VERSES 1-4: ALMS GIVING
“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.”
This verse describes the general character of Pharisaic righteousness. Jesus then follows up with three special examples:
1. alms (verses 2-4),
2. prayer, (verses 5-6), and,
3. fasting (verses 16-18).
The transition from the one theme to the other was almost inevitable, and we may be sure that what follows formed part of His instruction on the mount.
Literally: “take care” or “be on guard”–Jesus is adding a warning with reference to their practice.
This warning, stated in general terms in v. 1; then specifically applied to “merciful deeds” in v. 2; to “almsgiving” in v. 6; to fasting in v. 16.
Literally: “merciful deeds.”–To the Jew there were three great cardinal works of the religious life—three pillars on which the good life was based—almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
What really troubled Jesus was that so often in human life the good things were done for the wrong motives. It is a strange fact that these three great cardinal good works so readily lend themselves to the wrong motives. He is warning that when these things were done with the sole intention of bringing glory to the doer, they lost by far the most important part of their value.
A man may give alms, not really to help the person to whom he gives it, but simply to demonstrate his own generosity, and to bask in the glow of someone’s gratitude and praise of those watching. Likewise, a man may pray in such a way that his prayer is not really addressed to God, but to his fellow men. His praying being simply an attempt to demonstrate his exceptional piety in such a way that no one can fail to see it. they would do it out of course, and gives them direction how to do it.
A man may fast, not really for the good of his own soul, nor to humble himself in the sight of God, but simply to show the world what a self-disciplined character he is. There are men now who go to church simply for looks and their personal prestige.
ALMS: (Grk.–eleemosunen)–The true reading seems clearly to be “merciful deeds,” or “righteousness.” Jesus here, does not positively command His disciples to aid the poor, but supposes that they do it.
To the Jew, almsgiving was the most sacred of all religious duties. How sacred it was may be seen from the fact that they used the same word for both righteousness, and almsgiving. To give alms and to be righteous were considered to be one and the same thing. They believed that to give alms was to gain merit in the sight of God, or as we might say in our vernacular: “to gain brownine points” with God and was even to win atonement and forgiveness for past sins. “It is better to give alms than to lay up gold; almsgiving doth deliver from death, and it purges away all sin” (Tobit 12: 8). There was a rabinnic saying, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.” Almsgiving stood first in the catalogue of good works.
“that ye do not do your alms before men, to be seen of them”
Literally: “Not to do merciful deeds before men in order to be seen of them.”–That is, with the intention of being noticed of by others.
While it is true that Jesus had required them to let their light so shine before men that they might see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven (5:16). But what He says here his is quite consistent with not making a display of our righteousness for self-glorification. In fact, the doing of the former necessarily implies our not doing the latter.
BE SEEN: (Grk.–to theathênai)—To show off; to put on a show. Our own English "theater" comes from this Greek word, theathênai–to put on a show. Jesus does not forbid giving alms before men always, but only forbids doing it for the purpose of being seen of them, for the purpose of ostentation, and to seek their praise.
To a person who is disposed to do good from a right motive, it matters little whether it be done in public or in private. The only thing that renders it even desirable is that our good deeds should be seen is that God may be glorified, (see 5:16). The character of external actions is determined by the feelings and motives.
“ ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven.”
Literally: “you have no reward from your Father in Heaven”– He condemns ostentatious piety, and then He singled out three illustrations of His meaning: alms-giving, fasting, and prayer. What Jesus is saying is this: “If you give alms to demonstrate your generosity, you will get the admiration of men, but that is all you will ever get. This is your payment in full. I f you pray in such a way to flaunt your piety in the face of men, you will gain the reputation of being a devout man, but that is all you will ever get. If you fast in such a way that all men know that you are fasting, you will become known as an extremely ascetic man, but that is all you will get. That is your payment in full.” The hypocrites of the day even went so far as to rub flour on their faces so as to look wan and undernourished so that people would know they are doing much fasting
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.”
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms,”
Literally: “Then when you do merciful deeds.”-–There are several motives, or reasons why a man would be giving alms:
1. A man may give from a sense of duty.
He may give, not because he wants to give, but because he feels that giving is a duty from which he cannot escape.
2. A man may give from motives of prestige.
He may give to bring to himself the glory and honor of giving. Probably, if no one is to know about it, or if there is no publicity attached to he, he would not give at all.
He does not give to glorify God ; rather, he gives to gratify his own vanity, ego and sense of power.
3. A man may give simply because he wants to give.
a. He is giving out of an out-pouring of love and kindness in his heart.
b. He may feel he has a responsibility for the man in need.
“do not sound a trumpet before thee”
Literally: “Do not trumpet before you.”–Is this literal or metaphorical? No actual instance of such conduct has been found in the Jewish writings.
Paul may have in mind the blowing of trumpets in the streets on the occasion of public fasts. Vincent, in (Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament), suggests that Jesus might be referring to the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests of the temple treasury to receive contributions (Luke 21:2). Hindu priests do this to get a crowd to see their beneficence. So it does seem as if the rabbis could do it also. Certainly it was in keeping with their love of praise.
TRUMPET: (Grk.–salpisêis)–This would be the shofar or “ram’s horn,” which was sounded by the priests.
Paul may have in mind the blowing of trumpets in the streets on the occasion of public fasts. Vincent (Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament), suggests that Jesus might be referring to the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests of the temple treasury to receive contributions (Luke 21:2). Hindu priests do this to get a crowd to see their beneficence. So it does seem as if the rabbis could do it also. Certainly it was in keeping with their love of praise.
“as the hypocrites do”– Jesus expressly says that hypocrites do this.
HYPOCRITE: (Grk.-–hypokritês)–This is an old word for “actor; interpreter, one who impersonates another” then it literally means, “to pretend, to feign, todissemble, to act, the hypocrite, to wear a mask.”
In the Greek, the word literally means, “mask wearer,” which comes from the practice of Greek actors to wear different masks for what ever part they were playing. There were no female actors in Greece, so when a woman’s part was called for, a man would wear a mask to denote such. This is the hardest word that Jesus has for any class of people and he employs it for these pious pretenders who pose as perfect.
As used in the N.T., “hypocrite” usually means those who “mislead, pretend, or hide their real sentiments, and assume or express other feelings than their own. This would be those who, for purposes of ostentation, or gain, or applause, put on the appearance of religion. It is probable that such persons, when they were about to bestow alms, did cause a trumpet (shofar) to be sounded, professedly to call the poor together to receive it, but really to call the people to attend to it. This may mean that they should not make a great noise about it, like sounding a trumpet.
Their method was to give ostentatiously. In our age the world rings with the praises of the millionaire who gives a few thousands, but is silent concerning the humble ones who have taken from their necessities and given to the same cause.
“in the synagogues and in the streets”–The places of religious and secular resort.
SYNAGOGUE: (Grk.–sunagōgê)–The word synagogue commonly means the place of assembling for religious worship known by that name. To this day alms are given in the the Jewish synagogues.
This word might also mean any collection of people for any purpose. And it is not improbable that it has that meaning here. It does not necessarily mean that they made a noise in bestowing charity in the synagogues, or that it was commonly bestowed there; but it was probably done on occasion of any great assemblage, in any place of concourse, and at the corners of the streets, where it could be seen by many.
One expositor supposes that courts or avenues in the temple and in the synagogues may be intended-places where the people were accustomed to walk, for air, amusement, etc., for it is not to be supposed that such chests were fixed in the public streets.
The word synagogues, here, clearly means not so much the place of worship of that name, but places where many were accustomed to assemble- near the markets, or courts, where they could be seen of many. Our Lord evidently could not mean to condemn prayers in the synagogues.
“they have their reward”–They have been paid.
REWARD: (Grk.–misthos)–This verb is common in the papyri for receiving a receipt or wages—“they have their receipt in full.” That is, all the reward that they will get, this public notoriety.
All they will have, from the praise of men; for they shall have none from God. they obtain the applause they seek, the reputation of being charitable; and as this applause was all they wished, there is of course no further reward to be looked for or obtained.
I have sat in pastors meetings and heard pastors brag about how many they “led to the Lord,” last year, or how many they baptized last year. They reminded me of young Indian braves showing off their fresh scalps to impress the young maidens as to how brave they were in battle. I suspect they are expecting great reward from the Lord for these acts; but after this braggadocio, I believe they are in for a big surprise. Like these Jewish priests and rabbis, these preachers wanted human applause and recognition from men, and they have it; and with it, all they will ever get, but they will get none from the Lord.
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what they right hand doeth.”
“let not they left hand know what they right doeth”
Literally: “Let not the left know what right hand of you is doing.”–This is a proverbial expression, signifying that the action should be done as secretly as possible. The right hand gives, do not let the left hand know about it. A proverbial way of expressing entire reedom from the claiming anything like self-adulation.
The encouragement for doing this is, that it will be pleasing to God ; that He will see the act, however secret it may be, and will openly reward it. They believe that if the reward is not greater in this life, it will be in the life to come. to the Lord,” (Prov. 19:17) and will be repaid in this life.
A strong expression, to indicate that there must be no publishing of our alms deeds. In many cases, works of charity must be hidden from even our nearest relatives, who, if they knew, would hinder us from doing what God has given us power and inclination to perform. We must go even farther; and conceal them as far as is possible from ourselves, by not thinking of them, or eyeing them with complacency. They are given to GOD, and should be hidden in HIM.
The teaching of the Talmud commends secrecy in almsgiving in such sayings as “he that doeth alms in secret is greater than Moses.” But the spirit of hypocrisy prevailed; the Pharisees taught and did not.
“That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.”
“that thine alms may be in secret
Literally: “That your merciful deeds may be in secret.” It is not that concealment is required, but as to avoid ostentation.
“and thy Father which seeth in secret”
Literally: “And your Father, seeing in secret.”
IN SECRET: (Grk.–tôi kruptôi)–We should ever remember that the eye of the Lord is upon us, and that he sees not only the act, but also every motive that led to it.
“Himself”–This word is not in any Greek text. It appears to be an unauthorized addition to the text.
“shall reward thee openly”
Literally: “will repay you in the open.”– The Textus Receptus added the words (en tôi phanerôi)—which mean “openly”-here and in 6:6, but they are not genuine; not in the o riginal Greek texts. Jesus does not promise a public reward for private piety.
HOW NOT TO PRAY
THE JEWISH WAY
No nation ever had a higher ideal of prayer than the Jews had; and no religion ever ranked prayer higher in the scale of priorities than the Jews did. A Rabbinical saying was, “Great is prayer; greater than all good works.” One of the greatest things that was ever said about family worship is the Rabbinic sayiing, “He who prays within his house surrounds it with a wall that is stronger than iron.” However, certain faults had crept into the Jewish habits of prayer, (for prayer had become formalized. There were two things that was prescribed daily for every Jew: (1) the Shema– (Deut. 6:4-9, 11, 13-21), and Shemoneh ‘ereh
The full Shema– had to be recited by every Jew every morning and every evening. The second thing which every Jew must daily repeat was called the Shemoneh ’esreh, which means, “The Eighteen.” It consisted of eighteen prayers, and was, and still is, an essential part of the synagogue service.
The Jewish liturgy supplied stated prayers for all occasions. There was hardly an event or sight in life that did not have its stated formula of prayer. Everything had its own prayer. Because the prayers were so meticulously prescribed and stated, the whole system had gone to formalism, and prayers just slipped off the tongue with little or no meaning. Just repeat the right prayer at the right time.
The Jews had set times for prayer. The Muslims have the same practice. Eventually, prayers became connected with certain places, and especially with the synagogue. And there had developed a tendency towards long prayers. Unfortunately, many Christians have this same belief–that they can only pray in a church building, or that long prayers meant more than do short prayers.