by Steven Chan
31 October 2010
In Mat 6:1-2, Jesus warned His disciples: “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 glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.”
Jesus addresses the tendency of man to do things that will win the glory of men or the praise of men, instead of the praise and glory of God. In the account stated in Matt 6:1-2, He cautioned them against the hypocrisy of giving alms (i.e. giving to the needy or the poor) by making a public spectacle of it so that all men may praise them for their supposed “righteousness”. The question really is what is the motivation for them to help the poor and needy? Is it really because they have compassion for the needy and the poor? Or, is it because they feel that they will public favour or the praise of men if they were to show people how “kind”, “gracious”, “generous” and “good” they are? The act of helping itself is no doubt, good and does benefit the “needy” and the “poor” – but sadly, because he had not done it for God but for himself (or for his self-interest or to improve his self image) in order to win the praise of men, he receives no blessings from God. That’s what
Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” That reward is not from God but from men.
In Mat 6:3-4, Jesus explained how we should help the needy and the poor: “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.”
We ought not to desire the praise and glory of men when we do works of benevolence. We ought to do it for God’s glory and not for our own glory!
Sadly, some have taken advantage of this instruction, by insisting that those who give them financial help should not let others know as that would be against the teaching of the Lord “that when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”. Often they ask for anonymity so that they can then approach every other member of the church to ask for financial help without anyone knowing how much help they have received from the brethren, and brethren then later discovered that had they known the total amount of financial assistance given by brethren, they would not have agreed to so-called “lend” them so much; often times, the amount “given or loaned” is far too much for the borrower to repay – or alternatively, the recipient of the funds could have made better use of the funds.
We need to note that the instruction from the Lord is to the giver that he should not sound a trumpet so that all men may know how good or kind he is. It is not for the recipient of the help to insist that the giver maintains complete silence about the help that has been given.
Let’s consider some examples of benevolent work recorded in the New Testament.
In Acts 4:34-37, the Bible observes: “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Evidently, God wants us to know about the generosity and benevolent spirit of the early Christians as His Inspired Word records for us that “many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet”. The benevolent effort of the early Christians was duly noted and recorded. So was the benevolent act of Barnabas who sold his land and gave the proceeds to the apostles. Did not the apostles know about the good deed of Barnabas as well as that of the early Christians? Yes, they did. Does that mean that they had all breached the command “that when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”? Evidently not – otherwise, their actions would have been condemned by the apostles – as was the case with the couple, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-4 who also sold their land and gave only a portion of the proceeds to the apostles but deceptively gave the impression that they had in fact given the entire proceeds to the apostles Why did they do it? Probably because they had wanted to win the praise and glory of men – and not the glory of God!
By the way, we should be careful with our hearts as to whether we may be deceptive in intentionally giving incorrect impressions to others to win their favours – and we think that God is not aware of what is in our hearts! The apostles knew what they did and how much they had given – surely it was not so secret that no one knew what they had done. The church also knew what Barnabas had done when he sold his land and gave the proceeds to the apostles.
The key is that Barnabas did not parade his benevolence nor did he do anything that could be construed as trying to win the favour of men and not of God. In fact in Matt 5:16, Jesus taught thus: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. God intends for our good works to be seen by men – but to be seen in such a way that God is glorified and not for us to be glorified!! Good works are to be done for God’s glory and not for us to win the praise and glory of men.
In 2 Cor 9:11-13, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others…” The benevolent work of the brethren at Corinth not only supplies the needs of the saints in Jerusalem but also brought many thanksgivings to God. The key is this: Is God being glorified in the good work that we do or was the good work done for our own glory?
In 2 Thess. 3:10, the apostle Paul says: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” But aren’t we supposed to be helpful and benevolent to all? Yes, but Paul knows that sometimes our benevolent work may be abused by those who are slothful and lazy – who refuse to work. Note that it says “if anyone is not willing to work” or “does not want to work”. It is not referring to those who want to work but cannot get any work. The question is this: how do we know whether one is “unwilling to work” or “is unable to get work” – unless we take the effort to see how we can be of better assistance to such ones by finding out more about their true situation? We need to be loving, generous and also responsible givers.
It may be that some of us can be like the householder in Mat 20:3-4 who can provide employment to those who want to work: “And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.” Such brethren may be able to help those without work, by giving them work so that they can earn their living – for the Bible teaches thus: “let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”(Eph 4:28)
Paul offered himself as an example in 2 Thess 3:7-8: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:” In Acts 20:33-35, Paul declared: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In Acts 18:3, the Bible recorded that “because he (Paul) was of the same craft (as Priscilla and Aquila), he abode with them, and wrought (worked): for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” Paul did not shirk from working as a tentmaker even though he was a preacher.
It is also interesting to note that some of the purposes of working:-
That we may not dependent on others (2 Thess 3:7-8);
That we may provide for ourselves and for our own family (I Tim 5:8 – important to note that the one who fails to do this is worse than an unbeliever); Incidentally, the apostle Paul implies that parents are responsible for saving up for their children: “I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”(2 Cor 12:14); Christians need to realize their responsibility to save for future needs as well (as in the case of Joseph being told by God to ask the Egyptians to save up to 20% during each year of plenty so that they can meet the needs during the years of famine that were to follow – but not at the expense of helping other who are in need (Gen 41:34, 48-49);
That we may have something to share with those who are in need, to support the financially weak (Eph 4:28; Acts 20:33-35) – working for wages is not limited to meeting our own needs exclusively or even that of our family only. It is for the work of benevolence and for the support of God’s workers too (2 Cor 11:8,9). On occasions I have heard of some who told me that they have chosen to stop working because they had enough for themselves and so, they now prefer to sit back and relax or retire! How different is that attitude from that of the rich man in Luke 12:16-21? If God has blessed us with the ability to earn, let us be faithful stewards of God’s blessings and use them for His glory (I Pet 4:10,11).
Jesus is concerned with the fact that we should do good works for God’s glory even as such good works help alleviate the plight of those who are in need – and He is concerned with the danger of His followers doing good work for personal vain glory, i.e. for the praise and glory of men. In John 12:43, Jesus noted that there were those who “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” In Gal 1:10, Paul asked: “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.” Are we men-pleasers in the things that we do, or are we seeking to please God?
Remember that we are to let our light so shine before men that they may SEE our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16). “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”(I Cor 10:33).