Making it Real

Matthew 6: 2

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.

Last week we looked at verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” We said this was Jesus’ opening statement, disclosing that he was going to speak about practicing righteousness and being rewarded by God for so doing. This week, let us continue by asking what Jesus means by “practicing righteousness.”

Many of us may not think that righteousness is a practice. We may think it is a goal to be pursued, or perhaps an ideal which cannot be achieved this side of heaven. Jesus’ teaching should immediately challenge our perception. As I read the first verse, I find myself curious and expectant. How do we practice righteousness? Jesus said this is a practice which we are not to do before men in order to be noticed by them. That means, it may be something we do in the sight of others, but not for any emotional or tangible reward we get from a public display. Second, Jesus may be suggesting that righteousness is also practiced in private. Okay, we are with you so far Jesus, but what is the practice of righteousness? Is it public prayer? Is it church service? Tell us what to do in order to practice righteousness!

In verse two Jesus begins to show us this practice. Giving alms, that means money, is an act of righteousness. Two things hit me when I read this. First, I wasn’t surprised that God would treat giving as an act of righteousness. He often responds to occurrences by giving (John 3: 16) and encourages, even expects us to do the same. The other reaction I had was disappointment. I was looking for something more holy than donating money.

That’s just like us, isn’t it? We look for a spiritual ritual of great magnitude and holiness that will set us apart from this mundane earthly experience. Instead, we find Jesus teaching us that righteousness is practical, hence, a practice. It is as simple as giving money. Are you kidding me? As I read verse two, I could scarcely read it because I quickly began to scan below to find the “holy” answer. Was this really the answer to my question about how I am to practice righteousness? In verse two Jesus told us what not to do. Verses three and four contain instructions of what to do, “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Is this as loud to you as it was to me? These verses find Jesus instructing us on practicing righteousness, declaring this is something we can and should do. Second, practicing righteousness is as simple and ordinary as giving money. Third, when we perform this very modest act, our Father in heaven rewards us. Wow! I think that is amazing.

Jesus revealed a spiritual truth, a holy practice, and it turns out that it is something I can do easily. However, I must do this simple practice of giving in private, not bragging or shouting about my great righteousness, not banging a gong, or even whispering a secret. I give and no one knows how much, and God reckons that as righteousness! I am astounded at this teaching.

Moreover, Jesus revealed that God wants to reward us. He encourages us to practice righteous giving by promising to reward us. I know that we think to expect a reward is unholy and vile, but in our sanctimonious fervor, we imply that we are more holy than God! Can you see that? If rewarding us is God’s response to our practicing righteousness, then how can the reward or the act of rewarding be anything less than holy? Didn’t we say, above, that giving is how God responds? How, then, can it be anything less than holy? We are emulating the Father when we give, and He rewards us for acting as He acts. That reward is just the simple act of Him giving. It causes me to wonder if we will ever find an act that is more holy.

Next week, we will see what else Jesus had to say about practicing righteousness. In the meantime, enjoy your practice!

Practice Makes Perfect

Matthew 6: 1

Take care not to practice your righteousness in the sight of people, to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

The idea I wish to share with you today will encompass more than just this first verse of chapter six, but let’s pause here and hear what Jesus is going to speak about.

When I read this recently it got my attention differently than ever before. I read this first verse and stopped in my tracks because of two things I heard. First, Jesus is going speak with us about righteousness. What is it and how in the world do we practice it? The part that really got my attention, though, is at the end. Jesus said that the Father would reward us for practicing our righteousness. What? Let that sink in for a moment. What does that mean and who ever thought that Father rewards us for acts of righteousness?

Can we be honest with one another for a moment? Some people are so “holy” and self-righteous that they scoff at the idea of Father rewarding us for anything. In their minds, we are to be servants of God and not expect anything in return. Let me be blunt. They are wrong. Well, either they are wrong, or Jesus is because he is about to speak with us about rewards. This first verse is a caution because Jesus doesn’t want us to lose our reward.

We need to understand that God doesn’t want servants. He can make those. He didn’t send Jesus to earth so that He could get a bunch of slaves or employees. Yahweh wanted kids. He sent Jesus to earth to build a family. Those people who scoff at the idea of Father rewarding us are actually trying to earn their righteousness. They probably don’t even realize that is what they are doing but, in their hearts, they don’t believe they are worthy of the Father’s promises. The rest of us know we aren’t worthy and that sets us free because we have accepted Jesus’ substitutionary miracle, our brokenness for his righteousness. In these next lines, Jesus is going to teach us exactly what he wants from us. He is going to show us what practicing righteousness looks like and, yes, he is going to speak to us about rewards.

Get ready! This is going to be a short, but fun, study. Perhaps you wish to save today’s Word of the Day because next week’s will pick up where we leave off today.

Doing Christianity

James 1: 22

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves.

You might like The Passion Translation of this verse, “Don’t just listen to the Word of Truth and not respond to it, for that is the essence of self-deception.” You should read the NIV version too. They are all getting to the same point but by a little different route. Jesus’ brother shows us that Christianity means discipleship of Christ. In being disciples of Christ, we do what he did and follow his ways. Surely a key part of that is in doing the Word.

I think if I moved to another state it would be Missouri, The Show Me State. I love their slogan. Perhaps I live in that state of mind now. I think about our Christian practice and think it should be less about telling people about Christ and Christianity and a whole lot more about showing them. Hopefully, when we live our Christianity, it opens up doors for us to tell people about the goodness of God and his son.

James said we are deceiving ourselves when we call ourselves Christians but don’t do what the Word says. For example, we saw last week a proverb that told us not to lie. So, that one is pretty easy. When we “do” the Word, we become truth tellers. We install that verse into the mechanics of our lives. How about another example? Matthew 5: 15 – 16, “Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.” This one seems pretty simple too but the point we might miss is that we are to do good unto others. In other words, Jesus is not leading us to showing off or bragging because he explicitly told us not to practice our righteousness in the sight of others in order to be noticed by them (Matthew 6: 1). Instead, let our light, the light of Christ, shine by showing the kindness of Jesus and Yahweh to others. One more? “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on (Matthew 6: 25). Don’t worry! When you practice Christianity, you must divorce yourself from worry and fear. These are an insult to God who is our provider and strong fortress. Jesus wants us to put our faith in our Father and not worry nor fret.

I could go on and on. Many verses are direct, explicit instruction. Others may need more meditation to discern how they should affect your life. Each Word of the Day is an invitation to see what God is saying to you. You can ask yourself, how should this change my life?

The bottom line is that as Christians we should demonstrate the meaning of Christianity. What are disciples of Christ? People ought to be able to look at our lives and see Jesus. Of course, the number one principle Jesus taught us is that in showing love, we prove ourselves to be disciples of Christ.

Let your light shine for all the world to see. Help others to light their candles. Let us stand up and be counted as followers of Jesus, the Christ, who gave his life that none should perish.