Summary of Matthew 6:1-6
Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t do good deeds, give to the poor, and pray to God in order to get attention. Do these things privately and receive your true reward from the Father.
Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 6:1-6
In chapter 5, Jesus was comparing current practice of the Law to what is actually required in God’s Kingdom. It seemed that Jesus was making an example of the religious leaders--showing his listeners that they are not the example of holiness to follow. If any of these leaders were listening, they would be pissed.
In chapter 6, Jesus seems to be pivoting from impossible commands (whew!) to the concept of humility. Jesus describes how not to be humble by providing two examples of show-offs: those who give to the poor and those who pray in order to be seen.
Ooooh, snap. Without a doubt, Jesus is taking direct aim at the religious leaders and exposing them for what they are: hypocrites.
Besides humility, the other thing that strikes me about this passage is the talk about rewards. Jesus mentions rewards in each of the six verses. I break it down this way:
Give to the poor/pray in public --> Reward AThe concept of rewards in Christianity always makes me a little squeamish, specifically because I used to be a John Piper enthusist in the late 1990s. Back then, when I was still following a conservative evangelical path, I read a few of Piper’s books. My best friends were all about the Piper. The Piperian concept of the day was Christian Hedonism.
Give to the poor/pray in secret --> Reward B
Reward A = Public praise, accolades, and exposure
Reward B = what?
My understanding of Christian Hedonism is as follows: the motivation for us to live a good life is to get as many rewards as possible in heaven. It is an attempt to make "spiritual selfishness" a virtue. God uses the self-preservation he created in us as the primary motivator to do good things.
That's how I understand the concept, anyway. If anyone wants to add, clarify, correct my understanding of Christian Hedonism in the comments, please feel free!
My reaction to Christian Hedonism was one big MEH. It didn’t answer the questions that haunted me: Why is there so much evil in the world? How can anyone, let alone a loving God, send human beings to a place of eternal torment? Why am I gay; and for crying out loud, why won't God change me after years of begging? Unless it provided concrete answers to these questions, I couldn’t care less about these "rewards."
Today, Christianity makes sense to me mainly as a vision of a kingdom. Not a kingdom with an authoritarian theocracy, but a kingdom where there is no fear, no shame, and no injustice; a kingdom with a foundation of love for (and connection to) each other. The text says over and over that “the Father will reward you.” What does the Father exactly give as a reward? In other words, what is Reward B?
You may have a different answer, but the reward I am inferring from this passage is something that is both transcendent and iterative. It is hard to put into words, but I will try. I believe it must be a sense of joy, peace, and meaning. These “feelings” are only reinforced as one sees progress toward a more loving and more just world (thus the iterative part of the reward). It’s a reward that soothes an ache deep, deep inside the human heart that longs to matter. This is my sense of what the reward must be. I’m not saying I am currently experiencing these things. What I am experiencing is a hope and vision for these things.
To be fair, maybe that is what Piper was trying to articulate? You don’t know how much it pains me to write that! I have so much Piper baggage...