Reflections on the New Testament: Matthew
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from you Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly,” Matt. 6:1-4, NKJV.
Why does the Lord urge us to such secrecy in this regard? In essence, because the righteousness of the children of God is not attained by works, but by the grace of God. The children of God must understand this and be humbled before God and man as mere servants—from this understanding shall inevitably come the good works the Lord desires. Not a vain attempt to prove to God or man a worthiness that does not exist, but a genuine, humble desire “not to be served, but to serve.” Such a desire does not seek recognition. Nevertheless, to those who thus serve secretly, the Lord promises open reward. That this reward is to be material is doubtful, and that it refers to our eternal reward is impossible, since that is not attained by works. Rather, it is likely that this reward refers to a refinement of character, a more marked visibility of the Holy Spirit within you, which is at once more spiritually attractive and more spiritually fruitful than any showy charity. In this way, the unbeliever is struck not by the Christian’s open display of good works, which can be easily imitated and is insufficient for salvation, but by the mark of character and unfeigned faith of a humble servant of God. Indeed, what reward could be sweeter than to see the eternal destinies of loved ones secured by the power of the Holy Spirit?
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly,” Matt. 6:5-6, NKJV.
Similarly, to the humble believer, prayer is not a vain show of superiority to be performed before men, but an intimate, sacred communion with God to be performed appropriately in a secret place. The open reward spoken of here could well be the fruition of the believer’s prayer, but more likely, it is the shining countenance characteristic of one who has communed with God.
“When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them,’” Matt. 8:1-4, NKJV.
To begin with, note the humility and sincerity of the leper’s faith! “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” He is confident in the Lord’s cleansing power, but acknowledges his own inferiority and complete dependence on the Lord’s will. Overall, his statement has the air of “Who am I, that Thou art mindful of me?” which ought to be present in the supplications of every Christian.
In a different vein, note Jesus’s final statement: “…Go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” Why does the Lord thus deem it necessary for the cleanse leper to undergo this formality? What is this “testimony” He speaks of? In delivering this commandment, Jesus presents the Law of Moses as it was intended by God to be interpreted: a mere picture of the cleansing that has already taken place, the sacrifice that has already been made, and the gift that has already been given. The law cannot cleanse, but can only condemn, for it is merely external. The priest, upon examining a leper, pronounces him either clean or unclean according to what God has already determined. If the leper is cleansed, it is of God, not of the Law. If, indeed, a leper is found to be healed, the priest then guides him through a sort of cleansing ritual as an external show of the internal work God has already done (Lev.14:2-9). The Law itself has no true power. In the case at hand, Jesus, having heard the leper’s humble but deeply sincere request, cleanses him with a word. The writer then expressly states: “Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Jesus then commands that he show himself to the priest and undergo the usual formalities by no mean as a necessity, but as a testimony.
“He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But He said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn,’” Matt. 13:28-30, NKJV.
Before the harvest is ripe, it is difficult to distinguish between the tares and the wheat, therefore it is necessary to allow them to fully mature, that the reapers may know where each must go. While even at the beginning, the wheat is wheat and the tares are tares, a certain growth and inner work is necessary to visibly distinguish them as such. In similar fashion, we, as Christians, were set apart as children of God before the foundations of the earth, but were not distinguished as such until the Holy Spirit moved within us. Before this movement, we are indistinguishable from the world to all but God, and should the reapers come at that unfortunate moment, we would surely be uprooted with the tares. Rather, the movement of the Holy Spirit matures us as children of God, that when harvest time comes, we may be gathered to Him.“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn,’” Matt. 13:30.