Dear disciples giving, praying, and fasting,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).
How does one lay up treasures in heaven? It would be a great mistake to think that by giving, praying, and fasting, we are going to earn for ourselves some banked nest egg in the vaults of heaven. That cannot be Jesus’ meaning in these verses warning us not to do our pious acts before others in order to be seen by them. It is not quite as simple as exchanging one sort of payoff for another, even if it be greater. For how is hypocrisy cast aside if we do not give in order to be rewarded by men, but give in order to be rewarded by God? In both cases we would be giving in order to get, not giving out of mercy, love, and compassion. Do you see what I mean?
How would it be any more correct to give to the poor only in order to get something from God? Where is the concern for the needy? Where is the love that would supply the neighbour’s needs of body and soul? Why would God want to reward someone for the selfish act done only in order to get something for Himself? It doesn’t make any sense.
Indeed, Jesus says, “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (6:3-4), secret not only from other men, but secret even from yourself? How is that possible? He is talking about two different hands, or rather, two different thought processes that go along with two things that your hands do—giving and receiving. Do not let your thoughts about what you will receive intrude upon your thoughts about you want to give.
Easier said than done? Yes, for sinful wretches like us. We are always wanting to know what we will get out of it. Will there be a dedication plaque attached, or a note in the bulletin, or a tax receipt? Will it go towards something that will be noticeable, or get lost in the black hole of funding the current expenses? What is the limit for the charitable tax credits that I will need this year?
We want the same answers from God. Will I have a shinier crown of glory for doing this? Will this be listed among the deeds of righteousness at the judgment, like feeding, welcoming, clothing, visiting the least of these My brothers (Matthew 25:35-36)? Will it be pious enough for God to notice or is it just some ordinary kind of work that I am called to do every day? Have I kept it secret so that no one knows in order to guarantee that I get full heavenly points for it? Do I need to give a little more so that God blesses me and my situation improves?
All of these thoughts are focused on what we can get out of giving, either on earth or in heaven. And which is the more grievous to our heavenly Father’s heart: that you would only show charity in order to get something from men; or that you would only show charity in order to get something out of Him? It grieves Him that your love is not pure in either case, that it is centred on yourself, and has no real foundation in mercy at all. This is the depravity of our sinful condition, that even when we would do good, we want to be sure that good comes back to us.
“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where does God want your heart to be? In heaven, yes, but on what aspect of heaven? I find that when someone dies we rightly find comfort in the fact that they are now in heaven, but we often neglect the most important aspect of being in heaven, what in fact makes heaven such a blessed place. We will say that “Their struggle is over” or “He’s not in pain anymore” or “She’s together with her husband again.” All of that may be true and these are the blessed comforts that await those who die in the Christian faith, but there is something else, something even greater, something without which none of these blessings would be. What is it? “They are with the Lord.”
The Lord is our treasure in heaven. That is what Jesus was saying over and over again. It is all about our relationship with our heavenly Father. The initial warning is “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1). The reward is not named, but the giver of the reward is. It is all about your heavenly Father, the Giver of every good gift.
This, Jesus repeats again and again. “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:4, 6, 18). Don’t do it for a reward of any kind, either on earth or in heaven. You don’t have to bribe, or coerce, or manipulate, or trade, or barter, or earn anything with God, for He is your Father. He gives and gives and gives. And what He gives to you here on earth pales in comparison with what He gives to you for eternity. Most of all, with every gift, He gives you Himself. He rewards you because He is your Father, not because you have done something extra special, over and above the call, or incredibly pious in any unique way.
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you, but not because you give or pray or fast. He will reward you because He is your Father and He will reward you as a Father rewards their child. We can expect the reward from our heavenly Father, not because we earn it, but because we know His love. We know that He who in giving to us spared not His own Son, will so graciously give us all things (Romans 8:32). All of His rewards are rewards of grace, undeserved, unearned, only given out of love.
When God our Father is our treasure, our hearts are in heaven with Him. We are no longer concerned with what will get out of our charity, for we know that we have the giver of all good things as our loving heavenly Father. He gave His Son to rescue us from our self-centred piety. Jesus gave His divine life. He gave His holy, precious blood. He gave and gave and took only our sins, our punishment, our condemnation, our death. The gift of Jesus from our heavenly Father has saved us from our pious bartering, and made us the recipients of rewards we could never earn.
Only as we treasure our heavenly Father in our hearts does our charity become as spontaneous as a child’s laughter. Only assured of His freely gracious giving do our prayers become the intimate interchange between Father and child. Only with faith in His providence can we fast without theatric display. Your heavenly sees in secret and You know that He is gracious.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.