Key verse: “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." Matthew 6:1
When we are very young, our brains do not understand that objects are permanent. As you play peek-a-boo with an infant, they do not realize that you exist anymore and are terrified when you leave the room. If they cannot see you, how can they know you are still there? In a literal sense, we outgrow this quickly. By the time a healthy child is a year old, they know that you are still there, even if a teddy bear is in the way. But in another sense, I do not think we ever get over it. Part of being sin-entangled human beings means that we are always obsessed with what we can see and, perhaps even more dangerously, by what others can see. It is not much of a surprise, then, that Jesus spends the middle third of the Sermon on the Mount warning us against the idolatry of the tangible.
Jesus warns us about two manifestations of this idolatry. The first is pride in our works. It is easy for us to forget who the audience of our good works is. We have all seen missionary tourism pictures, and some of us have taken them. A social media post that says, “Pray for Carlos, I got to share the gospel with him today!” may be genuine, or it may be a subtle way of flaunting our holiness. Jesus’ examples are remarkably up to date. When we give to the poor as a gift to God, He will repay us. But if we are doing it for the attention of other people, that is all the reward we will get. Prayer and praise are precious when addressed to God, but if they are just begging for the approval of people, we have our reward. It is frightening to think that even our best moments could be so corrupted. As Jesus says in verse 23: “And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”
The latter form seems contradictory at first, but they are two sides of the same coin. Anxiety about our daily needs replaces confidence in the blessings of God with the help we can count and touch. We trade our good Father for the cruel master of Mammon and rob ourselves of the contentment of resting in love. God has proven His faithfulness by clothing the flowers and feeding the birds: won’t He care for us? If He has given us His very Son – is He going to withhold material things? The thought is absurd. We should not worry about what we are going to eat or wear; our Father is rich, even when we cannot see His storehouses.
Discussion Idea: In ministry, we often see these two idolatries combined. We want our good works to be seen by those who can write checks or volunteer because we do not trust God to meet our needs. How does confidence in God provide peace and motivation?Prayer Focus: Pray that God would open our eyes to see the unseen, and to trust Him with the unknown.