Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, August 20, 2023

Message: The Radical Nature of Our Rest (Pt. 1) | Scripture: Matthew 6:1-9, 16-18 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

The Radical Nature of Our Rest (Pt. 1) | Matthew 6:1-9, 16-18 | August 20, 2023

Worship Songs: Come, People of the Risen King | Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor | I Will Trust My Saviour Jesus

Full Manuscript


If able, please stand as I read to you from Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18.  TWoL: “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.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right had is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

All of what I’m going to say this morning isn’t only inspired from this text but also from a quote made by John Piper, which he gave in the context of honouring and memorializing his late friend, Timothy Keller.  In his brief monologue, he reminisces about the last few emails that they exchanged between one another, and above all that was said, John Piper realized that Timothy Keller’s message—not only in these emails but throughout his life—could be summarized succinctly into one statement, and he put it into words like this: we are called, as Christians, to be more thrilled in our salvation than in our success. 

And I couldn’t help, in hearing this statement, to ask myself if this was true of my own life.  Is my salvation my greatest thrill?  Is the work that God’s done in my life my highest pleasure, or is it the merit and the things that I have done for my own boast that delight me?  Do I claim to love God with my mouth, but with my heart, hypocritically and exhaustingly, seek to honour and glorify myself? 

And what our text desires to enforce and awaken us to this morning is to stop the hypocrisy—stop the exhausting effort of trying to be thrilled in your status and success, and instead, find rest in God’s pleasure for you.  Make God your pleasure and leave the rest—leave the need to be successful or to have the wages you think you deserve—leave that all to God.  Make him your highest priority because only those who do will be counted as citizens in heaven. 

That is our message for today, and Jesus intends to impart his wisdom of calling us to integrity and making God our priority in three areas of life: in our charity, in our praying, and in our fasting, and we’ll look at these in the order that he gives us, so, then, let’s examine our first point: make God your priority …

1) In Your Charity Forsaking Man’s Vanity

Now for those of you who have read the Sermon on the Mount before, you’ll probably recognize that a shift takes place here in chapter 6.  Chapter 5, from verses 17 until 48, tells us that Christ comes to fulfill the law—that is, he comes to tell us the proper way to read it and to see that we all fall short of it.  In the six antitheses—the six examples—that he gives us, he describes to us what greater righteousness, the kind that is exhibited from the true citizens of heaven, looks like. 

All of us thought we were following those laws prior to Jesus.  All of us thought we were good people—deserving of something like heaven.  But in just six examples, he shows us in every area of our life, from our relationships with people whom we care about the most, to how we spend our time when we think we’re alone, to how we throw people aside who we want nothing to do with, there is nothing, naturally good about us.  Our hearts are saturated with the same evil tendencies, thoughts, and attitudes as murderers, adulterers, divorcers, liars, vigilantes, and, as we learned last week, any other person in the world. 

In those lessons, we learn that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, and it needs a physician who will come, see its deadness, and not only remove its decaying mass, but lay himself down as our sacrifice, so that we might receive his good, righteous heart and be borne anew.  And it is those who have his new, righteous heart that are able to do what is righteous in God’s eyes because not only is their conduct pure, but their motivations and reasons for that conduct are also pure. 

So, in those verses (5:17-48), we’re told what greater righteousness looks like, but now, in chapter 6, Jesus wants to flesh out the definition and tell us what righteousness does not look like.  He wants to get really specific now because we have these six examples—we have the proof that the whole law points us to himself as its perfect interpreter and representation, but here he doesn’t want to just show us what greater righteousness looks like, he wants to provide us with the test so that we know whether or not we have it.

And that test is given to us in the first verse: pay cautious attention to—examine your heart to see if what you do is for the sight and praise of man, or if it’s for God—the one whom you call your Father—in heaven.  Restated differently, the question is, who is it that has your attention and affection?  Who is it that you believe is worthy of your worship?  Because your glory—your praiseworthiness—your joy and reward will only ever come from that source, and you better make sure that that source is, in fact, worthy—that it can, in fact, give you sufficient reason in and of itself to rest on it, to be saved by it, to depend upon it in a way that satisfies you and is not, itself, dependent upon you to satisfy it. 

See, there’s a difference, and Christ wants to show us that difference beginning with charity.  What is your motivation for your giving, your deeds of compassion, your goodwill to meet a need—whether that’s here at church, to those on the street, or wherever?  Is it to get something?  Think of it this way.  For those of you who are working (and for those of you who used to work), what is normally your answer when I ask, “do you love your job?”  There may be some of you who might say, honestly, “yes.”  But I imagine there are some of you who would answer, also honestly, “it pays the bills,” or “I work to make money so that I can do the things that I actually want to do.” 

This is precisely what and who Jesus is targeting: people who do things that are good not because they’re good to do them but because by doing them, they earn the right to claim something back.  In our modern language, we call this a wage or a salary, and that’s the actual word that Matthew uses here in verse 2, “those that give hypocritically, they have received their wage.”

And I want to be clear that we know the difference between Matthew 6:2 as translated in our ESV and NASB Bibles as “reward,” and how it differs from the word “reward” in Matthew 6:4 because they’re different words.  Again, the word in Matthew 6:2, 5, and 16 is equivalent to our word for wage, which is utterly important because it explains for us why these Pharisees and Sadducees, those who are referred to as hypocrites—it explains for us why they are, in fact, hypocrites, and it’s because their charity, their praying, their fasting comes with strings attached.  There is an expectation in their hearts that they be praised by others. 

Now, while it is very likely that these Pharisees and scribes were giving sacrificially—likely more than all of their neighbours, and while such deeds of generosity should be admired and copied by those who bear witness to these things, Jesus asks the pointed question, “why does it matter to you if, in your giving, you’re seen and admired?”  “Why does it matter to you if people know about your generosity?”  “Can they do anything for you that God cannot do in greater, infinite measure?” 

The only thing that should matter is that God sees you, and that your heart is oriented towards him, but not only because of what he can do in response, which is far more than anything you or anyone else can do, but also because your giving isn’t meant to pay you back.  It’s not meant to be the service that earns your wage.  Rather, it’s meant to reflect and honour the fact that what you have belongs to God in the first place, and what you give to others is reflective of his grace in your life—a grace that is entirely immeasurable—a grace that exists and has been especially tailored by your Father for you and not the world.  And so should you grace to others be. 

When you give, give because it is a response and a desire of yours to please your Father who has done and will do exceedingly more for you than anyone else.  This response is greater righteousness.  It is being more thrilled that he sees and knows you than that you’re seen and known by others.  It is making him your deepest, highest, and truest pleasure as you give, sacrificially for the sake of those in need, while leaving the rest of your life—the concerns and unknowns of your standing and status in the world—to him.  And if I can move forward, nearly the same thing can be said in our second point of praying: make God your pleasure …

2) In Your Prostration Forsaking Man’s Veneration

Just like with your charitable giving, you are not to be like the Pharisees and Sadducees who pray not to have the attention of God’s ear, but so that men might hear them.  I’m assuming that all of us who have read through Scripture are thinking of Christ’s parable in Luke 18 of the Pharisee and the tax-collector.  In one corner, you have the Pharisee praying to heaven, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”  But the tax collector, standing over in the corner, too distraught in his own sin to look at heaven, he beats his breast, as all eyes are on the Pharisee, and says, in secret, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 

Now, which of these two are counted as justified in God’s sight—the same word we use for righteous—which is righteous?  Jesus says, it’s the tax collector, not the pharisee.  Why?  It’s not only because he knows he’s a sinner, but because of the nature in which he makes this confession.  It’s that he does it in secret—away in his own corner; humble and contrite.  And I’ve often wondered why Matthew gives so much emphasis to this doing righteousness and being pious in secret?  Does God hear our confessions when we make them publicly? 

Of course, the answer is yes—God still hears our confessions in public.  He hears when we confess our sins one to another.  He sees the heart of our confessions—our honesty in it.  But I think why Matthew refers to this act in secret here and throughout our passage is to emphasize not only our need to possess integrity, refraining from hypocrisy, but also to emphasize the depth and intentionality that ought to exist in our relationship with God.  The secrecy is about relationship and not just character. 

And the reason why I say this is because of how Matthew doesn’t just want to draw a comparison between those who belong to the kingdom and hypocrites but also between those who belong to the kingdom and gentiles—or the heathen nations.  On the one hand, with the gentiles, Matthew says that they heap up empty phrases because, in so doing, they think they’ll be heard for their many words.   

They think about God like he’s some magical idea that is unknowable—whose desires for us—whose care and love for us is as fickle and mysterious as a distant, unfeeling slot machine.  Something that we try to pull and grasp at by throwing anything we can at him, hoping that something will stick.  Or it’s like living in a democracy—one like ours—where constituents ask their politician for all of these things, hearing from that politician that he can give those things to them, but not knowing which request he’ll follow through with and actually fulfill because they don’t know his character.  These gentiles do not have any idea who God is, and thus, they cannot have any idea of how to approach him, what pleases him, and how he desires to care for them.  So, their prayers are filled with emptiness because their knowledge of God is empty. 

Yet, on the other hand, with the Jewish, hypocritical leadership, you have the opposite, as commentator, Dr. Josh Moody, puts it, “[They are] well-brought-up religious people who may know who God is in theory but in practice display religious behaviour that betrays a fundamental commitment not to impressing him or seeking after him but to impressing people.”  And what’s missing at the core of both of these groups—both the gentiles and Jewish elites—is the stuff that gives life to our praying.  It’s not just about having good theology—not just knowing about God—but actually knowing God.  It’s not just having the right idea about him but being right with him. 

It’s about having a relationship with God more than it will ever be about having the veneration and praise of man because what “we have in front of us [is] the best possible deal that any of us could imagine.  If we will commit to minding God’s kingdom, His affairs, His business, then God will commit to minding our affairs for us,” says Jonathan Edwards.  Our goal in our piety.  Our goal in our righteousness.  And our goal, especially in our praying, is that we give and offer everything to God—that we throw ourselves wholly at his mercy—knowing that because of who he is, he will show us not only mercy and grace, but he will also provide for us everything we need to remain in his kingdom. 

How can we know this?  Because, as Matthew tells us, he doesn’t need our prayers to figure out what we need.  He already knows what we need, which tells us that our praying isn’t to get anything from him—no he’s already supplied all of that.  No, our praying is simply to be with him, to be the means by which we fellowship in this life with him, the means by which we draw closest to him, and in so doing, he is glad to give us what we ask for because as we grow in greater satisfaction with him, he seeks to glorify himself through us all the more. 

This is why when I meet Christians who say they do not like praying or when they describe their prayer life as “fine,” it always makes me uneasy because there’s nothing “fine” or “complacent” about communing with God.  There is nothing average about having the privilege of sitting in the presence of the omnipotent ruler of the universe.  There is nothing unmoving about the fact that your speaking to him brings him pleasure.  How utterly arrogant do we have to be to say that our prayer with him is simply “fine.”  That the God who has everything—who is wholly sufficient in himself—lacking for nothing takes pleasure—finds happiness—knows joy when we lowly, pitiful, sinful creatures pray to him, and we think, “this really isn’t something worth my time.” 

Scripture says he loves when we pray to him.  It is as a fragrant aroma to him.  But we better make sure we know who we’re praying to because it is either thriving in the absolute luxuriousness of being in the presence of the sovereign King over all who condescends to listen to a creature like you OR it is nothing.  It is the knowledge of having and being with all of him OR it is to not know him at all.  There is no ambiguous prayer.  There is no taciturn God.  When we speak to him, we had better make sure we know who we’re speaking with because he knows how to speak back, and for those who dare speak to him irreverently—for those who dare speak to him as if it is merely “fine,” I venture to guess you will not want to hear how he intends to respond. 

Our praying is not meant to be selfish, like the Jews, or vapid, like the Gentiles.  It’s meant to be filled with wonder and awe.  It’s meant to be spilling over the brim with thrill—thrill in our salvation, thrill in our sanctification, and filled, more than all else, in our relation to the one whom we have the highest privilege to call our Father who is in heaven.  He is not only God who we go to in secret.  No, he is our Maker, our Sustainer, our Redeemer, and Friend.  And we would do very well for ourselves to make him our greatest pleasure and leave the rest to him. 

3) In Dependence Forsaking Man’s Vehemence

The final discipline that Christ seeks to correct us in is fasting.  Now, if I were to take a poll of this room, it is very likely that all of us give, to some degree, all of us pray, to some degree, but I’m willing to guess that there are many of us who do not fast.  But here, Christ is affirming, that we ought to fast—just like we ought to give and ought to pray.  Yet, he also wants to tell us that just like our giving and praying, our fasting is not meant to be something through which we display our passions and our strong feelings.  It’s not meant to proclaim to the world our own spiritedness for our dependence upon God. 

No, just like giving and prayer, when we fast, the point isn’t to draw attention to ourselves.  The point is to worship and make much of God in our lives—to remind ourselves how grateful we are that he provides the sun and the rain to fall upon us and supply us with our daily bread.  And here, having seen all three of these disciplines together, we see the difference, I hope, between those who are moral and virtuous in contrast to those who know the gospel.  Because those who are moral and virtuous are still, at their core, selfish.  They may be obeying God’s outward commands, but in their hearts, they’re obeying for themselves because they want to get something. 

But the gospel changes this.  The motivation is no longer based upon a fear of what I won’t get if I don’t do these things, but a joy and a delight that launches me into a life where I can’t help but do these things because to do them is to please God—the same God who was pleased to save me through his Son. 

And I want to return for a moment to this whole idea of a wage in contrast to a reward as we see throughout our verses—that the hypocrites do these things for the sake of their wages.  Wages that they have received in full in their life.  Wages that will not be added to in the next.  Their ambition has been satisfied with sufficient recompense. 

Yet the word that’s used in vv. 3b, 6b, and 18b—that your Father who sees in secret your giving, your praying, and your fasting will reward you—that word reward is rightly translated because this, dear brothers and sisters, is the difference.  Pharisees and scribes, they’re working for a wage, but the Christian isn’t.  He or she isn’t striving from a position of earning something or owing something—just like we do not earn our salvation, in receiving salvation, we do not owe our lives to God.  We’re not trying to pay off a debt.  No, our striving isn’t motivated for something it’s motivated from something. 

A wage is something you deserve.  A debt is something you’re trying to be free of.  But a reward is something wholly given by grace—it’s additional not obligatory—the prize is being righteous.  The reward is the cherry on top.  And in this context, it’s additional to what you have already received by grace.  Eternal life with God—his blessing and fellowship—all of it is a reward that is promised to you not because you’ve lived a good or worthy life, but because of what God, the Father has done for you in God, the Son.  He, by his own gracious provision and sacrifice of his most beloved relationship, has made himself, now and forevermore, your Father in heaven, and as such, he seeks to lavish you with generous, overflowing love by giving you his absolute best. 

Consider it like this: you are not a slave or an employee.  Rather, as a child, the Father sends you out into his vineyard, telling you to collect some grapes for him.  And as you do so, you trample on some, you choose some bad grapes, you choose some mediocre ones, you put them in a basket, and once you’re finished, you run back to where your Father was, and you show him your collection—the fruit of your harvest—thinking that he needs these.  He’s desperate for a few grapes so that he can press and make them into something to satisfy his thirst. 

But as he looks in your basket, he smiles, and he says, “come into the house, child.  For while you were out collecting these things for me, I watched in your dedication—how you did not seek to make others do the task for you, which you could have done, but watching you faithfully pick and choose the fruit of your labour—most of which aren’t so good.  And I took so much joy in watching your effort and faithfulness that, while you were away from me, I prepared for you a feast.  There on that table, which is in the shape of a cross, I’ve slaughtered my most precious lamb and I’ve baked the most decadent bread for you, and though you did not choose all of the best grapes, I went out myself, and I chose our best grapes, I made you a wine from them, and I’ve poured it out into your cup so that it is overflowing.  Now, sit at my table, eat, and partake, while I take your grapes, press those into wine so that I might enjoy what you’ve brought to me. 

Church, God needs nothing from us.  The grapes we bring him are suited only to be crushed and spit out, yet it’s not about what we bring to him or what we might offer him, but that we might delight in the fact that he is our Father—that we might honour him with what we do—even though he is the one who’s done all things for us, and even though they were his grapes to begin with.  What he wants is your pleasure in him, so that your life—your cup might be full, and he means to offer it to us by calling you to himself in repentance and belief through the death and resurrection of his own Son. 

If he is that faithful to give up for us that which is most precious to himself, how can we doubt that in all our works here on earth that he will not be faithful to see us and give us far more than we deserve for our measly, lowly acts of piety.  Nothing we do can outdo what God has done for us.  Nothing we are can outdo who God must be to us, and he must be our greatest pleasure because only in him will we receive our greatest, undeserved reward.  May he be this to us, and may our lives reflect a desire to please him for all that he is and all that he’s done on our behalf through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Comments are closed.