The Jesus Revolution
Matthew 6:1-4 Generous with the poor
ILL: A lady answered the knock on her door to find a man with a sad
expression. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he said, “but I’m collecting money for
an unfortunate family in the neighborhood. The husband is out of work, the
kids are hungry, the utilities will soon be cut off, and worse, they’re going to
be kicked out of their apartment if they don’t pay the rent by this afternoon.”
“I’ll be happy to help,” said the woman with great concern. “But who
“I’m the landlord,” he replied.
Human generosity can come from mixed motives. We may give something—time,
energy, money, help—for selfish reasons, to benefit ourselves. Jesus talks about
our mixed motives in the next section in the Sermon on the Mount, and challenges
us to do what we do for God—to be God-first people especially in our generosity.
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We’re working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount,
considered by many to be the greatest ethical teaching in the world. But I’ve been
saying that it is not just a new ethic; Jesus is calling us to a new relationship.
“Follow me,” He says, “and I will make you into this kind of person.” Follow
Jesus and He will change you.
In the next section, Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus talks about three good deeds
commonly done by religious people—giving, praying and fasting—and points out
that they can be done for the wrong reasons. We can do them to draw attention to
ourselves rather than to honor God or help others. In the first four verses, He talks
about giving to the poor for the right reason. Here’s what He said.
Matthew 6:1-4 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before
men, 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 honored by
men. I tell you the truth, 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.”
When you do good deeds, don’t be a show-off! Don’t be a glory hog! “Look what
I’ve done! Praise me! Praise me!”
1. The general theme: live for the audience of One. V. 1
The general theme for this section is stated in verse one:
Matthew 6:1 “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men,
to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in
The issue is our audience: whom are you trying to impress—God or people?
Whose applause do you want to hear—God’s or people’s? If we do good deeds
in order to be seen by others, to win their approval or applause, then we will have
received our reward in full. The applause of men will be all the reward we’ll ever
receive. But if we do our good deeds in secret, for God’s eyes only, we’ll win His
approval and applause.
To the Jews, there were three supreme expressions of piety, three good
works upon which the spiritual life was built: giving to the needy, prayer, and
fasting. Jesus uses these three good deeds to illustrate his point that you can do the
right things for the wrong reasons; you can live for the wrong audience.
• A person may give to the needy, not so much to help them and meet their
need, but to demonstrate his own generosity and to bask in the gratitude and
praise of others.
• A person may pray in such a way that his prayer is not really addressed to
God, but to people; his praying may be a way to demonstrate his exceptional
• A person may fast, not for his own good or to humble himself before God,
but to demonstrate to others what a disciplined person he is.
It’s possible to do the right thing but for the wrong reason: to be seen by others
rather than to honor and please God. It’s possible to live for the wrong audience.
I chose the word “audience” because Jesus actually uses theatrical terms
here. The words “to be seen” translate the Greek word theathenai; we get the
words “theater” and “theatrical” from it. A person who is doing something to be
seen is putting on a performance, a show. We would call them “actors.” Jesus
calls them hypocrites, which translates the Greek word hupokrites, which
means “an actor or impersonator.” When we do good deeds to be noticed by
others, we are actors putting on a show—but for the wrong audience. Those who
put on such a show may win the praises of those who watch them; “What a good
person! What a spiritual person!” But that is all the reward such a person will
ever get. There will be no reward from God for such acts. Jesus says, “They have
received their reward in full”.
The issue is not whether someone else sees and notices your good deeds.
That cannot always be prevented. Nor should it. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus
said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and
praise your Father in heaven.” Here, Jesus says, “let people see your good deeds.”
But who gets the applause? God does. The issue is motive. Are you seeking
applause for yourself, or honor for God? It’s not wrong to be seen doing
something good; it’s wrong to seek to seen. It’s not wrong to receive applause; it’s
wrong to seek it. Here’s a great question: “Would I still do this if no one would
ever know that I did it?”
ILL: I struggle with this. I care far too much what other people think about
me. A few years ago, I attended my niece’s wedding in Eugene, Oregon.
After the reception, I was helping with the clean up, and I caught myself
wondering if certain people there noticed that I was vacuuming. “Isn’t that
Pastor Joe vacuuming? Wow, what a servant!” What a self-centered pig!
Am I the only one? Do you ever struggle with this? Do you ever catch yourself
doing the right things and wonder if anyone is watching? Do you ever do the right
things for the wrong reasons, to be seen and applauded by others?
So this is the general theme: don’t try to impress people; try to impress God!
Live for the audience of One!
Everyone lives for an audience. Everyone has someone whom they want
to please above all others. Everyone has someone whose applause, whose
approval means the most to them. Everyone lives for an audience. Who is your
audience? The whole point of this passage is that God ought to be our audience.
We need to live for the approval and pleasure of the Lord. We ought to do things
for His eyes only. If God is pleased, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
ILL: Bob Richards, the Olympic pole-vaulter of years ago, loved to tell the
story of the goof-off who played around with football. He added very little
to the team. He practiced, had a uniform and would show up to play, but
never with enthusiasm. He did not like to put himself out. One day, the
players were doing fifty laps, and this showpiece was doing his usual five.
The coach came over and said, “Hey kid, here is a message for you.” The
kid said, “Read it for me Coach.” He was so lazy he wouldn’t read his own
mail. The coach opened it up and read, “Dear son, your father is dead.
Come home immediately.” The coach swallowed hard. He said, “Take the
rest of the week off.”
Well, game time came on Friday, and the teams came rushing out on
the field, and the last kid out was the goof-off. No sooner did the game start
than the kid said, “Coach, can I play today? Can I play?” The coach
thought, “Kid you’re not playing today. This is homecoming. This is the
big game. We need every real guy we have, and you aren’t one of them.”
Every time the coach turned around, the kid badgered him: “Coach, please
let me play. Coach, I’ve got to play.”
The first quarter ended with our team far behind. At half-time, they
were further behind. The second half started, and things got worse. Up
comes the kid: “Coach, Coach, let me play, please!” The coach looked at
the scoreboard. “All right,” he said, “get in there kid. You can’t hurt
No sooner did the kid hit the field than his team exploded. He ran,
blocked and tackled like a star. The electricity leaped to the team. The
score evened up. In the closing seconds of the game this kid intercepted a
pass and ran all the way for the winning touchdown!
The fans went wild. The kid was everybody’s hero. The team carried
him off on their shoulders. Finally the coach got over to the kid and said, “I
never saw anything like that. What in the world happened to you out there?”
He said, “Coach, you know my dad died last week.”
“Yes,” he said, “I read you the telegram.”
“Well Coach,” he said, “my dad was blind. And today was the first
day he ever saw me play.”
Who is your audience? Whose approval and applause means the most to you? You
have a Father in heaven who is watching you; that’s whose praise you want! Live
for the audience of One. But here’s the problem:
Many of us fear God too little and people too much. We live with an
overdeveloped concern about what others think of us. We evaluate every decision,
every word, every deed by how it might affect others’ opinion of us. “What will so
and so think of me?” We are afraid of what others think of us, and we become
addicted to the applause and admiration of people.
ILL: Many years ago, a friend of mine confessed to a long string of
adulteries. It was a devastating blow to his wife and family. His counselor
listened to his confession and then told him, “I’m concerned for you because
you have a great fear of people, and very little fear of God.” He had been
able for years to live a lie, to maintain the deception because he was too
concerned about what people thought of him, and not concerned enough
about what God thought.
“You have a great fear of people, and very little fear of God.” That hit me hard and
made me think: could the same be said of me…or you? Do you fear God too little
and people too much?
Proverbs 29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in
the LORD is kept safe.
The fear of man is a snare, a trap. It can not only make you do the right things for
wrong reasons, it can make you do the wrong things.
John 5:41-44 (Jesus says) “I do not accept praise from men. …How can
you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to
obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”
Jesus wouldn’t be swayed by people’s opinions; He cared only about what His
Father thought. God’s praise was all that mattered to Him. Some of us struggle to
follow Christ because we are too concerned about people’s opinions.
John 12:42–43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed
in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge
their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved
human praise more than praise from God.
Fear of people may keep you from expressing your faith openly; it may make
you a secret disciple rather than one whose contagious faith influences others
and changes the world. Fear of people is a trap. Those who fear people too much
usually fear God too little.
How about you? Are you doing the right things but for the wrong audience?
Or are you doing the wrong things because you are afraid of what people think
about you? Are you living for the audience of One? Or for the applause of the
That is the general theme of this passage—and it is worth taking some time
in the next few days to reflect on this. Now let’s take a look at the specific deed
that Jesus uses to illustrate this theme: giving to the needy.
2. The specific deed: giving to the needy. V. 2-4
Matthew 6:2-4 “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
honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
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. Then your Father,
who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Jesus lists these three great deeds of piety in the order of importance
commonly attached to them: giving to the needy first, then prayer, then fasting.
The Jews considered giving to the poor such a noble thing that they used the same
Hebrew word—tzedakah—for both almsgiving and righteousness. There was no
more righteous thing a person could do than to give to the needy. It stood first in
the catalog of good works.
Jesus forbids ostentatious almsgiving, showy generosity, giving to draw
attention to your self. He used the picture of someone blowing a trumpet to
announce they are giving. Can you imagine someone doing this? Crazy! Oh, I
almost forgot; I brought an offering! (Run down to my seat, blow my trumpet,
give $1 and announce it.) Crazy, huh?
This is where we got the saying “blowing your own horn”, which we use
when someone brags or boasts about what they do. So Jesus says, “When you
give, don’t toot your own horn. Don’t draw attention to yourself, so that others
notice your giving and applaud you. Instead, do your giving in secret. Don’t let
your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
ILL: A story is told about Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of
the 19th century, and his wife. They would sell, but refused to give away the
eggs their chickens laid. Even close relatives were told, “You may have
them if you pay for them.” As a result some people thought the Spurgeons
were greedy. They accepted the criticisms without defending themselves,
and only after Mrs. Spurgeon died was the full story revealed. All the
profits from the sale of the eggs went to support two elderly widows.
Because the Spurgeons were unwilling to let their left hand know what the
right hand was doing, they endured the criticism in silence.
I often have the privilege of witnessing such self-effacing acts of generosity.
ILL: For example, several years ago I received a phone call from a man
wanting to help out a friend in our church who was in dire financial straits.
He asked if he could send me a check and if I would pass the money on to
his friend anonymously. “Please don’t let him know that it came from me,”
he said. The check was for over $1300! After I deducted my $300 handling
fee, that was $1000! (Just kidding!)
That is what Jesus is talking about: giving to meet needs as God directs without
ever expecting a thank-you or attention.
Nobody literally blows a trumpet when they give to the poor, but we do it in
other more subtle ways. What are some ways that we might trumpet our giving to
• Giving it publicly (rather than anonymously or in secret) because we want
them to know it came from us, and we want to be acknowledged and
• Making sure other people know what we gave—whether we mention it in
conversation, or publish it in a letter or email or the newspaper.
This can be tricky.
ILL: We have wrestled with this issue when it comes to Tom’s Turkey
Drive. For several years now, our church has been by far the largest donor
to Tom’s Turkey Drive—we usually give around $25,000—that’s a lot of
turkey dinners. We have been torn between Matthew 5:16 (let your light
shine before men so they may see your good deeds and praise your Father
in heaven) and this passage (give in secret). Some years we have refused
requests for TV interviews and being acknowledged, and other years we
have done it. When we did, we hoped that God would be praised, that our
generosity would be a credit to God. When we didn’t, we were trying to
deflect any credit that might come to us. We’ve gone back and forth.
Time to vote. What do you think we should do? Publicly present the
check for the glory of God? Or give in secret, anonymously?
It’s all about motive, all about who you are trying to impress, and why.
Please notice that Jesus expects his followers to give to the needy. He
doesn’t say, “If you give…” but “When you give.” He expects us to give to the
needy. The entire Bible is filled with expressions of God’s concern for the poor,
and calls us to be generous toward them. I’ve listed some on your outline; here are
Deuteronomy 15:7-11 “If there is a poor man among you…do not be
hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded
and freely lend him whatever he needs. Give generously to him and do
so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will
bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There
will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be
openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your
Notice the language: don’t be hardhearted, tightfisted, or grudging toward the poor.
Instead be openhanded and generous.
ILL: If you have some change in your purse or pocket, get it out now and
hold it in your hand. How many of you don’t have any change? Look
around—these are your poor brothers and sisters. Hold the change in
close fists, like this—and extend it toward your brother or sister that has
no change—but keep your fist clenched. That’s tightfisted. Don’t be that
way. Now, turn your hands over and open them up and hold them out and
offer some change to your neighbor. That’s openhanded. That’s how we’re
supposed to be with the poor.
That was kinda fun, wasn’t it? And notice what God will do: God will bless you in
your work and in everything you put your hand to! Wow! That’s a cool promise:
be generous and openhanded with the needy and God will bless all you do!
Proverbs 19:17 “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will
reward him for what he has done.”
There is an interesting thought! When you give to the poor, who cannot repay you,
God will! Your heavenly Father sees, and He will reward you.
Proverbs 22:9 “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his
food with the poor.”
There it is again: God blesses those who share with the poor. It’s all through the
Jesus came preaching good news for the poor and repeatedly called his
followers to give generously to the poor. I’ve listed a few verses there. The early
church took him seriously and shared everything with each other so that Luke
could write in Acts 4:34, “There were no needy persons among them.” Jesus calls
us to be generous with the poor.
The apostle Paul understood this and made it a central part of his ministry.
In Galatians 2, he is discussing his meeting with the leaders in Jerusalem when
they evaluated his message and approved of it.
Galatians 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the
poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Notice two phrases: “continue to remember the poor”—it was something they were
already doing and should continue. And “the very thing I had been eager to do all
along.” There’s that openhanded attitude: eager to help the poor. Are you eager?
So how do we do it?
I know that I say this often, but a good place to start is by sponsoring a
child. 25,000 children die every day from starvation or from diseases that could be
prevented by simple immunization. You can change that! For $35 a month, just
over a dollar a day, you can provide clean water, food, shelter, clothing, medical
care, education and spiritual instruction for a needy child—one of the poorest of
the poor. I believe that every American Christian ought to be sponsoring at least
one child, that it ought to be part of our spiritual development: believe in Jesus, get
baptized, sponsor a child. There are very few of us who couldn’t figure out a way
to squeeze $35 out of our monthly budget. It is a very practical way to begin
giving to the poorest of the poor.
If you would like to sponsor a child (or sponsor another one), go to our
website (www.lifecenter.net) and click on the Love 360 link and you’ll find Child
Sponsorship. There you will find links to our three partners that sponsor children:
Spring of Hope, World Vision, and Compassion. Sponsor a child—that’s first.
Second, you’ll also find information on our website (www.lifecenter.net/
Love 360) about our international and community partnerships. Ever since we
read The Hole in our Gospel together in 2009, we have been working to find ways
to alleviate poverty here at home and around the world. I hope you’ll go to the
website and check out opportunities to give and to serve. For example, here at
home, you could give your time by becoming a mentor at Sheridan Elementary.
You hang out for an hour a week at the school with a child who profoundly needs
some adult attention and affirmation—just hang out, talk, play games, be a caring
adult. Or you could give time and friendship to a refugee family recently resettled
in Spokane through World Relief. They usually arrive with nothing but the clothes
on their backs, but do you know what their greatest need is? Friends. They need
friends. This is a great Life Group project—your Life Group could adopt one of
these refugee families and include them and befriend them. You’ll find
information about these opportunities and others on our website.
Third, and most simple, when you see a need, meet it. Do you know
someone in financial trouble? Help them out. Do you see someone who is hungry?
Feed them. Do you see someone who is lonely? Befriend them. When you see a
need, meet it.
You might be thinking, “But…what about the panhandler? Is there ever a
time when helping hurts?”
Yes. In fact, we recommend the book, When Helping Hurts, and we have
been rethinking our benevolence, our short-term mission teams, and our efforts to
alleviate poverty both locally and globally. It is possible to give in such a way that
it makes you feel good, but leaves the poor disempowered and dependent, and robs
them of dignity.
There is a difference between relief and development, and a place for each.
Relief is meeting a need in a crisis or emergency. If someone is starving to death,
give him food. If someone is dying of thirst, give him water. There are situations
where relief is the right thing to do. But if that is all we do, we created dependence
and rob people of dignity. At some point, we have to move to development, which
considers and values the assets of the poor, and helps them leverage their assets to
help themselves, with a goal of being self-sufficient.
For example, in a drought when people are dying from lack of food, we may
send in great quantities of food to save lives. That’s relief. But once the crisis is
averted, we don’t just keep sending more food—that would only create
dependence. At that point, the larger question is, “How do we help these people
grow their own food and become self-sufficient?” That’s development.
In all of our giving to the poor, both at home and abroad, we need to be
thinking in these terms. Why? Because that is the loving thing to do. Love is
doing what is best for another no matter what it costs you.
Having said all that, I am also aware of the hardness of my own heart. I
look for ways to justify my own stinginess. “We don’t want to create dependence?
Oh, good, then I won’t give anything.” And before I know it, I am back to being
hardhearted and tightfisted. I want to err on the side of generosity and
I hope that you’ll be generous with the poor. Jesus said, “When you give to the
poor.” He expects us to do it.
Let’s finish with a story:
ILL: Kevin Miller tells this story about his dad:
My dad spent most of his life working really hard to make money.
But then he made a tactical error. My mom and I were going to an Episcopal
Church service, and he decided to come along. The priest was full of old-
time religion, and he gave an altar call. Something connected with my dad
that day, and he went forward and began to follow Jesus. He was 60-years-
old. He began to read a small, blue King James Bible, and for the first time
in his life, he began giving with real interest. He told me, in what was a rare
sharing of his personal life, “Kevin, I’ve started to tithe, and it’s been a great
My dad suffered a heart attack at age 70. He lay in a hospital bed for
5 days, and then he died. At the funeral home, a woman I’d never seen came
up to me and said, “You don’t know me, but I was in a bad marriage; my
husband was beating me, and I needed to get out to save my life. But I didn’t
know what I would do to support myself. Your dad paid for me to go to
junior college and get a degree, so I could be a dental hygienist. He paid for
the whole thing, and nobody else knew about it. Now I have a job, and I’m
making it. Your dad literally saved my life.”
I wonder what would have been my dad’s legacy if he had kept loving
money. He would have died with a lot of money, but not a lot of love.
Instead, he took a risk. And when he died, he left behind a woman who
knows every day when she cleans people’s teeth that it’s a miracle she’s still
What will your legacy be? Jesus calls us to be generous with the poor.