Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This is our first such series here at Servants of Grace through an extended biblical passage and is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

SermonOnTheMountMatthew 6:1-4, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

2015 has been a year for the evangelical Christian to advocate for the needy in a whole host of ways. Whether it’s speaking out for the unborn against the horrors of abortion, interceding for people of different races against prejudice, or pleading with the government to welcome desperate international refugees, we have found plenty of opportunities where giving to the needy has been made easy. Many have called all of these groups and others “the voiceless” in some capacity, due to their marginalization in the culture. Because of their inability to speak out for themselves, Christians bear the weight of the burden to be a voice for such groups. In light of events surrounding these issues over recent months, we hold up passages like Matthew 6:1-4 and highlight the importance of investing in “the needy”. One way Christians do this is by being the voice of the voiceless.

Giving to the needy can look like many different things. Most churchgoers feel that giving is either concerned with time or with money, service, or dollars. With the primarily developments in viral social media, we have invented a new category of giving to the needy with our words, affirmations, opinions, and criticisms.

Jesus was prepared for this shift in our thinking. Not only does He specifically address His audience on the mountaintop in Matthew 6, but He addresses each of us prophetically two thousand years after. In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus has given His people a few important principles to remember along the way as we consider those with a variety of needs. Furthermore, He is concerned with how we approach these situations with conviction and clarity.

We Should Care About The Marginalized

God has clearly called and commanded His people with the imperative of caring for those in need through His interaction with the needy in Scripture. The examples are endless. 1 Sam. 2:8, “He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes.” God hears the needy, hastens to them, saves them, and delivers them (Ps. 69:33, 70:5, 72:13-14). He is their stronghold (Isa. 25:4) and has judged their cause (Jer. 22:16).

God expects His people to reflect a similar compassion for those who are in need. We are commanded to “open wide [our] hand” to these people (Deut. 15:11) and to never turn them aside (Amos 5:12). Providing for the needy sometimes even looks like selling what we have for the sake of others (Lk. 12:33; Acts 4:34). Anyone who misses the call to be an active and loving participant in caring for those in need isn’t reading the Scriptures close enough.

Speak Out, But Check Your Motives

In evangelical streams, a common argument is made that we should be following the pattern of Jesus, who time and time again advocated for those in need by scathing oppressors. This is good thinking. We should not be ashamed of the gospel truth we proclaim (Rom 1:16). With that said, there were healthy motives for Jesus turning over tables in the temple courts and critiquing large crowds publicly. If we aren’t careful, we will hide our selfish motives under the guise of speaking out on behalf of the poor and needy.

In Matthew 6:2, Jesus warns against being a “trumpet solo” within the song for social justice. He remarks, “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you.” We see people often take the “megaphone” approach in advocating for/against groups of people. Megaphones can be a helpful tool in communicating effectively to a large group of people, but we’ve also seen people misuse megaphones, wielding them as weapons to condemn and bark at others condescendingly, “As hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets.” Jesus uses the trumpet as the word picture. A trumpet helps carry the melodic lines of the song, but if during the song the trumpet started blaring out of tune or rhythm, it ruins the song.

Brothers and sisters, before we choose to speak out on an issue, it would be wise to check our motives before engaging. Are we writing critical blog pieces “to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1)? Has our tweeting campaign become about glorifying God or glorifying self? We must raise our voice for the voiceless, but in so doing we must not scream, nor should we talk down to people. To avoid this error, we should daily practice humility and gentleness. This will help us to speak out biblically and gracefully while helping us to keep our motives pure as we live before the face of the Lord.

Giving to the Needy is Primarily an Act, Not a Message

Speaking out against injustice, poverty and other related issues is important, but doing something about these issues is equally as important. As we saw earlier, we have shifted in our thinking about how we should intercede for the needy. We are more likely to offer our opinions and proclamations than our hands-on service and hard-earned dollars. If we never put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, we will see the needy only plunge further into their state of helplessness. Our status updates will not usher in God’s deliverance of these people. He has called us to engage in the physical act of reconciliation.

In Matthew 6:1-4, giving to the needy is synonymous with “practicing your righteousness” (6:1). In verse 3, Jesus explicitly equates giving to the needy as an act we do with our hands. There are tangible, physical, real ways we should be engaging with those that are marginalized.

So, what about protests? Though protests are a physical manifestation of the message we want to share, Jesus is speaking to something more here. The word “give” used here in the Greek is eleemosune, which describes an act of mercy or pity, quite literally an act of giving alms. Protests are normally of a different character. This kind of physical giving is stepping in and making sacrifices. It is not mere advocacy, but primarily a way to give towards the cause of others. Our message is important to get right, but if there are no actions to back up our message, we might as well be lumped in with the “hypocrites” Jesus mentions in verse 2.

There will be a lot of opportunities for us to give to the needy, in a lot of ways. One of most explicit demonstrations of God’s justice and His righteousness is how social outcasts will be redeemed unto glory one day. Amazingly enough, God’s people have been invited to participate in that redemption process. We should be speaking. We should be acting. The ultimate “reward” Jesus alludes to in Matthew 6:4 is when we see the glory of God manifested through these situations. Matthew 6:1-4 calls us to a secrecy in giving. It is a secrecy that oftentimes doesn’t look speaking with a megaphone. Oftentimes, this secret giving looks like doing the simple and ordinary for those in need. Let us get our message clear, our motives clear, and our actions clear. We may not get a trumpet solo, but the music will be beautiful when we test our motives in light of Christ realizing what little part we play in His story is all for His fame and glory.

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