Session #043 Secret Service
Scripture Matthew 6:1-4
Summary How we crave publicity and attention! Even in churches, ministries and assignments, there is such a strong tendency to be showy. In Matt 6:1-4, Jesus revealed the motivations of those who give to the poor. Challenging His disciples, Jesus assured them that God knows and sees all, and will duly reward. Likewise, we are all invited to join His Majesty’s Secret Service.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. Matthew 6:1–4
We live in a society where we are bombarded by marketing and advertising messages or clutter. Everyone is fighting to be noticed, to stand out in this clutter. Even with churches, ministries, and assignments, there is a strong tendency to be showy. In Matthew 6:1-4, we see what Jesus says to His disciples about publicity and attention. He reveals the motivations of those who give to the poor, teaching His disciples the true heart of service, assuring them that God knows and sees all and will duly reward all.
Start of a New Section (Matthew 6:1-4)
In Matthew 5, Jesus finished with examples of righteousness that exceeded that of the Pharisees, exposing their misinterpretations of the Law. It ends with the transitional verse “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. This can be seen as a summary of the previous chapter or an introduction of the next where He teaches how to be perfect i.e., being whole and complete in maturity; by knowing how not to do certain things, such as giving, praying, fasting, laying up treasures, worrying …; and the correct way of doing them.
Next, we note that ‘eleemonsune’ (Greek) is translated as “charitable deed” i.e., being merciful and compassionate in relation to giving alms to the poor (NKJV); while it is referred to as “acts of righteousness” (NIV) or “practice of righteousness” (ESV). Therefore, this teaching can be extended to any ministry, assignment, the practise of personal piety/devotion or religious duty/righteousness.
In the context of the Jews, there was a weekly system of a freewill offering to help the poor. The Jews believed that almsgiving was a means of atonement and salvation and the more they gave, the greater their righteousness (Tobit 12:8–9).
God already knew that there would be inequality of wealth distribution and an income gap because of the sinfulness of man. Caring for the poor is catered for in the Law. It was expected of the people of God that they should look after them (Deuteronomy 15:10-11). On the surface, the people “kept” the law but they were doing it in a way that exposed their questionable motivations.
Lights! Camera! Action
In Matthew 6:1-2, Jesus was exposing the hearts of those (Pharisees? The rich?) who pretended that they love to give and make a big show of it like hypocrites. They were not interested in the lives of the beneficiaries (almsgiving) or the focus of prayer and fasting (God). They were only interested in themselves and what they could get out of these acts and had evil intent in their hearts (Mark 12:38-44, Matthew 12:41).
Similarly, in today’s culture of performance, charismatic leaders and pastors, and worship bands need to be mindful, to take heed, and beware of being too showy, blowing their own horn, and drawing attention to themselves and how well they are doing. Jesus is warning us not to be like hypocrites, desiring for the encore, the praise; ending up loving the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:43).
So How? Join HIs Majesty’s Secret Service!
In Matthew 6:3-4, Jesus is saying that as far as possible, whatever good you do, don’t draw attention to it, do it in secret for Father God sees and knows everything. He knows that it is not easy for us but assures us that God sees the heart (Psalm 139:1-4, Hebrews 4:13) and rewards openly, that we will sow and reap both spiritually and materially, not only now but eternally.
Applications and Safeguards
Here we consider some applications and safeguards, building on what has been discussed:
Take Heed (Warning!)
Take heed or ‘Prosecho’ in Greek, is a nautical term to mean to hold a ship in a direction so that it can continue to sail towards its destination. Therefore, it is a warning to stay on course and not veer off from your destination. The acts of righteousness and religious duties we perform can have a deceptive power over us. As we begin to be more experienced and not check our alignment, our motive can veer off. This may result in performance-based righteousness, comparing with others, and thinking you are better. It also leads to powerless godliness. If one craves the praise of men, one will become a lover of self and will have a form of godliness but no power of transformation at all (2 Timothy 3:5). We are to stay away from such people but the irony is that we are drawn to them as we too seek the same glory. Pride may creep in too, this is a blind spot until we fall and are humbled.
Give as the Lord Directs
If your heart is aligned to the heartbeat of God, then you will have a heart for the poor and needy and give as you are able to and without needing to tell others. You will sow into ministries and missions (third-world nations) without being named. You will be a faithful steward of God’s resources as God’s heart is for the down and out, the poor and needy, the marginalized.
Remember Who and Why You Serve
Don’t serve to make yourself feel better or more important. Those in the frontline ministries struggle with the temptation of glory and praise; while those in the backroom ministries struggle with the need for appreciation and encouragement. Will you still serve if no one notices at all, says anything, or appreciates you? Or will you get upset, angry, offended, and give up? Dear Archippus, come back and fulfil your assignment whether you are noticed or not for you don’t serve men but God.
Aim to Please God, not Men (Colossians 3:22-24)
The world will teach you how to position yourself to be noticed, to make sure your boss knows what you have done. The kingdom teaches us to remain hidden. The One who matters is your Big Boss up above! Do it as unto the Lord and rest in that. Promotion will come.
Do Not Exaggerate or Hype
Our tendency is to make it sound more glamorous, bigger, better, more anointed; to impress with numbers and more numbers. There is no need to jostle for attention or claim credit all the time. Let your yea be yea and nay be nay, nothing more or less
Honour Those in Secret Service
Our tendency is to only notice those in frontline ministries or in bigger and impressive assignments Many work behind the scenes in humility and hiddenness e.g., prayer intercessors, caregivers of elderly and sick, special needs, grandparents, stay-at-home mothers, etc. If this is your season of hiddenness, be content.
Learn to Receive Encouragement Graciously
We all appreciate a word of encouragement from time to time. It is fine as long as we don’t crave for and feed on it. Do not be falsely modest, just in case you “lose out” on your secret rewards. That encouraging word or testimony maybe God’s way of strengthening you, affirming what you are doing and how you are doing it for His glory. Receive it graciously and don’t brush it off with standard Christian phrases, trying to sound spiritual and holy.
Always Check Your Motive: Who Gets The Glory?
Once again, what is your motivation? Are you craving for your own glory and honour or really doing it for the glory of God? This passage does not contradict Matthew 5:16. Keep doing good works, so others will see it and give God the glory. It’s a fine line and it is so easy to justify and deceive ourselves, so we need to heed the warning.
Would we be content serving in a secret service? The temptation is always there to draw attention to ourselves, to earn the praise of men, rather than to just live for the approval of God. The media and social climate do not help us to live this kind of hidden life. We love selfies, likes, followers, etc. We use the name of God to justify our religious pride and actions, to draw attention to ourselves. How do we counter this? There is only one solution: Deny self, take up the cross, follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). This can only be done by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. The key to pleasing God, not men or ourselves, is through a life of faith and obedience. May we be happy to serve secretly for the Lord so that our Father who sees in secret will reward us openly.