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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2001-08-12

Text: Matthew 6:1-4; 10:16, 26:11

For the past 5 Sundays we have been having messages on the theme 'Ministries of Mercy.' I trust that by now we have a better understanding about what Mercy is all about. You know, many people tend to think of mercy only in terms of showing kindness to those who do not deserve kindness, such as when a judge commutes a sentence of a criminal because of certain mitigating factors, or when a kind king or president grants amnesty to someone on death row. That is what mercy is, to many people. But that is not the only meaning of mercy. In the Bible, the word 'mercy' and 'merciful' means showing pity to those who are in need or in distress. This involves three things:

i. The perception of a need - We must really see it.

ii. A compassion for those in need - We must really feel it.

iii. A reaction to meet the need - We must do something about it.

Mercy isn't mercy until all three of these things are involved: perception, compassion and reaction. One good example of this was the parable of the Good Samaritan which Rev Wong expounded several Sundays ago. A man on his way to the city of Jericho was attacked by robbers and left to die. Two people passed by but did not stop to help - They both perceived the need, but there was no compassion or reaction at all from them. It was only the Samaritan who perceived the need, who had compassion on him, and then reacted by going to him, binding up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, setting him on his own beast, and bringing him to an inn to take care of him.

As we go through life, we are bound to meet many people around us with needs. As Christians, we must be able to do the same three things that the Samaritan did: perceive the needs, have compassion and then react, by doing something to help them, wherever we can. This is what mercy ministry is all about. But as we do this, there are some important guiding principles we must know on how we should go about showing mercy to others. For even acts of mercy can be done in the wrong manner. Let us look at our text: 

'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. 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. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and the father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.'

The kind of mercy ministry that is mentioned in this passage is Almsgiving. What is almsgiving? The usual picture of almsgiving people have is that showing kindness to a poor person begging for money in the streets. But that is not all that almsgiving is. One definition, given in Pooles' commentary is: 'Alms are any acts of kindness freely done by us for the relief of any that are in distress and misery.' By this definition alms is not only for beggars but for anyone in distress or misery, e.g. the sick and the discouraged. And alms need not always be in the form of money. Sometimes alms can take the form of our time or effort to help someone in distress, e.g. visiting, tending to wounds, and encouraging. Hence almsgiving is synonymous to mercy ministry. 

In our passage, we see that Jesus assumes that His disciples will give alms: Look at v.2 again and observe that He said When you give to the needy, and not If you give to the needy. The Bible tells us further that believers who are blessed materially by God are particularly held responsible to minister to those who are in need: 1 Timothy 6:18 - '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.'

But while giving to help the needy is good, there are some guidelines that Jesus wanted His disciples to observe in the way they gave. The first is that they should: 

I. Do It Without Hypocrisy

We see this warning in v.2 'Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets.' After this, Christ went on to speak about prayer (vv.5-15) and he gave a similar warning (v.5) 'when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are'. And hypocrites are mentioned again in vv.16-18 when Christ spoke about fasting (v.16) 'Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance'. In all three of these sections Jesus said that we should not do these things the way that hypocrites do them. And what is a hypocrite? 

A hypocrite is a person who pretends to be what he is not. Hypocrisy is a sin because it is the same as telling a lie, and deceiving others. When a wicked person pretends to be good it is not merely that God rejects such falsehood. God hates hypocrisy so intensely that the whatever he does - whether praying or fasting or showing mercy - becomes an abomination to God (Proverbs 15:8 - 'The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. . .'). 

In every church there are some who come and who seem to be very sincere, devoted to the Lord for a time, but it is revealed later on that they had unworthy motives -- to win the praise of men. They like to be in the forefront. And if you were to talk with them, you may find that they take great delight in listing out all the good things they have done for the Lord. But once they no longer receive any praise for all that they do, they may leave and go somewhere else where they can have their egos uplifted again. Dearly beloved, let us be careful not to be like that. Religious hypocrisy is utterly hateful in God's eyes, and that should make us tremble to be found guilty of it. Every time we are involved in doing anything even in works of mercy, we should ask, 'Who am I doing this for? Is it for God or for myself?' 

It is not right just to show mercy, but to have the right motives for showing it. If we have a mercy ministry and do it well because we are eager to gain the applause of men, then we are using that mercy ministry for our own selfish gains. Look at 6:1 again where Jesus said, 'Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them' Your mercy ministry is not meant to be seen by people around you. It should not be carried out in the limelight, to be the center of everyone�s attention. It should be done quietly - and this is the second guideline we need to observe in any mercy ministry: 

II. Do it Quietly

Let us look at V.4 - 'when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.' Our Lord uses a very interesting expression, 'Not even your left hand should know whatever good your right hand is doing.' Of course this is not intended to be taken literally, but it highlights and emphasizes the fact that we should do whatever good things we do quietly, and also be quiet about what we have done. We should not seek for attention. The Lord takes delight in those who work in the background, those whose efforts often go unnoticed. 

Now someone may say, 'Did Jesus not say in Matt 5:14-16 that we are to let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good deeds? Isn't there a conflict between these two passages?' No there is no conflict at all, because these two passages are not talking about the same thing. In Matthew 5 the motive is to bring praise to the Heavenly Father by the good character and testimony of our lives before the world we live in. Righteous conduct under normal conditions should be visible so that God may be glorified. We should not hide the fact that we are Christians in our place of work or neighbourhood.

But righteous conduct must never be made visible just for the sake of winning man's acclaim for ourselves. It must never become a show that we perform when we know that people are watching and then revert to behaving our normal selves when they are not watching. And if we find that we have the tendency in our hearts to worry about what others may think about us whenever we do anything, then all the more we should seek to do things quietly, in secret, not telling any one, and learn to be satisfied that God alone has seen what we have done. Always remember: It is far better to be praised by God than by men. 

The phrase in v.2 'sounding a trumpet before thee' reminds us of the way that business corporations or societies today give huge donations to charity and make an ostentatious show of it -- presentation of a 2-metre long check with pictures published in all newspapers. Their real purpose is to gain more business by putting up a good public image. This past week we read in the news of one local bank that gave $1 million to charity for the sake of preserving its reputation. Even the Turf Club tries to improve its unsavoury image as a place associated with 'gambling' by giving large donations to charity. 

Sometimes we see such ostentatious giving in church too: when the offering bags are passed and some people make a deliberate show of how much money they are putting in. We should never let others know how much we are giving to the Lord. Some people perhaps give a large amount to the Lord but put the money in an envelope with their name spelled out on it in bold capital letters before putting it in the offering bag, probably expecting to be noticed by the one who handles the offerings. 

Dearly beloved, the best way to give is anonymously -- without any expectation of acknowledgment or gratitude at all. This is why we use offering bags instead of offering plates, and everyone puts in his own amount, unknown to others. 

We who are disciples of Christ must ourselves be so given to God, that our giving is prompted by obeying God and having compassion on men. Then our Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward us (v.4). Actually, true giving desires nothing in return - even the rewards in heaven should not be in view, and if these come, they are regarded as an unexpected bonus from the Lord. 

From this passage we have already seen two guidelines that will help us to manage our mercy ministry: We ought to do it without hypocrisy and do it quietly. Now there are other guidelines that can help us to manage our mercy ministry:

III. Do it Wisely

In Matthew 10:16, when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to minister to the needs of people, He gave them this warning: 'Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.' In this evil day and age when we want to help or give to others, out of goodwill, we should be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves, because there are some who are ready to take advantage of people who are generous and use them as 'milking cows' to gain a comfortable life for themselves. 

When my wife and I were in the Philippines we were constantly warned by all our Christian friends and co-workers there not to give alms to beggars because most of them actually work for big syndicates who take the earnings they gain from soliciting alms and provide them with a place to stay and some food. One of our fellow missionaries once tested this to see if it was true. Instead of offering the beggars money, she offered them bags of cooked rice, and they rejected it.

And so we have seen that in showing mercy to others, we must be careful and wise. Let us consider another useful guideline: 

IV. Do It Not at the Expense of Our Main Task

In Matthew 26:1-13, there was an event in the life of Christ when a woman anointed Him with very precious ointment. When the disciples saw all that expensive ointment lavished on their master they thought it was a great waste and that the money that the ointment could be sold for, should be have been used to help the poor. To them, the woman had done the wrong thing. But Jesus praised the woman for this costly expense on Him. Listen to what He said, 'For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.' 

From this event we learn to be careful not to put any mercy ministry or relief work above everything else that we ought to do for the Lord. We must be careful to consider: How much of the ministry of God's people should relief work take up? There are some Christian organizations that are concerned with nothing else but relief work, like World Vision. Here in Singapore The Salvation Army is the most prominent Christian body involved in relief work, soliciting funds from the public. In the 30s there was in fact a movement started by Liberal churches that wanted to make relief work the main ministry of the church. This became known as the Social Gospel. 

But let us remember that according to the Scriptures, the mandate of God's people is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe whatever God has commanded us (Matthew 28:18-20). Relief work is needful, but it must always take second place to the church's main task of evangelism and missions. Besides, there is a less acute need in our present time for the church to have such an extensive ministry to the needy in society because there are now so many institutions available for them, as well as measures like social welfare (which is financed by taxes), CPF, medisave, and insurance. 

Begging on the streets of Singapore is now prohibited by law, because the needs of the poor are taken care of. Strangers, widows, and orphans are not as desolate and helpless as they were before. There are now laws to protect them from unscrupulous men. But in the days of the Old and New Testaments, these institutions and measures did not exist. It was extremely difficult to be a widow, orphan or a stranger -- they had no rights, no protection. E.g. the book of Ruth. Hence the Church in those days had to take the lead in ministries of mercy and relief to the needy. 

Since the church is freed today from taking the lead in this needful work, it should rather concentrate its efforts more on spiritual ministry. I think that there is still a place for a social ministry -- provided it is seen as a means to reach out with the Gospel, and not an end in itself. We have regular medical mission trips to Batam, and also a medical missionary in Kenya (Pui Meng). One missionary who has been to Africa told me that medical missions has been more successful in bringing Muslims to Christ than any other method of outreach. 

Our Before and After School Care ministry at 3 primary schools in Yishun meets a real need: It ministers to �latch-key kids�, whose parents are both working, and so they have no supervision when they come home from school. This ministry has not only kept many children under supervision and off the streets, it has also brought many of these children to the saving knowledge of Christ! 

And there is perhaps a need for mercy ministries in our church to other kinds of needs like this: A ministry to those whose marriage is breaking up, a ministry to children from broken homes, to the unemployed, to the elderly who have no one to care for them, and to those who are having a difficult time in NS. There are many people who come to church each Sunday with hearts that are crying out to be ministered to. And they have special needs. 

Let us all be sensitive to God's leading, concerning areas of ministry where we can be used by Him to bring comfort, help and relief to those who are in distress. And when we do these things, let us nor forget to manage the ministry according to these guidelines so that all our mercy ministries will always be pleasing unto God and honouring His name.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25