When Jesus was preaching this sermon, He did not say “End of chapter 5. Chapter 6 verse 1: Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” The chapter divisions that we use today were not introduced until the early 1200s and the verse divisions were first used in 1551, so it is well over 1000 years (close to 1500 years) after the Bible was written that the chapter and verse system was widely used.
Sometimes the chapter divisions are not helpful. They interrupt the flow of thought that crosses from one chapter to the next. But most of the time they reflect sensible divisions. So, why would we have this division between chapters 5 and 6 of Matthew? It is all one sermon.
There is an obvious reason. In Chapter 5, Jesus six times used the formula, “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you.” Then suddenly that pattern stops and a new pattern starts, so this is an obvious place to have a chapter division. There is a shift in the theme, although it is still all part of one sermon. We shouldn’t imagine a complete break – just a shift.
Chapter 5 was largely about the righteousness that is greater than that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Jesus lifted the bar of righteousness and absolutely upheld God’s law from the Old Testament. To illustrate the deeper righteousness, He used six examples and He used that formula: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”
What do we see then in chapter 6? Look at the structure. A new theme is introduced in v.1
Matthew 6:1 “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.
The theme of righteousness continues but a new aspect is introduced: Do not make a show of it so as to be seen and applauded.
Jesus didn’t say “Do not do acts of righteousness” He said, “Do not do them in front of others, so as to be seen.” It is all about the motivation. Why do we do this thing? Why do we want to be seen doing it? Why do we sometimes go to certain places or events just to be seen there? The motivation.
Then He made a terrible statement: be showy with your righteousness and you will have no reward for your Father in Heaven. Tuck that away in your brain; it is going to be important.
And then Jesus gave three examples. They deal with three fundamentally important religious acts: giving to the poor, praying and fasting. Again, He used a formula. Each is told in exactly the same way.
- Do not make a show of your righteousness
- As the hypocrites do
- “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
- Instead, do it secretly
- God sees what is done in secret
- He will reward you
The only difference is that the second example is longer because Jesus gives some extra teaching on prayer, including the Lord’s Prayer. Otherwise, all of them follow the same pattern.
I said that the words in v.1 about receiving no reward from our Father in heaven were going to be important. See how that is picked up in each of the three examples. Every one includes the words “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (vv.2, 5, 16). Something repeated like that shows us what theme Jesus was emphasising.
People who do good things but do them so as to get recognition have already received their reward in full. In full; there is no more. They have had their reward. The reward was the recognition they enjoyed. But that is it. There will be no further reward from God.
You see, we can choose to have our reward now, or we can choose to have it later. Which do you choose?
Let’s take the first example: giving to the poor. Jesus assumed that His followers would give to the poor. He didn’t say “If you give to the poor” but “When you give to the poor.” There is no question that Christians will give to the poor. The only question is why they would do it or how they would do it.
Giving to the poor is a major theme throughout the Bible. This is really big as far as God is concerned. There are many Bible passages about it. Let’s take two from the Old Testament and two from the New.
Deut 15:7-8 7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. 8 Rather, be open handed and freely lend them whatever they need.
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
1 John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Anybody who is living righteously will give to the poor. But the hypocrites liked to do it in the synagogue or on the street and to announce it with trumpets. Can you imagine that? “Long trumpet blast please. More. More. Make sure everybody is looking. Ah that’s good. Now see, everybody. I give this poor man $100. Oh, some of you didn’t see it? It was me. It was me. $100 I gave. Thank you everybody, thank you. Yes, I know, very, very generous. Just imagine it! $100! Please keep blowing that trumpet as I walk down the street so that everyone will know that I have been exceptionally generous today.”
That man had received all of the reward he was going to get. There would be no reward from God. He had chosen the now reward and forfeited the then reward.
In contrast, this is how Jesus said to do it: Do it so secretly that even your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand has done. The hands are partners but even the partner doesn’t know about your giving. You keep it secret even from other parts of your body!
But God does see it! God sees what is done secretly. We might think, “Nobody knows. I will get no recognition.” God knows and Jesus repeatedly says, “Your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Jesus is very clear that righteousness results in rewards. God notices and God doesn’t forget. He pops a wee reward away for you. He saw what no one else saw.
Hebrews 6:10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
1 Cor 15:58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. It is never in vain.
After the examples but there is a summary passage:
Matthew 6:19-21 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
See how the theme of rewards continues and see how it is about rewards then or rewards now. We can have our rewards now. We can get recognition now, on earth. Or, as is suggested by the image here of treasures that moth and rust destroy or thieves break in and steal, we can have lots of “stuff” now. We can do that. It is probably stuff we have got because we haven’t given to the poor. We can have the rewards now… if we want… but Jesus says, “Don’t do that. Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Instead, store up treasures in heaven. Those treasures never rust or are stolen. They are eternal treasures.”
Jesus’ preference is clear but what choice are we making. Are we having our rewards now or are we storing up treasures in heaven? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.”
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. That is a powerful statement. Where is your heart? On earth or in heaven? If our treasures are in this world, then our heart will be in this world. If we are content to store up treasures in heaven, then our heart will be in heaven.
Listen to this passage from 1 John. Do you think John might have been thinking about the Sermon on the Mount when he wrote this?
1 John 2:15-17 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
We cannot have both. We cannot love this world and also have a love for God. Longing for worldly things doesn’t come from God. We can choose worldly stuff but it is temporary.
Notice how John talks about the lust of the eyes. What do our eyes look at with longing?
And Jesus, in Matthew 6, (vv.22-23) talked about the health of our eyes. What are we looking at with longing? Our whole health depends on what our eyes are looking at.
Then Jesus again said we cannot have both (v.24). We cannot serve both God and money. Repeatedly we have this same theme: we can have our rewards here or we can have them in heaven but we can’t have both. Which will we choose?
The last section in chapter 6 (vv.25-34) is linked by the word “therefore” so it is obviously part of the same theme, and it is about worry – worrying about food and clothes. The whole chapter deals with this one theme of whether we want our rewards now or later. Are we storing up treasures here or are we storing up treasurers in heaven.
How can we store up treasures in heaven? We can literally take money to the bank but how do we make deposits in heaven? Jesus says, “Be righteous. Be radically righteous but don’t do it in front of others so as to be seen by them. Be incredibly righteous but don’t do it looking for applause. Do it because you love God and you love others, not because you love yourself and want recognition.
What sorts of righteous acts result in rewards in heaven? Lets’ just start with the three Jesus mentioned: giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. What if we were to make some decisions to do things in each of those three areas that no one else would know anything about – but God would? Giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. Again, let’s do it because we love God and we love others. The rewards are not the motivation – but they are promised. God will keep his promises.