The Greatest Sermon Ever!
9.On Doing Good for Others
Giving to the Needy
6 “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.
2 “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 honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I love how a passage on practicing righteousness starts with “be careful.” Essentially Jesus is saying do good, but watch yourself when you are trying to be good! One of the greatest realisations you will have as a human being is that we as humans can twist good acts into selfish and essentially harmful ones.
So, tonight Jesus shifts from an ethical inward reality of the kingdom to the practices, or even disciplines on the kingdom people. And it is telling that the first practice or discipline is the one of generosity. Caring for the poor and the needy is a fundamental reality of the Christian community; or at least it should be, for it displays the generosity of grace. Grace is God giving what is needed to us the needy, irrespective of the personal cost. So, we as receivers of this should practice generosity. But in all this; Jesus warns us to be careful.
Which is my first point;
Be careful of practicing righteousness
This sounds absolutely absurd right? Be careful when you are practicing being nice to others. But yes, there is great care needed when we are approaching doing good for other people, because human being have a great capacity of taking something good and perverting it.
All the reformers and early church fathers had a great awareness of the tendency of man to take good things, acts of righteousness and pervert them and make them about themselves. In this we are not seeking God, nor are we loving others, but in a weird way we are simply serving and loving ourselves, and so as Jesus puts it; there is our rewards. And let’s be real, self-seeking is never pretty and no one really wants it.
Now, the younger among you; when I ask do you want to change the world, do you want to have a positive influence on the world; the resounding response is absolutely! I want to change the world. The older of you might still deep down want to help out and do your part; but you have been made jaded by life and so you mostly just want to survive. However, in saying this, the desire to really help, and be a force for good in the world is deeply ingrained within all of us! We don’t want to live selfish, uncaring, and unfulfilled lives. We want to help, to change the world we want to deep down make a difference for good in the world. The problem church is the greatest challenge to you actually helping your fellow man; is not your lack of recourses or time, it is what is going on in your heart. And so Jesus warns us rightly; be careful of your acts of righteousness: There are two dangers here; one of hypocrisy and the other is that of your right hand, and I’ll explain what I mean by that!
Let us look at;
The danger of hypocrisy
Now this is an obvious danger; doing your good works so that everyone gives you praise for it. It’s gaudy and just cheapens the act. But there is a deeper and far greater danger happening when we are hypocritical in our righteous acts and that is the evil of using people for our own benefit; and worse than that we are using the most vulnerable people for our own benefit.
Think about it; when you simply are good to your fellow man (especially those with nothing) for the praise of others; you have turned that person into a commodity that is used for your reward of personal praise. This is why we almost instinctively see this as repulsive; because on a “deep down” fundamental level we know this. We have taken something good; the care of the down trodden and turned it into something evil. This is why all good acts are not necessarily good. Motives matters! In fact, great evil has been done in the world; for the “greater good.” People looking to use the poor for their own selfish ambitions and gains.
Hypocritical acts of care and righteousness is one of these; and I warn you if your motive is to get peoples praise and feel good; you will never really care for people in a way that changes them, you can’t! Why? Because you were never doing it for them you were doing it for yourself; and so you will lose the feeling; you will quickly lose your “reward” and walk away; and you will feel more and more guilt about this act.
The next danger is;
The danger of your “right hand”
Now this is far more subtle; but far more important. Have you ever thought of the absurdity of what Jesus is saying here; how do make your right hand not know what your left hand is doing? It is hyperbole; an exaggerated statement that is not meant to be taken literally. Jesus is making a clear point that we really need to take to heart; you can’t trust yourself; therefore take yourself out of the picture! Essentially, Jesus is saying our acts of righteousness, our doing good for others, needs to come from a place where our own reward is completely absent; where it is a secret, even – if it was possible – to ourselves. Why, because motive matters.
Now, this is where we get into the meat of what we are talking about tonight; essentially; all of us want to do good, we want to have a positive impact on the world, but all of us are selfishly motivated and because our main aim is to prop up ourselves and seek our own fulfilment and happiness as a reward we are going to make an absolute mess of it all. So, if I was to stop now, I would leave you feeling guilty and helpless all at the same time! You would walk away from tonight basically unable to be a force for good in the world; because you would be double guessing your motives etc. the whole time. So, I won’t; so, how do we even attempt to do good in the world without making it about us, the praise and so therefore messing it all up!
Well it really does come down to;
3. Seeking the right reward
And this passage gives us clarity on how this will work. The central idea that Jesus is pushing in this passage is that our reward must come from our father in heaven. And this statement is far more profound that it seems on the surface. Because most of us think of this as a heavenly reward. Right? Mansions in heaven etc.
Frederich Nietzsche, the famous 19 century thinker had this as his greatest critique against Christianity; he saw Christians working for this heavenly reward and concluded that Christians are living for the next life at the expense of this life. He saw this as weak and despicable.
Now, his observations were right; but his understanding of the message of Christianity was wholly wrong. You see we as Christian’s do have a temptation to live as if this life doesn’t matter, as if all that matters is the next; but that is not the message of Christianity; that is not the message of Christ! In fact that is a gnostic message which is more akin to the occult than it is to Christianity. The message of Christ and the whole Bible is that God made a good world, and we were made to live in it, we messed it up through sin, and so God sent His one and only son to reconcile the whole world back to God through the death of Christ (2 Cor 5:19). Colossians is a letter against this tendency we have of making our faith so spiritual that it has no earthly concern.
You see church, the whole message of the New Testament, the message of Christ; is not make yourself good so that you can go to heaven. It is love God and love people; in this heaven is making is home among you. This is why when Jesus sent out the disciples and they cast out demons and healed people and loved people, Jesus said to them the Kingdom of Heaven is among you. So, a righteousness a doing good that only seeks mansions in heaven and rewards in the next life misses out completely on what Christ is trying to do! The reward we are made for is not mansions in heaven, it is the God of heaven and earth Himself! And this is where it gets heavy so keep with me.
You see if we are seeking rewards from God and not God himself as a reward we will miss out on the joy of doing good for others, and I would argue we will inevitably miss out on doing actual good; because it will still be essentially just for us. But if we see that we were made for Him, that He is our ultimate reward; His love is our life then the outpouring of that will enable us to love people as He loved us; simply for their sake! I’ll explain it as follows (because I know this is hard to get); You were made for God – this means that your ultimate fulfilment (let’s call it a reward) is only found in Him and nothing else. But because you are sinful and cannot live up to his standard – there is no way that you can get close to that fulfilment (that reward). However, Christ has paid your way so that in Christ (and through the gospel) you are now fully accepted by God. Therefore, in Christ you have the fullness of your reward You have all of God and He has all of you! It is from here that we serve others.
It is from a place of full acceptance and full love the (secret reward) that we will serve others simply because they are; not so that we can feel better about ourselves, not so that God will love us more, not so that others will see us as good people, but simply because that person is that person. It is only out of the fullness of the secured reward that our doing good for others is truly for others.
The point is that we are called to love God and love people. These two things are intrinsically linked. When we love God and find our love and purpose in Him, then the outflow of this is love for others. And in loving others we confirm that fullness and centeredness of love for God and His love for us.
Think of it like someone who is starving trying to help out others who are starving; if you are starving there is no way you are not going to mess over the people you are helping. Your needs will overpower you. Well, if you are not filled with God, how can you ever think to hope to meet the need of others, you are desperate. The only way to really reach out and be a help to others is if you have an abundance on your side. The great deficiency on why we can’t do good for other without making it about us, is that we are not fulfilled; because our fulfilment is only found in Him.
So church, be careful when you practice your good deeds, seek to be full in Him, let the love of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ be your fulfilment and out of that reward, out of that overflow will come the love for others that seeks them as an end!