When you Give: Matthew 6:1-4 (Sermon)



What if I had you all come up here one at a time and give a gift to the poor? When you did, I would do this. Blow my trumpet. [Trumpet - Blares - ] Giving financially to a church or any non-profit can be awkward without hoopla. I appreciate that we rarely have asked you to give in the past ten years that I have been here. Often, we just make known our needs, and you generously provide. Since COVID, we haven’t taken an offering. We have over the years. We have taken an offering more frequently than we haven’t. For most of my time here, we took two offerings on communion Sunday. Soon, I think we will be going back to taking one offering during the service. It is not because we are in need. Instead, it is more because giving is another way we express our faith and trust in God. It is another means of worship. 


At the same time, there are ways of giving that are wrong. For example, some give thinking that makes them good. Some try to bypass Jesus’s saving work on the cross for sin by their giving. They think doing good will outweigh their bad. Some give to feel better about themselves. And to be honest, giving does feel good. 


We head back to the Sermon on the Mount in the passage this morning. There, Jesus talked about righteousness in the form of giving. Follow along. Let us follow Jesus into his kingdom. If you have your Bible, open to Matthew chapter 6, starting at verse 1. I will have J.H. read for us. Stand with me if you are able. 

“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.

“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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1–4)


Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your Word. It is a lamp unto my feet and light unto our path. You are excellent and worthy of praise, including our tithes and offerings. Teach us what it means to give. Teach us how to give back to you for your glory, not our own. Teach us how to follow you into your kingdom. Use this message for your honor and eternal rewards, in Jesus’s name, amen. You may be seated. 


We are continuing our series in Matthew. Jesus is on an undisclosed mountain teaching his disciples what it means to follow. He is telling them about kingdom living. His message fits with the overall picture of the book of Matthew: Follow the promised King into his kingdom. Jesus is that King. His kingdom is supernatural. He wants us to join him on his journey. He began the sermon by explaining nine qualities and nine blessings for his people. He then turned and spoke directly to his audience. He said they were salt and light in a dark and decaying world doing good work so that others may honor God the Father.


Kingdom living flows from what the King values. King Jesus didn’t come to change God’s expectations, create a new set of Ten Commandments, or scrap the Old Testament. Instead, he came to complete the Law of Moses, to fulfill everything that the Father required. Jesus was, and is, a Moses 2.0: the greatest prophet, priest, and king. He wants us to be righteous before God the Father. He commended hungering and thirsting for good standing with God. He taught that to get into heaven; we must be more righteous than the religious. This entrance requirement drives us back to the beginning of his message: his followers’ nine qualities and blessings.  


Jesus gave six examples of rules people used to measure righteousness. Each began with the phrase, “You heard that it was said.” In our day, people sought to justify themselves through comparison. They think they are good because they haven’t murdered anyone. Jesus quoted this prohibition, but added, “But I say to you.” His clarification moves the discussion from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. He targeted the heart of unrighteousness. If a person is angry with someone and calls him or her a name, that person had murdered in his heart. People think that they are doing well with God because they haven’t committed adultery. However, Jesus said that if a person lusts, he commits adultery in his heart. Jesus talked about marriage, honesty, love, and mercy. Righteousness involves all of that. It means showing compassion for those who don’t deserve it and showing charity to one’s enemy. Jesus began his message by prohibiting killing enemies and moved all the way to command loving them. We climb to the summit of the six laws with a seventh that feels impossible. What was that? We must be perfect like God is perfect. The bar Jesus set was high. It seems impossible. There is no way to ascend that hill on our own. I think Jesus wanted us to feel the weight of these commands. Our hearts should be humbled and broken. Such a feeling drives us back to the nine qualities and blessings of a kingdom seeker in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  


The beatitudes included meekness, sorrow, and a desire for a right relationship with God. That is the call of the disciple: the authentic Christian. The good news is that Jesus said there are blessings for those who are poor in spirit, humble, sad, hungry, and thirsting for righteousness. God the Father blesses those who long for him. While Jesus fulfills the law, we are to obey it. Guilt can seep into our psyche where we can’t or haven’t or didn’t obey. Jesus knows that and came to alleviate our shame with salvation and hope through his death and resurrection. He was the perfect sacrifice. He was and is our soul’s solution to our unrighteousness. 


That being said, following Jesus involves action. Being "righteous" means avoiding sin, saying sorry, and turning from evil. Righteousness is also about doing good. It is about giving to the needy, praying to God, and fasting. When we get to chapter 6, we read one of three sections describing standard spiritual disciplines associated with godly living. In each, Jesus compared his followers to a group of people he called hypocrites. 


Who were these hypocrites? They sought recognition. They might say they were trying to do things for God, but they weren’t. They taught, served, and gave, but for the wrong reasons. They were pretending, imposters of the faithful followers. The hypocrites made giving primarily about themselves, not others or God. In chapter 23, Jesus used this word six times with the religious leaders in mind. His message was a warning for his followers. We, too, can fall into this trap. In chapter 6, Jesus’s main idea was that we must give to others with a proper heart. If you are taking notes, let me say that again. 

Give to others with a proper heart

VERSE 1 - Topic at Hand

Let’s walk through these four verses, and I will show you how I arrived at that conclusion. Look at verse 1. 

“Beware of practicing your righteousness” (Matthew 6:1).  

Let’s stop there. What was this practicing righteousness? How is that related to giving? Jump to verse 2. It mentions giving to the needy. So does verse 3. Thus, when Jesus said practicing righteousness, he pointed to giving to those in financial need. This could be monetary or something else. You may recall that Jesus mentioned giving to the one begging in chapter 5. He brought up giving up coats and walking miles with people who are begging from you. Therefore, this passage still relates if you don’t have money or an income. 


Jesus continued,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people” (Matthew 6:1).

I was talking about the cultural practices of giving in the days of Jesus this week with another person. Much of the Old Testament Law commands sacrifice and offering in a public fashion. So what was Jesus getting at?  


Does Jesus want us never to give in public? Isn’t someone going to know? Is it wrong to buy a brick and put your name on it for a community project? Is it wrong to pass the plate in church? Jesus mentions we are not to let our left hand know what the right hand is doing. Was Jesus changing the rules for Jewish sacrifices? No. Jesus gave his life publicly to us poor people on the cross. 


What then is Jesus’s concern? The problem was the heart. The problem was the motivation behind giving. Hypocrites were not giving out of a proper heart. Look back at verse 1. 

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1).  

Why were they giving? They wanted to get noticed. 


That was not all. They didn’t just want people to see them give; verse 2 clarifies their improper motive further. 

“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” (Matthew 6:2).  

People’s praise fueled generosity. To put it crassly, the hypocrite wanted people to worship them. 


Did they blow trumpets in their synagogues or the streets when they gave to the needy? One commentator wrote, 

There is no evidence for a literal blowing of trumpets in connection with alms-giving, and the phrase may be used purely metaphorically here, though it would not be untypical of Jesus to conjure up the image of such a crass piece of self-advertisement. It is in any case likely that significant donations were publicly announced in the synagogues. (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 236.)

So this image of horns blaring could be like the image of cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye to stop you from sinning. Such word pictures arrest our attention; they capture our imagination, are easy to remember, and drive home the point. Interestingly, this scholar quotes a source stating that there were some measures to make giving secret in Jesus’s day. His citation pointed out that there existed 

two rooms in the temple where donations were made, one of which was known (Harry Potter fans please note) as the “Chamber of Secrets,” where “worshipers used to put their gifts in secret and the poor of good family received support from them in secret.” The ideal of secrecy was thus well established, even though not always observed in practice. (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007).)

We have many examples of giving in the Bible publicly. One, you may recall, is the story of the widow’s mite in Mark chapter 12. Again, look at Mark chapter 12, verse 41. 

And he [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41–44)

This giving was in the open. 


Another example of public giving we find is in Acts chapter 4. Shortly after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the disciples took offerings and publicly shared their belongings. Look at verse 32 of chapter 4 in Acts.  

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32–37)



The apostles didn’t interpret Jesus’s teaching to mean that we only give when it is secret. That was not his point. Instead, Jesus highlighted who was getting the praise, whether it was God or man. You may recall what Jesus said in chapter 4 of Matthew. He told the devil, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). He wanted his followers to give with a proper heart to God. So, whose praise are we seeking when we give? What is going on in our hearts? Here are three tests to help us answer that question:


  1. First, do you seek acknowledgement when you give? Are you looking to draw attention to yourself? Do you want people to think well of you? Do you want a pat on the back? Do you drop hints about your involvements, achievements, and work. Do you long for someone to mention how great you are, or what you did, or give you credit? To be frank, I have from time to time. Jesus warns us and calls us to look to God not to man for reward. 


  1. Secondly, ask yourself if you are okay with not getting credit? If no one ever found out what you did, what you said, or your role, would you be okay? If you were to go to your grave and never be recognized, would you be alright? Jesus wants us to look to God for reward, not others. 


  1. Perhaps, you are fine with not getting credit. You don’t like the limelight. You are an introvert, or you are shy. However, a third test is: are you okay with other people getting credit? Are you settled with other people being honored? Or does that bother you? Do you get jealous, envious, or judgmental at other people’s wins? Do you think, “I wish I got noticed and thanked like that”? This can be a sign that we want praise. Jesus desires us to worship God the Father and seek his reward. We must give with a proper heart.    

Admittedly, we are a mix of pure and impure, good and evil. That is why Jesus tells his disciples this message of righteousness. Jesus came to earth because we need his help to be righteous. He came to die for and forgive sin.


On a different but related note, “What reward did Jesus refer to?” It was the Father’s reward. He began and ended these verses with a call to seek this reward. What was that? Look back at verse 1. 

“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” (Matthew 6:1).

Reading that verse makes the reward of the Father the proper motivation. Jesus brought rewards up three times in these four verses. He highlighted later in the sermon and in weeks to come we will get to that. What is the difference, then, between the hypocrite seeking the reward of people and the follower seeking the reward of the Father? Well, in part, it is the reward. We have already seen the difference between who is getting praise. But the rewards are different as well. Let’s go back to the beatitudes and see the type of rewards that the Father gives. He gives the meek the earth. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. That is quite a reward. “Hey, I am going to give you Lake Michigan. You get the Rockies. You over there get the Pacific Ocean.” What a windfall! The meek are humble, not fakers. He said blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy. The hypocrite probably didn’t think they needed mercy. He said, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But consider the reward of the poor. If you think that the earth is impressive, consider paradise. Friends, the rewards of following Jesus into his kingdom are extraordinary. So, the difference between the hypocrite’s reward and the follower’s reward is infinite. The difference between the hypocrite’s attitude and the followers was significant. They had a man-centered, short-sighted goal. Jesus would call this reward treasure later. Look at chapter 6, verse 20.

… lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:20–21)


Apostle Paul described this reward as a crown or a prize. In his letter to the Colossians, he called it an inheritance. 

“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 3:23–24).

The Apostle John wrote about heaven and our eternal existence. There is no pain, sorrow, sickness, or sin in heaven. God will be with his people, and we will feast, dance, and sing joyfully on streets of gold forever there. The Apostle Peter wrote this. Let’s read it aloud together.   

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Friends, we can only imagine the reward that awaits us who believe. It is far better than seeking our honor and praise here and now from our peers. 


Having this long-term mindset takes discipline. It is not natural. We must fight the flesh and our world’s push to seek people’s praise here and now. I love what Jim Elliot wrote in his journal. “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Pastor John Piper wrote, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.” Church, pursue your satisfaction, satisfaction in God. You will find the greatest peace, contentment, purpose, and joy in God, not people’s praise. Serve and give, not to fill your resume, complete your transcript, or climb the corporate ladder. Do good, give generously. Why? Do it for the reward of the Father. That is the proper heart. Ultimately, we will come up short. Jesus knows that our motives and our actions are imperfect, unrighteous, and we need help. By faith in his death on our behalf, he forgives us and empowers us to obey and walk forward in his mercy and grace. 


As we conclude, let’s go back to the motivation. Why do you give? 

  1. Do you want to win people’s favor or God’s? 

  2. What if no one ever found out about your gift? Would that be okay with you? 

  3. And what if someone got credit? Would you be fine with that? 

If you find there is some shade of sin inside your motives, join me in being poor in spirit, meek at heart, sorrowing over your sin, and hungry and thirsty to be better. Jesus said that those who follow him there will be blessed by the Father. We find grace through Jesus. 


Over the years, people have secretly given my family gifts. I haven’t found out who they all were. If you have ever done something like that, you know how fun it is to give. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). He was right.  


I went to India, and my wife had the kids write notes for me. It was a surprise. Here is a letter one of my kids drew for me. It was a gift and blessing. 

I love it. I loved all of those cards. My kids could give me a broken watch, and I would love it. There is a sense that as children of God, we offer our paltry gifts to others in worship of him. He loves our gifts. It is the thought that counts. He in turn rewards us with his affection and acknowledgement. 


When I was in college, in the chapel Jill Briscoe spoke. I remember what she said to this day. She told the story of Jesus feeding 5000 men. The disciples told Jesus that the people had nothing to eat. They asked Jesus to send them away. Jesus told them to give the crowd something to eat. They complained they didn’t have anything to give. They found that a little boy had some loaves and fishes. Jesus used that to perform a miracle. He fed them. Jill turned to us students and said, “I have a hunch, Jesus wants your lunch.” Friends, God owns it all. I have a hunch he wants our lunch too. 


Here is a challenge. Pray and ask God this week if there is something you could do for someone else. Maybe it is anonymous, maybe it isn’t. Be creative. I believe God speaks. You might get a nudge from the Father today or later this week to do something. Imagine what might happen if we give with a proper heart? Let’s take a moment and quiet our hearts to ask God to show us what that might be.  


Let’s pray.

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