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Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Matthew 6:1-4

 

Rewarded of Men

 

Through the dusty streets of the city echoed the clear note of a trumpet. Though it was not a call to arms or battle, all within hearing left whatever dealings engaged them at the moment. They quickly made their way to the place whence the trumpet beckoned them. In the midst of the gathering throng one man stood apart. Fine clothes adornedhim. His manners bespoke great wealth. In his hand he held a bag of considerable weight. The multitude fell silent, watching this man and his bag. He stepped forward. The bag he opened. Into it he put his hand, drawing out a gold coin. He threw the coin into a great chest arranged to receive his money. How it flashed and glinted in the sunlight! The hand went back into the bag. Another coin drawn out, and cast into the chest. Another coin, then another coin, then another and another. The multitude counted … 200 solid gold coins.

For days to come that rich man was the talk of the town. His name received the highest honors. An honorable man he must be, to have given such a sum to the poor. The rich man that day gained many friends. Many would go to him, seeking his advice. And the people were certain that God’s favor shone upon him.

He received his reward from men. Men gave him glory. Men gave him their praise. They lifted up his name. However, heed the judgment of Christ. “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” He received all his reward in those praises of men. There was nothing for him from God.

That reward of men was, after all, the goal of this rich man. He was a hypocrite. He had no heart for God. He was not thinking about God at all. Instead, his whole purpose was consumed with men. He had the trumpet blown, the multitude gathered about him, so that they might see him. He wanted the glory of men. As far as this hypocrite was concerned, he received exactly his heart’s desire.

How true must be, then, the words of Christ. “Otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.” “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” There is nothing for this hypocrite from God. God has turned away from his so-called worship!

There is another side to the “reward,” of course. The wrath of God rests upon all those who engage in such practices only for show. The reward for such is the reward for all sin. And how much greater is that reward—condemnation—for the hypocrite. Knowing the will of God, following it in its form, and yet doing so with a heart so far from God, must bring awful condemnation. That condemnation is furthered even by his act of almsgiving. He will show his mercy and keep it in connection with his own name. He refuses to connect the name of God with that mercy. Against these hypocrites God must vindicate the glory of His mercy.

What is the hypocrisy of this trumpet-attended almsgiving? It is the horrible combination of external religious service mixed with the desire of human praise. The hypocrite uses religious activities to bring glory to his own name, rather than to bring honor and glory to God. The using of the things of God in the service of men is the hypocrisy. How contrary to the practice of true religion: men serving their God!

However, the point that Christ makes is a kind of equality. What the hypocrite gives in this worship is exactly what he receives. He engages in this form of worship in order to be seen of men. By men he is seen and praised. From men he receives his reward.

 

Rewarded of God

 

This same idea of equality must also serve the opposite, the good and the true worship of God. Christ indicates this true worship of God in contrast to the worship of verses 1 and 2. “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” This is the language of exaggeration. So much must other men be ignorant of the giving of alms, even the giver’s own left hand must be ignorant. With this language the point is driven home: “that thine alms may be in secret.”

The great divide between hypocritical and true alms-giving centers in this purpose. The purpose of hypocritical giving is to be seen of men. The purpose of true giving is not to be seen of men. It wholly avoids the sight of men, that God may see.

Why is this so? Surely God does not see only that which is done in secret. He sees the giving of the hypocrite. He takes note. Its wickedness shall be fully revealed at the last day, and the hypocritical giver shall be punished by God.

Rather, we may put the difference this way. Both the hypocrites and the true givers desire someone to see and recognize them and what they do. The hypocrite desires men to see, to recognize, and to reward. The true desires another. He desires God. He desires God to see, to recognize, and to reward. According to that desire, so corresponds the word of Christ: “and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

Therefore, this secret giving of alms is an act of true worship in the kingdom of God. This giving has God’s eye upon it. It is the only giving that God sees. It alone is acceptable worship. He beholds it in order to bless it.

The secret giving of alms is blessed by the Lord.

That secret giving is not blessed merely because men do not see it. Nor is it blessed because only God sees it. Those things treat only the formal act. The point is that secret giving demonstrates the condition of one’s heart before God. Does this giver worship God in His heart? Were no man to know of his giving, would he still give? In other words, does he give even of his material goods out of his heart, out of love to God who alone seeth in secret?

That secret giving is blessed also because of its deepest root. We look further back than the act of giving, even done in secret. We look to the reason of that giving. It does not come out of a mercenary motive. He does not give secretly so that the Father alone sees it, and will reward it publicly. He gives secretly because he has received mercy from God. This religious activity has its origin in the heart: love to God kindled by God’s first love to the giver. Out of the heart, the hand exercises itself in secret, before God who seeth in secret.

Our Lord Jesus Christ then holds out the end of secret giving. It will be rewarded, and that after a public manner. That reward is blessed indeed. For it is the reward, not of men, but of God. It shall be declared that God was pleased with such giving. He will bring forward the name of the giver: This man! He will declare the gift: This he gave. He will reward the giver with divine approval. All this He will do before all men. That true, spiritual worship God will vindicate. The other, carnal worship, He will condemn.

Worship of God

 

We must go to the source of this true, spiritual giving. Only when we examine its root are we able to see its praiseworthy character before God.

The hypocritical giving, mentioned first in this passage, is always the giving of the natural man. The hypocrite bears enmity in his heart toward God. Should his gift be only a matter of giving for God’s sake, He refuses. He cannot give in secret. He desires no reward from God. He will give to exalt himself even against God. He will strive to believe that He can show mercy, without the mercies of Jesus Christ. Such is the giving of all men by nature. Their giving is sinful, and always merits the wrath of God.

The giving required by the King of the kingdom is a true, spiritual giving. That giving is undertaken only by a spiritual man. He has been born again into the kingdom of God by the Holy Spirit. His eyes have been opened to see God, who has shown him such mercy. Receiving that mercy of God freely he gives to God. He gladly gives in secret, seeking to please God alone. His desire is not to receive reward from men, their praise. But he desires to receive the reward of God, to know that what He has done is pleasing to Him alone.

The reward, therefore, is a reward of grace. It is public, accomplished before all men. It is given to the one who has given in secret. Ultimately, though, God has crowned His own work in that man. That makes the giving blessed indeed!

True almsgiving is an act of worship of God. Through this almsgiving, God receives the glory, not men. The idea of giving alms we ought to have clearly before us: giving out of the mercies of God toward men. As God has blessed His people with His mercy, so were they to show mercy to others. Out of the abundance God had given to some of His people, so were they to be instruments of God’s abundant mercy towards the poor. In true almsgiving the glory of God’s mercy is maintained.

There is, therefore, a twofold way in which the mercy of God is known in this true, spiritual almsgiving. The mercy of God is remembered by the one giving alms in secret. Self-promotion and self-glorification are prohibited by the Lord. He must not consider his own work in giving, but must consider the Lord’s work to him, the showing of mercy. Second, the mercy of God is shown to the recipient of those alms. Because the giving was in secret, he has no human name and no human face to put with what he received. He is led to the divine name of God, and the light of God’s countenance upon him.

The secret giving of alms must ever be nourished for the sake of true religion, that religion of the heart that is acceptable with God. The church in which alms are given must guard its giving, to see that it is done in secret. It must not publish by any means the names of almsgivers. This secret giving must be cherished by the people who give. Hypocrisy must be rebuked and secrecy encouraged among the saints.

Questions for Meditation and Further Study:

1.Compare this passage toMark 12:41-44Acts 4:34-5:11II Corinthians 9:1-7. How do these passages complement and strengthen the teaching ofMatthew 6:1-4?

2.How do we tend towards this hypocritical worship? How can we guard against it?

3.Are there practices among us that fall under the condemnation of this passage, e.g., the envelope system for general funds, or contributing to other causes? Why or why not?

4.Is the “reward” identified in verse 4 in conflict with the truth of sovereign grace as it touches our worship?