Saturday, January 3, 2009

Do Not Your Alms Before Men

Matthew 6:1-4 says:

1) 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.
2) 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.
3) But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4) That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

First, as a foundation, it is important to note that "alms" are donations to the poor. Therefore, this passage is not talking about good deeds, in general (works or fruits), but rather explicitly providing monetary help or goods to the poor in order to alleviate their poverty.

As I contemplated this passage, I was struck by two aspects in particular:

1) There is an assumption that alms will be given. There is no "if" involved in this passage; rather, the phrasing implies that it simply is something that will be done. That, in and of itself, is a profound point.

2) The following sentence is fascinating.

They have their reward.

The thought that hit me is that when we do things for the "glory of men" (and when our actions are noticed and praised), we have the very thing that motivated our actions in the first place - "the glory of men". We act and are rewarded for that action - by man, but not by God, because man was our intended benefactor in the first place.

Another thought that hit me is that we are rewarded for the good that we do - regardless of the motivation. Even in the case mentioned in this passage, where we are acting for the glory of men, "(We) have (our) reward." It just doesn't come from God.

So, in a hierarchy of actions, not acting at all will bring no reward whatsoever; acting for worldly recognition will bring a worldly reward; acting without recognition will bring a heavenly reward.

The question, it appears to me, is:

If "we have our reward" that will be given "openly" for alms done in secret, what exactly is that reward? What is it that our Heavenly Father gives?

I have some initial ideas, but I will think about it throughout the week and write about it next Saturday.


Mama D said...

Fascinating question! It will be interesting to see what others might answer and to read what you write at the end of the week.

Unknown said...

Maybe one reward is simply knowing that you've helped someone, made their life a little brighter, and in having kept it to yourself, they do not feel guilty or obligated to you in any way? You genuinely have helped them, just to help them.

I remember when I was taking Motivation (one of my psych courses) the book claimed that there is not true altruism; every single act no matter how "selfless" has a reward for the person who acted. Whether it be the "good feeling" that comes from the knowledge that you have done something good, or being able to take pleasure in someone else's productivity and health because of what you have done; things like that. I think that true altruism is only possible for God. What rewards does he receive from serving us (His Children)? Maybe when we're more perfect, we'll understand.

Papa D said...

Thanks, NSG. I definitely will be thinking about your comment throughout the week. I particularly like the following:

"In having kept it to yourself, they do not feel guilty or obligated to you in any way."