Monday, November 18, 2013

Do Not Alms to Be Seen of Men

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.
 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. (Matt. 6:1-2)
I used to think this verse meant we should try to make all our good works as anonymous as possible, but lately I’ve been thinking that isn’t necessarily where the emphasis is. 

When Jesus uses the phrase “take heed that ye..” He is usually about to warn us to watch out for a particular mindset or thought pattern that can get us in spiritual trouble.  (You can do a search for scriptures that use this phrase and find out some interesting things.)  The thought pattern He warns us of here is the motivation for doing “alms” (or good works) “to be seen of men.”  Verse 2 expands on the effect of this motivation and points out that it leads to hypocrites sounding a trumpet in the synagogues and streets to do to try to get noticed and praised for their alms.

The trouble is that when people do good works just to be praised by others, you get a whole mess of loud PR efforts with everyone struggling for attention and praise.  It means that people begin to think that only large dramatic acts of charity are worth doing, and they begin to neglect that class of good works that are quiet, small, and simple, but which are often invisible.  Yet those small invisible acts are the kind of thing that make life more beautiful.  It also means that people begin to make decisions about doing good works not on the basis of it being good, but on the basis of how visible it will be.  (I suspect that modern technology and social media networks make this even more applicable for today…)

I get the sense that Jesus wanted us to understand that seeking praise from men is a form of idolatry—worshipping the approval of society.  That approval is paltry thing that doesn’t penetrate the soul, but washes away like water, and given effusively, it is addictive and corrosive.  The Lord tells us that when we do good works to be praised of men, we will get the reward we wanted—praise from men—but we’ll get nothing from God for it.  Instead, Jesus wants us to be seeking reward and praise from God, trusting that He sees everything we do, whether public or private, and that He will reward us in His time and way.  If we trust God sees everything, then we aren’t reluctant to do good works in small, invisible ways.  The Lord approval and praise is a much more lasting and soul-satisfying thing.  (I’ve had some occasions when I’ve felt it and tasted it for days.)

Part of the test of mortality is to see if we will do good things even when it seems like it isn't rewarded.  I suppose there will come a day when all the invisible good we've done will be made known and receive its full reward.

This brings me to an interesting question, and maybe you have some thoughts about it.  Where do you think is the balance between “not doing alms to be seen of men” and “letting your light so shine that men may see your good works and glory your Father in heaven”?  


Suzanne Benner said...

That's an interesting question as far as the difference between not doing our alms to be seen of men, and letting our lights shine, allowing others to see our good works so that they will glorify God. And I guess in both God is showing us that the focus should be on God. We're doing all of it for him, and not for praise. For me, I guess letting my light shine is setting an example as a saint and a member of God's church. If someone sees me doing alms, it should be incidentally, not advertised... because the glory will always be to us, and not to God. Other things though, we can do more publicly. Like not drinking, smoking, or engaging in premarital sex. :) People know us as a group for things like that. And if we can be kind, accepting, good... our whole lives should be an example of what God has taught us.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think that's a good assessment, Suzanne. When a person is a light on the hill, then they don't have to go around saying, "Look! I'm a light! I'm a light!" They just ARE.