, the right hand or right side is cast in a positive light, whereas the left hand was even viewed as unclean relative to the right hand. Just 2 examples that illustrate the dignity of the right side are that Jesus is frequently mentioned as sitting at the right hand of God. And in Matthew 25, where the sheep and goats are separated, the sheep who will inherit eternal life are on the right, whereas the goats are put on the left.
As Christians, though God’s Spirit lives in us and we’ve been born again and made new creatures, we still have a fleshly nature as well that’s tempted toward sin and rebellion. So when Jesus tells us not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, he’s saying don’t make any provision for the flesh to boast. When you realize you’re starting to get puffed up with whatever great thing you’ve done, take those thoughts captive and acknowledge them for the deadly lies that they are before they start to work whitewashed hypocrisy in you. And we do that by not just taking them captive but by replacing them with the truth that, as Paul says in Philippians 2, God is the one, not us, who is at work in us both to WILL and to do whatever we do for his good pleasure.
Why Even Try?
I’ve spent a chunk of time now calling our motives into question, calling us to be aware. At this point it’d be understandable for many of you to throw your hands up in the air and say, “forget giving or fasting or cleaning the church on Saturdays or serving in the Cold Weather shelter. I’ll wait till I’m more sanctified and my motives are pure”.
First off, I think that’s a cop out for laziness and apathy. Oddly, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found more motivation to exercise and trim a few pounds while sitting in front of the tv. That usually sucks it right out of me. I’ve found the motivation by getting on my running shoes or picking up the weights and then I find even more of it. We’ll never get to a place of having perfectly pure motives this side of heaven; it’s foolish to think we will.
What’s more, not trying isn’t an option. Remember, in chapter 5 Jesus has already commanded us to let our good works shine brightly so that God gets the glory. And did you notice a repeated word at the beginning of v2 and v16? “when”, not “if” but “when”. Jesus is assuming, He’s expecting that as His followers, we’ll be actively participating in these spiritual disciplines, that they’ll be something of a way of life. So inaction simply is not an option.
2 SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES – GIVING & FASTING
So let’s jump into what two of these disciplines or habits are—giving and fasting. Giving is pretty straight forward. Under the Old Covenant, Israelites were expected to tithe, or give a 1/10th of their first fruits to God. In addition to this, there were other opportunities to make free will offerings. Under the New Covenant that Christ established, we aren’t required to tithe. However, just as the New Covenant raises the bar with regard to hatred equating to murder and lust equating to adultery, our call to be generous with the resources God has given us isn’t decreased but increased. That 10% mark shouldn’t really be a ceiling but a floor, a starting point. And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 9 that godly giving is sacrificial and marked by deep joy.
Fasting is simply going without something that we normally enjoy in order to focus our hearts and attention more fully on God. It’s an act of worship. It’s a way of confessing our need for God. It’s a way of seeking His face. People fast from food, tv, Facebook, sweets, you name it. Fasts can last for a few hours, a day, a week or even longer. They can be corporate, just as we the elders have invited the church to join us in fasting on set days as we seek God’s direction for our church family, or they can be private.
Both of these go so against our human nature and our culture. Everything in us and surrounding us calls us to consume and hoard as much as possible and to live for today. With regard to financial giving, Americans as a whole are considered generous people. 5% of us Americans in general, without respect to religious beliefs, give 10% or more of our income annually. Among those who self-identify as Christians, that number rises to 12% of folks who give 10% of their income. More narrowly, for those who claim to be evangelicals, that number rises to around 20%.
On the face of it, that sounds encouraging. As a group, 4x’s as many of us evangelicals compared with Americans as a whole give 10% of our income toward the church and charity. But honestly, I look at that stat and I’m grieved over the other 80%. It doesn’t mean that those 80% don’t give anything, but I think it does point to a worship disorder.
Christ tells us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we evangelicals in America treasured and trusted God more and opened our hands more liberally to better steward the resources He’s given us—if we gave a minimum of 10% of our income, that’d be an additional $165 billion dollars annually that could go toward planting churches, fulfilling the great Commission, translating the Bible for the 3 billion people who don’t have a bible in their own language, foreign missions, acts of benevolence and more.
NOTE – Most of us pastors and other staff aren’t compensated, so this isn’t an appeal for you to upgrade my 1991 wagon to a Beamer.
In the face of our culture and the stinginess of our hearts, Jesus invites us, even expects us, to give up food and finances and make do with less. By why? There are many reasons but I believe there’s one primary reason. Notice again that these acts are to be done in secret, so this isn’t about others seeing our radical generosity or our ability to be disciplined. As I said toward the beginning, these rhythms of fasting and giving and prayer are meant to connect us more intimately and closely with the living God Himself. These aren’t an end in themselves but a means to the end of knowing Him more fully. J I Packer once wrote:
When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God. Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service—but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God. Our sermons contain much sound doctrine—but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour. We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters. Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.
God mercifully has given us these rhythms, these spiritual disciplines to know Him more fully. That knowledge comes in large part through our repeated expressions of trust. I don’t know a chair is sound and sturdy until I exercise my trust in it by casting my weight upon it and letting it bear me up and sustain me. That’s what we do when we secretly give of our resources to advance the Kingdom. We’re exercising trust that 100% of what we have is His anyway and that He will meet all our needs.
We fast to confess that, though His gifts are great, deep down we hunger more for Him and the fullness of His presence. Food and drink and media and everything else ultimately just don’t and won’t satisfy, and that’s a good thing. We’re meant to want more of Him. We’re meant to be homesick and hungry for the great and final return of the King. Fasting helps remind us of that hunger and intensify it and helps break our dependence on certain idols, such as food and media, that often stifle that desire for Him.
Church, don’t be deceived or confused on the matter. When we practice these spiritual disciplines, yes, we’re giving something to God, but we are receiving so much more in return. Strength. Perspective. Hope. Courage. The infilling of His Spirit. Repentence. Times of refreshing. Freedom from bondage. Again, don’t be fooled. The Psalmist says in chapter 50 that the cattle on a 1,000 hills are His. He doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need our fasting. He’s inviting us to be more dependent on Him, and in that humble dependence, to glorify Him.
Indeed, the desire to fast or give sacrificially is a gift from God Himself. David knew this full well. When He saw his peoples’ glad and generous contributions from their hearts to build the temple, he didn’t get all puffed up with pride at what a great leader he was of such a great people. He was humbled by the grace of God and said, “Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
CHRIST OUR PERFECTION
To live our lives this way is a tall order. In many respects it’s not fun to sacrifice, to tell our bodies “no, not now, you don’t live by bread alone, body, but by every word that proceeds from His mouth.” But we’re not left to ourselves to attempt these rhythms of generosity and self-denial. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:9
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
Praise God that our salvation never has, never will rest on how little we eat or how much we give but rests solely on the finished work of Christ on the cross. It’s His poverty and literal, sacrificial giving of His very life that makes us abundantly rich with new life and unfathomable blessings. We can’t and we don’t need to earn His favor or somehow pay him back through fasting and giving. But these are some of the ways we get to respond to Him to celebrate and give Him glory for His mercy. So WHEN you fast and WHEN you give, do so secretly, not seeking the praise of others, knowing that your Dad sees you and will reward you with even more of Himself.
More in The King Has Come | Matthew
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