On Sunday we looked at this teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 6.
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The point Jesus is making is that we should be doing good deeds. Christians should be doing acts of service, and generosity. And we should be doing them publicly. The point isn’t that our actions shouldn’t be seen, but that we shouldn’t do actions to be seen.
The paradox Jesus is teaching: we are to do our actions publicly, but we aren’t to do our actions to receive publicity.
Jesus is really trying to get at the heart behind the actions. Is our intention in doing good deeds to be faithful to God, or receive admiration from others? Are we giving out a response to God’s blessing, or a response to the recognition of those around us? Are we following God because it’s right, or because we want to be seen doing what’s right?
The only difference between a bribe and a gift ~ are the intentions behind the gift.
So I think Jesus’ main point is that our intentions matter in our actions. Dallas Willard writes “When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings” And he’s right. Are we doing good deeds for God or others?
Jesus then gives this difficult teaching that we shouldn’t let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Willard explains what this seemingly impossible teaching means: People who have been so transformed by their daily walk with God, have good deeds naturally flow from their character, are precisely the kind of people whose left hand would not notice what their right hand is doing…What they do they do naturally, often automatically, simply because of what they are pervasively and internally.”
What it means is that as we follow Jesus we can become the type of people who so naturally do the right things, that it’s automatic without premeditation and with pure intentions.
The question we ended with is how do we get there? How do we keep our intentions clear and pure? The answer is really simple: focus on Jesus, not on the action. We are to do good deeds keeping our focus on him, not on others, and not on ourselves. In this way we will actually hide our good deeds from ourselves.
Bonhoeffer in his usual brilliance writes this: “From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of what we are doing”.
This is the way to follow Jesus’ teaching here. Do good, but focus on him. And that’s the challenge we left with – to go out into the world doing good, but focusing on Jesus.
Big Idea: Your intentions matter
- What if we actually did what Jesus said?
- The temptation: you stop doing the right actions because you are blessed by God, and start to do it because you are seen and noticed by others
- “When we do good deeds to be seen by human beings, that is because what we are looking for is something that comes from human beings” Dallas Willard
- Jesus is really presenting to us a paradox: We need to publicly do good deeds, but we must never do good deeds for publicity
- That our intentions matter
- Our good deeds are to shine before others, but we are not to do our good deeds so that we shine before others
- “What matters are the intentions of our hearts before God” Dallas Willard
- “From whom are we to hid the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves. Our task is simply to keep on following, looking only to our Leader who goes on before, taking no notice of what we are doing”. Bonhoeffer
- When we focus on Jesus we lose sight of ourselves and more importantly of the others around us.
Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What did you find hardest about this teaching? What good deeds have become habits in your life? How can you focus on simply doing good, rather than the rewards of doing good? What good actions – giving, serving, praying etc – can you do this week with a focus on Jesus?
Discussion Questions for Young Families: Today rather than talking to your kids about this teaching, why not put it into practice with them. Give to them, care for them, really spend time with them. Not because then “you’re a good parent” but because its important. Focus on them and Jesus, and not yourself.
Challenge for this Week: Do good, but focus on Jesus.