For nine years Tim Keller pastored a church in Hopewell, Virginia, before heading to New York City and founding Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In his book, Generous Justice, Keller writes:
“There are many great differences between the small southern town of Hopewell, Virginia, and the giant metropolis of New York. But there was one thing that was exactly the same. To my surprise, there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor. In both settings, as I preached the classic message that God does not give us justice, but saves us by free grace, I discovered that those most affected by the message became the most sensitive to the social iniquities around them. One man…Easley Shelton, went through a profound transformation. He moved out of a sterile, moralistic understanding of life and began to understand his salvation was based on the free, unmerited grace of Jesus. It gave him a new warmth, joy, and confidence that everyone could see. But it had another surprising effect. ‘You know’, he said, ‘I’ve been a racist all my life.’ I was startled, because I hadn’t yet preached to him or the congregation on that subject. He had put it together for himself. When he lost his Phariseeism, his spiritual self-righteousness, he said he lost his racism.”
Now Shelton’s transformation could be measured along racial lines. Through the power of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit convinced him that he had a view of the world that pigeon-holed people and their abilities based upon their race. But that’s only one illustration of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to change one’s perception of the world. At the beginning of Matthew 6, Jesus utters a critical command. Unlike the other commands we’ve already considered, this one is more subtle and thus, more easily overlooked. What Jesus commands here is less a “what” than a “how”. Look at verse 1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…” You see, what He assumes is that we will be practicing our righteousness. He assumes that we will live lives that reflect His perspective and not our own. And what He’s saying is that there is a way to practice your righteousness and a way not to.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, “Your Need for the Needy”, you may wish to consider the following:
- What does “practice your righteousness” mean?
- What alternative translations can you find for the word “righteousness” in verse 1?
- What practices is Jesus referring to?
- What priority did Jesus put on giving to the needy?
- How is Jesus the fulfillment of Psalm 146:5-10?
- Why is Jesus concerned about our motive in practicing righteousness?
- What’s the greatest danger in not giving to the needy? What’s the greatest danger in giving to them?
- The Jews used to say, “Giving to the needy delivers the soul from death and purges it from sin.” Do you agree?
- From whom should we hide our giving?
- What does Jesus mean when He says, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you?”