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.
Nothing is more natural than for men to seek honour and deference among their fellow men. It is the universal habit, of society "to receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only" (John v, 44). Men everywhere "love the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John xii, 43). It is considered the right thing to nurse "ambition" - to indulge the desire for "fame" - which is the same thing in modern times. Jesus condemns it without qualification. He forbids men to aim at human approbation.
It is his express commandment in almsgiving, for example, to "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Matt. vi, 3); and in prayer, to "pray to thy Father which is in secret" (verse 6), and in the exercises of divine sorrow, "to appear not unto men to fast" (verse 18). The object is that "thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." For the same reason, he forbids us to accept honourable titles and honourable places, and enjoins us to take a low and serving place.
In illustration of his meaning, he himself washed the feet of his disciples, remarking, "I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you" (John xiii, 15). He expressly said, "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased" (Luke xiv, 11). His command by the apostles is, "All of you be clothed with humility "; put away pride: "mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate" (Rom. xii, 3, 16; Phil. ii, 3; 1 Pet. v, 56).
The object of these commandments must be apparent to every reflecting mind that realises Christ's object in the preaching of the gospel. It is to "purify unto himself a peculiar people" (Tit. ii, 14), to show forth "the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Pet. ii, 9).
The celebration of this praise is not finally and effectually rendered until the summons comes forth from the throne, to the immortal multitude of the saints in the day of His appearing: "praise our God all ye His servants" (Rev. xix, 5); who respond to the thrilling mandate in a tempest of enthusiastic acclamation, "as the voice of many waters and as the voice of mighty thunderings" (verse 6). How could a people be prepared for such a part except by the command to crucify the propensity that seeks the honour of men in this evil age?
The acceptance of that honour necessarily engenders self-absorption, and unfits the heart for that self-abasement which is the first ingredient of true glory to God. We can see what the cultivation of ambition does for its poor worshippers. Take the elegant crowd at a levee - the haughty, quick-glancing, susceptible sons and daughters of fashion: how would they be qualified to praise God in the heart-felt way required?
It is the praise of men that fills and controls them - visible in their arrogance, and impatience and pride. They are eaten up with it as with a fever. The commandments of Christ have no acceptability to them. Their motto is "Who is Lord over us?" When the commandments of Christ obtain an entrance, they allay this fever, and bring the mind into a frame in harmony with true reason in the ennobling recognition that all things are derived, and that the glory and credit of everything is ultimately due to God alone, and not safe to be accepted, in however small a measure, at the hands of man in the present age of godlessness.
Christendom Astray L 18.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
We have come to see that the public habit of contributing openly to purposes and institutions of philanthropy is inconsistent with the injunction of Christ to do our alms giving secretly; and we have come to see that the common notion that men will be saved by good deeds in this direction is an unscriptural and an untrue notion.
We have come to see that men can only be saved by the belief and obedience of the gospel, and that no amount of alms-giving will avail for those who are outside the covenant-reconciliation with God in Christ. But we must not allow the recognition of this truth to dim our perception of the other. We must not go to the philanthropist and say, " Ah! you expect to be saved by your annual subscriptions, whereas we look for salvation in the Abrahamic covenant ratified by the blood of Christ only."
The philanthropist is undoubtedly mistaken in hoping to make peace with God through his alms-giving; but we shall be mistaken, too, in hoping to find acceptance with Christ through faith alone. Faith without works is dead. He must" do the will" of the Father, as well as believe His word. His will is that we be like Him in character. Christ plainly says, "Be like unto your Father." It is a very high standard, but it is the standard, and it would be the height of folly to ignore it.
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
When Christ said, "Do not your alms before men to be seen of them," he did not contradict his other injunction that we are to "let our light shine before men" that men might glorify God.
A man who lives a life of submission to God in the presence of his neighbour is no doubt a man who gives alms, but he does not give them "to be seen of men." He takes care, so far as he is concerned, that they are done in secret. There is all the difference in the world between men who modestly do the will of God in the presence of men, and the men who perform deeds to get a public reputation.
The latter Jesus styles "hypocrites," and says we are "not to be as they hypocrites are."
The Christadelphian, Aug 1898
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We must forgive-freely and fully, from the heart. This is absolutely essential to a Christlike character. Ill-feeling and resentment and taking offense and unforgivingness and fleshly sourness make divine beauty of character utterly impossible.
And we must forgive EVERYTHING-whether forgiveness is sought or not. It is very self-gratifying to graciously forgive when forgiveness is asked in repentant humility. There's little virtue in forgiving under those conditions. But Christ prayed for forgiveness for those who were in the act of putting him to cruel death, and Stephen did the same.
Bro Growcott - Search Me O God
16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Fasting comes under the same instruction of privacy, and this principle is all-inclusive. Any self-denial or sacrifice for the sake of service to Christ must be secret to have any value in God's sight.*
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
This is plainly expressed in another part of the word of wisdom thus: "Labour not to be rich" (Prov. xxiii, 4). Nothing in the whole range of language could be plainer than this. Christ, who surely knew better than all, states a fact which constitutes a powerful reason for the commandment not to aim at riches. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (Luke xviii, 24).
Riches he calls "the mammon of unrighteousness." He does not say their possession is absolutely inconsistent with divine favour and inheritance of life eternal. But He gives us to understand that the danger of their "choking the word" is extreme (Matt. xiii, 22), and that the only safety of those who have them, lies in turning them by use into friends and safeguards.
His advice is: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke xvi, 9). How this is to be done, he indicates: "Give alms: provide yourselves bags that wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not" (Luke xii, 33). This advice is repeated by the apostles "Charge them that are rich in this world . . . that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come" (1 Tim. vi, 17). "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter iv, 10).
The rich in Christendom do not conform to these divine prescriptions. On the contrary, they lavish their superabundance on themselves in a thousand ways that minister to "the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." If they get more, their plan is to enlarge the basis of their own individual aggrandisement. They would be considered fools if they did otherwise. How Christ regards the matter (that, in fact, he considers them fools for doing that which the world considers them wise for doing), they may learn beforehand from Luke xii, 16:-
"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do; I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, THOU FOOL, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then, whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."
Here we have the law of Christ forbidding the poor to labour to be rich, and commanding the rich to use their abundance in the alleviation of the want around them. What is the practice of Christendom with regard to these institutes? Is not "laying up treasure upon earth" the one thing aimed at, the one thing commended, the one thing needful and respectable on all hands? and do not the rich resent the suggestion of liberality to the poor as an impertinence, entitling them to fling the suggestor into the gutters?
These things are true. But the commandment calmly remains, and we shall have to face it one day, as Jesus says: "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge you at the last day."
We may prosper in our diligent laying by, or pleasantly enjoy ourselves inside the ring-fence we set up for our unrighteous mammon - justifying our course on the social economic theories yielded by the experience of a sinful generation; but where will both be in the day when we emerge empty-handed from the grave, to appear before Him who will "judge the living and the dead," and who will open our eyes to the fact that what we had in the day of our probation, was His? He will decide the issue on His own principles alone, and not on the principle that sinners have rendered popular among themselves.
Christendom Astray L 18.
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
This is perhaps the most comprehensive and searching of the commands, as it deals with the whole direction and motive and purpose of life.
"Treasure on earth" is ANYTHING related to the present, passing, mortal life.
The natural way is to accumulate treasure of many different kinds. This is so universally taken for granted as the wise and profitable thing to do that to question it is heresy, and to violate it is considered the height of stupidity.
Christ completely cuts the foundation out from under the whole natural pattern of life. *
22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
'...the importance of single-mindedness, as related to where our treasure in life is. The natural desire is to want treasure both in heaven AND on earth-to seek both salvation and present advantage.
Singlemindedness is the only true enlightenment and peace. We must decide whether we want heavenly things or earthly things; we cannot have both-
"A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways. Let not the man think he shall receive ANYTHING of the Lord" (James 1:7-8). *
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
"Mammon" simply means riches, wealth, present gain, worldly things. We can be of no use or desirability to God unless we are entirely devoted to HIM to the exclusion of everything else.
Everything else -- ALL natural things-must be very secondary and very unimportant to us, in order to please God. *
It is not without the profoundest reason in the nature of things, that it is written, "The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God" (James iv, 4). "NO MAN CAN SERVE TWO MASTERS.... YE CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON" (Matt. vi, 24).
The force of this reasoning increases tenfold when we contemplate the present situation in the light of its divine explanation and the divine purpose concerning it. We must seek for this explanation in the beginning of things - the beginning as Mosaically exhibited (an exhibition endorsed by Christ, and therefore to be trusted in the face of all modern theories and speculations).
This beginning shows us man in harmony with God, and things "very good." Then it shews us disobedience (the setting aside of the divine will as the rule of human action - alias, sin), and as the result of this, the divine fellowship withdrawn, and men driven off to exile and to death, permitted only, thereafter, to approach in sacrifice, in token of the final way of return. The present world is the continuance and enlargement of the evil state of man, resulting from man's alienation from God in the beginning. It is enlarged and aggravated.
...we have harmony with God at the beginning of things, and harmony with Him at the end of things, and the dark and dreadful interval of "the present evil world" between, in which God is not obeyed nor recognised, but the pleasures, gratifications, and interests of mere natural existence made the objects of universal pursuit. In this dark interval, however, the divine work goes on of separating a family from the evil, in preparation for the day of recovery and blessing. It is not easy, in view of these things, to realise the reasonableness of the divine command to His servants meanwhile, not to be conformed to an evil world, in which God is disowned, and to which they do not belong?
Now, how does Christendom look in this light? Is it not evident at a glance that this elementary axiom of the law of Christ is totally disregarded? The idea of a Christian of the ordinary type being "not of the world" is an anomaly only calculated to excite the sarcastic smile of the cynic. If the ordinary "Christian" is not "of the world," where are we to find the people that are? To call a man "a man of the world," has, in fact, become one of the highest compliments that can be paid to a man's judgement and culture: as a man at home everywhere, who sees good in everything; and nothing very wrong in anything.
In the ears of such a man, the distinctions and scrupulosities enjoined by Christ and his apostles have an antiquated sound: and worse - a sound of uncharity, of harshness, of narrow-minded and bigoted sectarianism. The earnest recognition and observance of right and wrong, as arising out of the law of Christ, are in his eyes the symptoms of an odious fanaticism, disqualifying the subject of them for society or the commonest good fellowship.
Yet "the man of the world," with his kindly unconcern about all things, is a good Christian by the popular standard. He is "of the world" essentially; and though Christ proclaimed himself as "not of the world" and commanded his disciples to accept a similar position, this man's being of the world, is held to be no drawback to his Christian standing in the eyes of Christendom. No wonder! The church is the world. What is there in and of the world that the church does not mix with? (and by "the church" we may understand the dissenting bodies as well as the State establishment).
Take the political sphere. If there is anything characteristically "of the world," it is politics, whether in the exercise or the discussion of temporal power, and its forms. It is written: "The KINGDOMS of this world are to become (at Christ's return) the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." Consequently, the kingdoms are meanwhile "of this world." In modern usage "kingdom" has become "State," because the political form of the State varies. Where is the church in relation to the State? The alliance of the church with the State is of itself a sufficient illustration of the departure of Christendom from the commandments of Christ. It is a proof that the modem church is "of this world," even if the private practice of its members were in harmony with the mind of Christ.
The common private practice of those who consider themselves "Christians," removes any doubt that the public form of things might leave. That common private practice may be summed up as an earnest discharge of all the parts and functions that belong, or could possibly belong, to citizens of the present world. There is no point, part or feature of the present evil world, in which they are not found incorporate.
...What is to be done in such a state of things by the man earnestly seeking to be the servant of Christ, and desiring to be found of him at his coming, in the attitude of a chaste and loyal bride, preparing for marriage? Common sense would supply the answer if it were not plainly given to us by God Himself:
"Come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. vi, 1718).
The questions with which Paul prefaces this quotation strike home the reasonableness of this command at a blow: "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial: or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"
The believer of the gospel has no alternative but to step aside from the world. He cannot otherwise carry out the will of Christ concerning those whom he asks for his own. What this stepping aside from the world means, there need be no difficulty in the earnest man determining for himself. Christ and the apostles have in themselves furnished an example which we are invited to imitate (1 Peter ii, 21; John xiii, 15; xv, 1820; 1 Cor. xi, 1: iv, 17).
It does not mean seclusion: for they lived an open daily public life. It does not mean isolation: for they are always seen among men. It means abstinence from the aims and principles of the world, and from the movements and enterprises in which these find expression. The activities of Christ and the apostles were all in connection with and on behalf of, the work of God among men. They never appear in connection with the enterprises of the world.
Their temporal avocations are all private. Christ was a carpenter; Paul a tent maker; but at these, both worked as the sons of God. Disciples of Christ may follow any occupation of good repute; (they are expressly prohibited from having to do with anything of an evil appearance or giving occasion of reproach to the adversary - Rom. xii. 9; 1 Thess. v, 22). But in all they do, they are to remember they are the Lord's servants, and to act as if the matter they have in hand were performed directly to him (Col. iii, 2324). Even servants are to do their part to a bad master faithfully as "to the Lord" (1 Peter, ii, 1820).
The sense in which they stand apart from the world is in the objects for which they work, and in the use to which they put the time and means which they call "their own." They are to "follow after (works of) righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. ii, 22). They are to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts," and "live soberly and righteously and godly" (Tit. ii, 12). They are not to live in pleasure (Tit. iii, 3; 1 Tim. v, 6). They are to live to give God pleasure, in which, as they grow, they will find their own highest pleasure. They are to be "holy in all manner of conversation," cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and walking as those who are the temple of God among men (1 Pet. i, 15; 2 Cor. xiii, 7; 2 Cor. vi, 16).
Guided by these apostolic principles, they will abstain from the defiling habits that are common to ungodly Christendom, amongst which smoking and drinking stand prominent. And as men waiting and preparing for the kingdom of God (whose citizenship is in heaven, and not upon the earth) they accept the position of "strangers and pilgrims" among men. They are not at home; they are passing on. They take no part with Caesar. They pay his taxes and obey his laws where they do not conflict with the laws of Christ; but they take no part in his affairs.
They do not vote; they do not ask the suffrages of his supporters; they do not aspire to Caesar's honours or emoluments; they do not bear arms. They are sojourners in Caesar's realms during the short time God may appoint for their probation; and as such, they sustain a passive and non-resisting attitude, bent only upon earning Christ's approbation at his coming, by their obedience to his commandments during his absence.
They are not of the world, even as he was not of the world; and therefore they refuse to be conformed to it. The way is narrow and full of self-denial - too much so for those who would like to perform the impossible feat of "making the best of both worlds." But the destination is so attractive, and the results of the cross-bearing so glorious, that the enlightened pilgrim deliberately chooses the journey, and resolutely endures its hardships.
Christendom Astray L 18.
31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
God wants us to be very different from the world, with our minds on very different things.
It does not mean we need not work to provide these things. Paul is the best example of what Jesus means here. Paul labored diligently to provide for necessary things, not only for himself but for others also; and he commanded that if a man refused to work, he should not be given food.;
But these daily things had no interest or importance to him except as basic necessities that had to be taken care of. And in his utter devotion to the work of God he says he was often hungry, thirsty, ill-clothed and sleepless. *
33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
"What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away?" Do we not know it? Perfectly well, no doubt. Why mention it then? Because, for one thing, we are in danger of overlooking it, and not wisely using the "little time;" and for another, that we are so liable to look at the matter wrongly, and consider ourselves the permanently-established witnesses of the developing purpose of God, instead of the passing cloudscape that we are.
We may quite fruitlessly watch "the signs of the times" in this frame of mind. We are exhorted to "watch," but the watching indicated is as much introspective as otherwise, and more so. Of what avail to any man will be the intellectual discernment of the Lord's coming, if he be not at the same time in the attitude of an obedient and patient servant? The prophet had to say to some in Israel: "Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord!" The acceptable attitude is before us in Christ's teaching and the apostles'.
Christ likened the situation to "a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch." And he added, "Watch ye, therefore, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh." The servants were to be about their master's business in his house. This being their attitude, his coming would be well for them, whenever it might occur.
On another occasion he said, "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. . . . Watch ye therefore and pray always." The same idea is conveyed in Rev. xvi. 15, "Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, " that is, walketh righteously; and of whom, like the faithful "few" in Sardis who had "not defiled their garments" the Lord will say, "They shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy."
The apostolic teaching is the same. Paul, speaking of times and seasons, says that though the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night upon the world, it will not so overtake the children of light. "We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober." And the context illustrates his meaning, which may be briefly summed up in another expression of his-"patient continuance in well-doing."
If we can attain to this we shall have watched to good effect, whether we abide to the great day of the Lord's coming, or our vapour-life have vanished before he appear on the troubled scene. Many faithful watchers have had their turn and gone to rest. The great thing is that we follow in their footsteps.
The attempts of some to fix the day and hour of the Lord's coming are not wise. Seeing that the duration of our own life is so uncertain, they would do better to concentrate attention on the "to-day" of opportunity. The concern of others as to the disposal of temporalities at the crisis of our summons to the judgment-seat is natural, but not altogether practical. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
If we seek first the kingdom of God, He will direct our temporal affairs. When Joseph sent for his brethren he said, "Regard not your stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours." When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, and James and John, on the shore of the sea of Galilee, they left their nets and boats "immediately and followed him." And, as a sister well remarks, if we are of their mind, we shall not be more tied to our surroundings than they were to theirs.
We do well, of course, to gather what information we can from the Scriptures as to the details connected with the solemn work of "our gathering together unto him," and these remarks are not intended to discourage such endeavour, but rather to emphasise the great object of our existence, for the furtherance of which the Christadelphian has for many years laboured, namely, that by the power of the Word on senses exercised by reason of use, we be developed into "a people prepared for the Lord."
The Christadelphian, April 1896. p147
34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
God doesn't have to tell us what to do until the time comes to do it. All we have to be concerned about are the problems of today. That is the big lesson we find so hard to learn. We worry about so many things that haven't happened, and never will happen. When shall we ever learn that God knows what He is doing, and we can very safely leave all the worrying to Him?
Bro Growcott - Tribulation worketh patience
We know that reasonable plans must be made, especially where other people's welfare and convenience are concerned. We find Paul planning where he will go and whom he will meet. But he manifests no concern about providing for his own future support or welfare. The basic principles are clear, and the more firmly we lay hold of them, the closer we are to life-
The future is entirely in God's hands.
He has guaranteed to take care of His children.
Today alone is our concern.
We must, today, use what He has given us in His work, having faith in Him to provide for the future. He guarantees care in the future ONLY if we properly use today. *
* Bro Growcott - Be Ye Therefore Perfect