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David Hall's picture

The Rev. David W. Hall (PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. After completion of his undergraduate studies, Pastor Hall studied at Swiss L’Abri and then enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, graduating in 1980. In addition to pastoring, David Hall is the author or editor of over 20 books and numerous essays.

Article by David Hall

Religion should be Shown—not a Show

March 12, 2015 •

Read Mt. 6:1-4

Jesus opposed ostentatious piety. Tell that to your friends and also to yourself. And he was not fooled by the counterfeit. In Matthew 6, he developed these important ideas.

Our Lord called for giving that is not ostentatious. The ancient practice of almsgiving (giving offerings) is rooted in the Old Testament and commanded by God to financially support the Temple and the needy. “Almsgiving stood first in the catalogue of good works . . . it was the most sacred of all religious duties . . . in fact the Jews interchanged the same word for either righteousness and almsgiving . . . to give alms and to be righteous (therefore) were one and the same thing . . . to give alms was to gain merit in the sight of God.”[1]

Jesus exposes the Pharisees as giving to the needy in order to be recognized by others as great philanthropists. The Pharisees when giving to the needy may have had a trumpeter precede them, supposedly to call all the charitable citizens to contribute to an urgent need. The trumpet grabbed attention and soon came to be an announcement and recognition of some philanthropist. This custom gave rise to public recognition and receiving outward praise.

Jesus says do not give in this way (v. 12) as the hypocrites do. No one should ever think that Jesus never judges, condemns, or publicly accuses of hypocrisy. He does so here. He is no un-discerning One who cannot judge right from wrong, who only affirms all people. He calls such self-glorified givers “hypocrites.” The classical Greek word – and it is a strong one – for hypocrite refers to an actor in a stage production. A hypocrite was one who in the Greek theater put on a mask and played another role. Everyone knew this was the same person, but as a stage convenience he assumed another personality. That’s what a hypocrite is, one who acts one way in one role, but completely different in another. One is not merely a hypocrite if he says he intends to do something for God and then fails. That person is merely a sinner. But a hypocrite is one who says one thing and then in a later context plays the opposite role.

So the hypocrite in view here, does not really want to help the needy. His philanthropy is motivated by self-serving interests, and he just wants to help himself and his reputation in the community. This type of hypocrite is like:

  • The politician who says he is supportive of a minority group just to get votes;
  • The pastor who placates the powerful just to keep his job;
  • The giver in the church who wants to be recognized as the patron-boss of the congregation. When we give in order to be honored on the streets or in the synagogues (this includes both religious and civic charity), then we are guilty of the hypocrisy of modern day Pharisaism.

To givers with this kind of motivation, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth (solemn declaration of lasting certainty) they have their reward in full.” The Greek word is a technical commerce term meaning a “receipt for payment in full.” By that, he means if your primary motivation for giving is to be known as a big giver in the church or community, then here’s your receipt in full. Hold on to your receipt tightly because your full and only payment will be that fleeting public recognition, but not God’s eternal blessing. That’s all you’ll ever receive – the fickle admiration of men, a payment that is about as valuable as a used movie ticket.

Does this convict us of our attitudes toward giving in the church? Do we ever give to please others . . . or even to think to ourselves, “My how great a giver I am! God must really be grateful for me.” Sometimes we may become spectators of our own piety. It is possible to drop hints about our generosity, spirituality, commitment, or sacrifice. All such are efforts to bring glory to self not God. If you’ll be honest, I bet there are some areas like this in your own life.

How much better would be the lasting recognition and approval of God! If you want that, look at vss. 3-4 to see how to give. It is simple. When you give (note in all of these Jesus is not against giving or praying or fasting, only against doing these in the wrong way)—Jesus assumes we will give. He does not say if you give, but when you give (3). So don’t withhold your giving until your attitude happens to become right. Get that attitude right and give. When you give (3), do it in a secret way.

Don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In Semitic imagery the right hand (there’s that recurring discrimination against left handers) is the active hand. While it is actively giving, the left hand is to be unconscious of what it is doing. We are not to be self-conscious of our giving. One member is not to know what the other member is doing. Nor are we to keep recalling how generous we are or to gloat over it. We are to give for one reason only—to please and obey God. Then we forget about it and do not let one member take note of what the other has done. Thus as a result (v. 4), our giving is to be done in secret. Then our all-knowing Father, who is the only witness to take notice will reward us secretly.

That’s why a sound church will view its offering in corporate worship services this way . . .

  • With no arm-twisting;
  • Devoid of “givers of the year” awards or special pews (see also James 2:3-4);
  • We try to preserve as much confidentiality as possible.
  • We want people to give to satisfy the Lord, not others or the pastor.

What a beautiful concept here in Scripture. God rewards us in secret, fulfilling ways greater than public approval by his very own eternal approval, “A ravenous hunger for the praise of men,” John Stott called it, was the Pharisees’ sin.

For whose approval do you hunger—God’s or man’s in giving? The caricature in all these examples as this one may seem rather humorous to us. But be careful before you laugh: Jesus may be speaking to us. Religion should be Shown—not a Show.

J.C. Ryle reduced it wisely to this: A giving Savior should have giving disciples.

[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 186. 


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