They Have Their Reward

Devotional thoughts for the month of August 2019

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... where I discuss the thinking that led to this article.)

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others 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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:1–2, NIV)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged his listeners by raising the bar on godly behavior. Now, we should all be thankful for the law. It was a stabilizing agent in ancient Israel as it is around the world today. But the law was also a personal revelation about God… which means that it was not just a list of dos-and-don’ts. The law also gave us a view into God’s very heart.

Unfortunately, obedience to the law had become obedience to the letter of the law by the time Jesus started his ministry — and this had nothing to do with God’s heart! Furthermore, the religious establishment saw themselves as the law’s police… while Jesus saw them as hypocrites — and when Jesus called them on this, he shifted the emphasis from the law’s externals back to its internals… where it belonged.

The custom of giving alms — and often in public places — provided a perfect opportunity for some of the “publicly righteous” people to gain standing in Jewish society. If people like the Pharisees waited for the right time and selected the right venue, then their alms-giving could be observed by the maximum number of people.

Please note, however, that the giving of alms was not the problem here… even giving in this manner. (After all, the poor were still relieved.) The problem was that the hypocrites did not understand the reward system. They gave alms to gather public praise, and this being done, they had their reward. But this reward replaced the heavenly reward they would have received from the Father. They were fishing for earthly praise when they should have been doing good.

Jesus explained that giving should not be done in public: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (v. 3) — which is a saying, of course… meaning one’s giving should be done in secret. Jesus was teaching about the heart here — not the actions. For piety to be beyond reproach, giving should be private, not showy.

Now, it is not untoward for a servant of God to give with a pure heart and also receive the praise of others. After all, we need to be examples in giving (and we cannot control the responses of other people). But Jesus’ teaching challenges us by asking, "Why are you doing this?" … and that’s a valid question for today.

For centuries the Jewish people had been trained in the externals (“… do this, don’t eat that”) — and then along came Jesus. He turned their world upside down… but he did so because they had inverted it first! (Mark 10:5). Sure… the law measured externals — how could it not! But it was always about internals… and the religious establishment had lost sight of that.

Jesus is the light of the world — and when he shone his light into the world’s darkness, the children of darkness killed him! Let’s not kill Jesus. Instead, let’s let his truth change us. If he is indeed the Lord, then we should obey his teachings… and on the mount, he taught that we should give gladly, with a pure heart… and in secret when possible.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider exploring rewards at the following link: 20190729 When giving, what’s your right hand doing anyway?).

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