Matthew 6:2-4

Setting and Overview
After stating the overall message of the first half of Matthew 6, Jesus now goes into the specific aspects of public piety that were most important to the Jewish people at the time. The first of those aspects is the giving of alms. While a lot of attention was focused on the act itself, less attention was paid to the underlying attitude and motivation, which meant that it was ripe to be abused and turned into acts of public showmanship, rather than genuine service and love. Jesus addresses this hypocrisy and contrasts it with a picture of genuine giving.
 
Exposition
The most foundational text for giving in the Old Testament is probably Deuteronomy 15:7-11, and most faithful Jews would have been very familiar with it. The word He uses for charitable giving, however, doesn’t just refer to giving in general, but giving as an expression of mercy. The Greek word here is used in the Septuagint to reference general compassion and mercy (Genesis 47:29), acts of giving (Deuteronomy 24:13), and God’s character (Psalm 24:5.) While it is first used in the New Testament here, it is assumed rather than described. Luke 11:41 gives us a fuller picture of what it looks and how it should flow from genuine love and desire to serve, and Luke 12:33 connects it to trust in God and a willingness to sacrifice. We see it used in Acts to describe faithful disciples (Acts 9:36, 10:2-4, 31, 24:17) and set the stage for a dramatic encounter between a beggar and Peter and John (Acts 3:2-10.) Jesus isn’t giving a command to give alms here, rather He is recognizing and affirming that His followers should give alms, but as they do that they must examine their core attitudes.
The practice that they should avoid is one of public showmanship. While it is unlikely that people literally blew trumpets to announce their gifts (some theories have been proposed of a literal practice to which He could have been referring, but there is little evidence to indicate that any of them are in mind here), people definitely did then, as now, like to draw attention and praise for their giving, and Jesus strongly condemns such an approach. Instead, He commands us to give in such a way as to draw as little attention as possible. In fact, He commands us to go as far as to not even to try to make a big deal of it to ourselves. If we do, then unlikely those who gave so as to get acclaim and will receive no reward for their efforts, then we are promised that our sincere sacrifice and act of mercy will be rewarded by God.
 
Examination and Application
This passage challenges us with two clear questions: are we giving like we should, and do we seek or desire attention and praise for the giving that we do? It is easy for us to overestimate how much we give, to give with the wrong attitude, and to look at material wealth in such a way as to discourage sincere giving. Instead, the Bible calls us to give sacrificially (Mark 12:41-44, II Corinthians 8:1-2), give eagerly and worshipfully (II Corinthians 8:3-4, Hebrews 13:15-16), and give contentedly (Hebrews 13:5-6, Matthew 19:16-24, I Timothy 6:6-9.) In other words, we should give joyously (II Corinthians 9:6-7.) As we do, then we see our giving in an entirely different light. Instead of giving us something that we earned, that we need, that we have full rights to, and that is our best path to happiness (which would lead us to think that we deserve and need credit if we do give), God calls us to recognize that we are giving something that we didn’t earn, don’t need, doesn’t ultimately belong to us, and that can give us more joy by giving away than spending on ourselves. In that light, it isn’t something to do reluctantly, but eagerly, and those who do it with the wrong attitude (as we too often do) are not to be envied or copied, but to be pitied. God has shown us a better, and more joyful way.  
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