Holiness and Works

Holiness and Works

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

As chapter 6 opens, we see Jesus giving us instructions for our good works. The term in Hebrew is tzedakah, which literally means acts of righteousness. In this case, Jesus is speaking about our almsgiving, which by the time of NT Judaism was the meaning of Acts of Tzedakah.

“The ‘righteousness which exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees’ (5:20) is to be seen not only in a new radical approach to the legal and ethical questions which concerned the scribes (5:21-48), but in a new attitude to the scrupulous religious observance which was the hallmark of the Pharisees (6:1-18). The new attitude consists not in a repudiation of the main aspects of Jewish piety, but in an avoidance of ostentation in their performance. Religious observance is to be directed towards God, not to gaining the approval of men.”

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Matthew.

6:1 practice … righteousness. This verse introduces the discussion of three acts of righteousness: (1) giving (vv. 2–4), (2) praying (vv. 5–15) and (3) fasting (vv. 16–18).

Jesus did not prohibit public acts of righteousness, but He warned that the motivation for such acts is more important than the bare fact of performing them. All such deeds must be done for God’s glory, not human reputation. Those who seek human acclaim when performing good works will receive no heavenly reward. In verses 2-18, Jesus supplies general principles for performing righteous acts.

James would later say, Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27).  At the risk of belaboring the point, the concern here is the heart, in other words your mind, will/volition, and emotions.  I have said, several times, that the entire purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to destroy any sense of self righteousness that we might have and instead put the focus back onto the heart and what a heart full of the Holy Spirit looks like.
6:2-4 The words whenever you give assume that disciples will regularly assist needy people. The prohibition don’t sound a trumpet stems from the fact that the offering chests in the temple were trumpet-shaped with a wide opening where coins were deposited and a winding, ever-narrower funnel that, at its narrowest point, exits into the chest. This arrangement prevented thieves from sticking their hands into the chest. Thus, “sounding the trumpet” is likely a reference to tossing coins noisily into the trumpet-shaped coffer and thereby calling attention to one’s generosity. Jesus described such conduct as hypocritical and we can well see how Jesus, as the Divine Son of God, would consider this to be hypocritical; causing the loud sound of tossing a denarius or other coins into the chest would be nakedly self serving in its intent to gather attention.

The word hypocrites (Gk hupocrites) originally referred to actors who performed in Greek or Roman theaters. The hypocrites to whom Jesus referred are spiritual actors who pretend to have piety in order to win human approval. The instructions about the left hand and the right hand prohibit a person from celebrating their own acts of righteousness. Give liberally, but never dwell on the fact that you do so.

As believers, we need to realize that we are naked before God and that all of our thoughts/emotions/attitudes are laid bare before Him. Therefore, why we do a thing is as important as the actual deed itself. Any “good works” that we do for any other reason than God’s glory robs Him, or rather, attempts to rob Him of that which is due Him.


Holiness and works ARE connected, but not in the way most people think; we do works because righteousness has been imputed to us not so that it might be.


3 questions to consider when doing righteous works: 1. Why am I doing this deed? 2. How does this act glorify Christ? 3. Is there an opportunity to share the Gospel through what I am doing?


In the remainder of our time together, I am going to wade barefoot into a cactus patch…


There is a propensity among many Christians to focus on what may be known as the social gospel. Certain academics claim that this movement is in decline but I vigorously disagree. Before we get into that, let me explain what I mean by the social gospel.


The Social Gospel is a movement in North American Protestantism which applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. It is argued, by some, to have peaked in the early-20th-century United States and Canada. However, an observant person would notice that it is alive and well in the United States today. Theologically, the Social Gospel adherents seek to operationalize the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10): “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. This tends to lend itself to the post-millennialist position; that is, they tend believe the Second Coming can not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. This, unfortunately, leads to churches being overly involved in politics, particularly on the “liberal” end of the political spectrum.


This begs the question, “Is there a social justice aspect in the Bible?” Of course there is a social justice aspect in the Bible. God is always concerned with justice because He Himself embodies and defines it. We need to remember that we can have all the social programs we want but if the people we are commanded to minister to end up in Hell, we have not done justice. Justice must have its origin in the Gospel message; without it all you really have is welfare, not justice.


As Christians, we do need to be concerned with ministering to the world. There are two verses that I want to bring to our attention:


Micah 6:8 (NKJV)  He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?


Hosea 6:6 ESV For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.


It is most excellent, and I would dare say, pleasing to God to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves; we saw that from the Apostle James. However, when we do these acts of righteousness, there is a propensity for 2 errors, self righteousness and judgmentalism.  Have you noticed that self righteousness keeps coming up? That is because it is the foundation for assuming Heaven is deserved. It is clearly very easy to fall into the trap of self righteousness because of the works we do. The other trap is being judgmental. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others in terms of what we are doing for God and then use our level of activity as a barometer against which to judge others.


Note that this exactly the problem the Pharisees had, which is why Jesus refers to them as hypocrites. There is no issue with doing acts of mercy, there isn’t even an issue with those acts being seen, sometimes, to spur others on to do more themselves. It is the heart behind the actions that houses the issue. Why are you doing your good deed? Is it because you want to be made holy or is it because you know you have imputed righteousness and you are following the lead of your Lord? That, Beloved, is what we are getting at here; the Lord is destroying any sense of self righteousness that we might have so that we approach life in pursuit of holiness.

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