Take heed that ye do not your alms - The word “alms” here denotes liberality to the poor and needy. In the margin, as in the best editions of the Greek it is “righteousness;” either referring to almsgiving as eminently a righteous act, or more probably including all that is specified in this and the following verses - almsgiving, prayer, fasting, Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; Luke 19:8.
Before men - Our Lord does not require us never to give alms before people, but only forbids our doing it “to be seen of them,” for the purposes of ostentation and to seek their praise. To a person who is disposed to do good from a right motive, it matters little whether it be in public or in private. The only thing that renders it even desirable that our good deeds should be seen is that God may be glorified. See Matthew 5:16.
Otherwise - If your only motive for doing it is to be seen by people, God will not reward you. Take heed, therefore, that you do not do it to be seen, “otherwise” God will not reward you.
That ye do not your alms - Δικαιοσυνην υμων μη ποιειν, perform not your acts of righteousness - such as alms-giving, fasting, and prayer, mentioned immediately after. Instead of δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, or acts of righteousness, the reading in the text, that which has been commonly received is ελεημοσυνην, alms. But the first reading has been inserted in several editions, and is supported by the Codd. Vatican and Bezae, some others, and several versions, all the Itala except one, and the Vulgate. The Latin fathers have justitiam, a word of the same meaning. Mr. Gregory has amply proved, צדקה tsidekeh, righteousness, was a common word for alms among the Jews. Works, 4th. p. 58, 1671. R. D. Kimchi says that צדקה tsidekeh, Isaiah 59:14, means alms-giving; and the phrase צדקה נתן natan tsidekah, is used by the Jews to signify the giving of alms. The following passages from Dr. Lightfoot show that it was thus commonly used among the Jewish writers: -
"It is questioned," says he, "whether Matthew wrote Ελεημοσυνην, alms, or Δικαιοσυνην, righteousness. I answer: -
"I. That, our Savior certainly said צדקה tsidekah, righteousness, (or, in Syriac זדקתא zidkatha ), I make no doubt at all; but, that that word could not be otherwise understood by the common people than of alms, there is as little doubt to be made. For although the word צדקה tsidekah, according to the idiom of the Old Testament, signifies nothing else than righteousness; yet now, when our Savior spoke these words, it signified nothing so much as alms.
"II. Christ used also the same word זדקתא zidkatha, righteousness, in time three verses next following, and Matthew used the word ελεημοσυνην, alms; but by what right, I beseech you, should he call it δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, in the first verse, and ελεημοσυνην, alms, in the following; when Christ every where used one and the same word? Matthew might not change in Greek, where our Savior had not changed in Syriac: therefore we must say that the Lord Jesus used the word צדקה tsidekeh or זדקתא zidkatha, in these four first verses; but that, speaking in the dialect of common people, he was understood by the common people to speak of alms. Now they called alms by the name of righteousness, for the fathers of the traditions taught, and the common people believed, that alms contributed very much to justification. Hear the Jewish chair in this matter -
For one farthing given to a poor man in alms, a man is made partaker of the beatific vision: where it renders these words, Psalm 17:15, I shall behold thy face in righteousness, after this manner, I shall behold thy face, Because Of Alms. Bava. Bathra.
"This money goeth for alms, that my sons may live, and that I may obtain the world to come. Bab. Rosh. Hashshanah.
"A man's table now expiates by alms, as heretofore the altar did by sacrifice. Beracoth.
"If you afford alms out of your purse, God will keep you from all damage and harm. Hieros. Peah.
"Monobazes the king bestowed his goods liberally upon the poor, and had these words spoken to him by his kinsmen and friends -
'Your ancestors increased both their own riches, and those that were left them by their fathers; but you waste both your own and those of your ancestors.'
To whom he answered -
'My fathers laid up their wealth on earth: I lay up mine in heaven. As it is written, Truth shall flourish out of the earth, but Righteousness shall look down from heaven. My fathers laid up treasures that bear no fruit; but I lay up such as bear fruit. As it is said, It shall be well with the just, for they shall eat the fruit of their own works. My fathers treasured up, when power was in their hands; but I where it is not.
As it is said, Justice and judgment is the habitation of his throne. My fathers heaped up for others; I for myself. As it is said, And this shall be to thee for righteousness. They scraped together for this world. I for the world to come. As it is said, Righteousness shall deliver from death.' Ibid.
These things are also recited in the Babylonian Talmud.
"You see plainly in what sense he understands righteousness, namely, in the sense of alms: and that sense not so much framed in his own imagination, as in that of the whole nation, and which the royal catachumen had imbibed from the Pharisees his teachers.
"Behold the justifying and saving virtue of alms, from the very work done according to the doctrine of the Pharisaical chair! And hence, the opinion of this efficacy of alms so far prevailed with the deceived people, that they pointed out alms by no other name (confined within one single word) than צדקה tsidekah, righteousness. Perhaps those words of our Savior are spoken in derision of this doctrine. Yea, give those things which ye have in alms, and behold all things shall be clean to you, Luke 11:41. With good reason indeed exhorting them to give alms; but yet withal striking at the covetousness of the Pharisees, and confuting their vain opinion of being clean by the washing of their hands, from their own opinion of the efficacy of alms. As if he had said, "Ye assert that alms justifies and saves, and therefore ye call it by the name of righteousness; why therefore do ye affect cleanliness by the washing of hands; and not rather by the performance of charity?" Lightfoot's Works, vol. ii. p. 153.
Before men - Our Lord does not forbid public alms-giving, fasting, and prayer, but simply censures those vain and hypocritical persons who do these things publicly that they may be seen of men, and receive from them the reputation of saints, etc.
There is true honor among those who have the love of God in their hearts. Our object in working for the Master should be that His name may be glorified in the conversion of sinners. Those who labor to gain applause are not approved by God. The Lord expects His servants to work from a different motive. TDG 227.3Read in context »
The words of Christ on the mount were an expression of that which had been the unspoken teaching of His life, but which the people had failed to comprehend. They could not understand how, having such great power, He neglected to use it in securing what they regarded as the chief good. Their spirit and motives and methods were the opposite of His. While they claimed to be very jealous for the honor of the law, self-glory was the real object which they sought; and Christ would make it manifest to them that the lover of self is a transgressor of the law. MB 79.1Read in context »
Jesus had shown in what righteousness consists, and had pointed to God as its source. Now He turned to practical duties. In almsgiving, in prayer, in fasting, He said, let nothing be done to attract attention or win praise to self. Give in sincerity, for the benefit of the suffering poor. In prayer, let the soul commune with God. In fasting, go not with the head bowed down, and heart filled with thoughts of self. The heart of the Pharisee is a barren and profitless soil, in which no seeds of divine life can flourish. It is he who yields himself most unreservedly to God that will render Him the most acceptable service. For through fellowship with God men become workers together with Him in presenting His character in humanity. DA 312.1
The service rendered in sincerity of heart has great recompense. “Thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.” By the life we live through the grace of Christ the character is formed. The original loveliness begins to be restored to the soul. The attributes of the character of Christ are imparted, and the image of the Divine begins to shine forth. The faces of men and women who walk and work with God express the peace of heaven. They are surrounded with the atmosphere of heaven. For these souls the kingdom of God has begun. They have Christ's joy, the joy of being a blessing to humanity. They have the honor of being accepted for the Master's use; they are trusted to do His work in His name. DA 312.2
“No man can serve two masters.” We cannot serve God with a divided heart. Bible religion is not one influence among many others; its influence is to be supreme, pervading and controlling every other. It is not to be like a dash of color brushed here and there upon the canvas, but it is to pervade the whole life, as if the canvas were dipped into the color, until every thread of the fabric were dyed a deep, unfading hue. DA 312.3Read in context »
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them.” Some think this text teaches that they must be secret in their works of charity. And they do but very little, excusing themselves, because they do not know just how to give. But Jesus explained it to his disciples as follows: “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.” They gave to be regarded noble and generous by men. They received praise of men, and Jesus taught his disciples that it was all the reward they would have. With many, the left hand does not know what the right hand does, for the right hand does nothing worthy of the notice of the left hand. This lesson of Jesus to his disciples was to rebuke those who wished to receive glory of men. They performed their alms-giving upon some very public gathering; and before doing this, a public proclamation was made of their generosity before the people, and many gave large sums merely to have their names exalted by men. And the means given in this manner was often extorted from others by oppressing the hireling in his wages, and grinding the face of the poor. 2SG 234.1
Then I was shown that this scripture does not apply to those who have the cause of God at heart, and use their means humbly to advance it. I was directed to these texts: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I was shown that scripture testimony will harmonize, when it is rightly understood. The good works of the children of God are the most effectual preaching the unbeliever has. He thinks there must be strong motives that actuate the christian to deny self, and with his possessions, try to save his fellow man. It is unlike the spirit of the world. Such fruits testify that they are genuine Christians. They seem to be constantly reaching upward to a treasure that is imperishable. 2SG 234.2
In every gift and offering there should be a suitable object before the giver—not to uphold any in idleness—not to be seen of men or to get a great name—but to glorify God by advancing his cause. Some make large donations to the cause of God, but their brother who is poor may be suffering close by them, and they do nothing to relieve him. Little acts of kindness imparted to their brother in a secret manner would bind their hearts together, and would be noticed in heaven. I saw that the rich should make a difference in their prices and their wages to the afflicted and widows, and the worthy poor among them. But I saw it was too often the case that the poor were taken advantage of, and the rich reap the advantage, if there is any to be gained, and the last penny is exacted for every favor. It is all written in heaven. “I know thy works.” 2SG 235.1Read in context »