The Pharisees and Charitable Deeds

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-4)

Do Motives Matter in the Law?

Some think that the Law of Moses was about externals and that Jesus was changing the focus of law to internal things.  Actually, the Sermon on the Mount is not about new law versus old law, but about the true righteousness of the Law versus the inferior righteousness professed and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  Jesus is living perfectly under the Law of Moses and is upholding the "righteous requirements of the Law."  He still expects His kingdom of disciples to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law (Romans 8:4; Ephesians 6:1-3; Romans 13:8-10; II Timothy 3:16-17).  Righteousness is "right wise-ness."  What was a matter of right versus wrong is not what was changing from covenant to covenant, and at this point in the ministry of Jesus, He was not dumping the Law of Moses and undermining it. He is showing that letting the scribes and Pharisees set the standard is not what God ever wanted and will not allow for His kingdom of disciples.

Charitable Deeds

It was not that the Law of Moses taught one to do charitable deeds to be seen of men and now in the New Testament, the Law will change to a new standard of doing it to please God.  No, the Law of Moses was interested in the motivations for charitable deeds too. The point Jesus is making is that the scribes and Pharisees had a standard of righteousness that violated the righteousness of the Law. So, don't adopt them as your standard. They did things to be seen of men, but the true righteousness of the Law was against that motive.

To Be Seen By Men

Men knew in the Old Testament that God was interested in the intentions of the heart. So, that was not changing with the New Testament.  God has always been interested in the motives of the heart. I Chronicles 29:16-18 says,

"O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you."

The heart was emphasized by the Old Testament Law of Moses.  It was not emphasized by the scribes and Pharisees, but it was a standard found in the Law nonetheless.  Deuteronomy 8:1-2  says, "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." Does that sound like God was not interested in the heart in the Old Testament?  I Chronicles 28:9 says,  "And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever."   So, it is false to say that Jesus is changing the Law from an external emphasis to a new internal emphasis. There were carnal things that were used to illustrate a spiritual concept to be fulfilled in Christ later, but the standard of "righteousness" would still be fulfilled in the kingdom. This is about the inferior standard of the scribes and Pharisees versus the true standard in the Law of Moses and supported and upheld by Jesus.

Looking for God's Approval

The scribes and Pharisees were doing charitable deeds to be seen of men, and that was not the standard Jesus wants His kingdom to follow.  His people are to seek God's approval. He knows what our motives are.  He has always been watchful regarding our motives.   Zechariah 7:4-7 says, "Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: "Ask all the people of the land and the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?"

When one is doing charitable deeds for God, to honor His will, then we let good deeds be commonplace and do not look around for human approval. Charitable deeds should become so commonplace that it is just natural with no regard for who, among men, may be looking.

"So far from making a display of it, dwell not on it even in thine own thoughts, lest it minister to spiritual pride" [Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary]. When God is at the center of our thoughts, we act because we know it is His will.  Proverbs 19:17 says, "He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done." God can use our kindness to bless others, and then in the end God will see that we are rewarded in due time.

What we see in the Law of Moses is true righteousness. True righteousness is expressed by the Law, fulfilled and upheld by Jesus, expected of those who would enter His kingdom, and exceeds that standard of the scribes and Pharisees. Their motives were selfish and proud. The Old Testament speaks against selfish motives and pride.  Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  Proverbs 8:13 says, "To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech."  I Samuel 2:3 says,  "Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance,  for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed."

Jesus was in full agreement with the righteousness of the Law of Moses.  He emphasizes that those who would enter and live in His kingdom would have to have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees who did charitable deeds "to be seen of men." They have their reward in getting the praise of men. That is all they would ever get!  Let your charitable deeds be only for God, to lend to Him a way to bless others through you.  You can wait for His reward in the right way and at the right time.

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