Religious Concepts and Practices
Text: Matthew 6 : 1 - 18
All religions may be stated in concepts. Israel had a wonderful religion and many of its concepts and practices were carefully preserved and passed down from one generation to another. However, there is always the danger of preserving only the physical or visible aspects with the spiritual and invisible conveniently set aside. This happened to the historic religion that God gave to Israel. Jesus had to address some of the concepts that were threatened by corruption.
What were some of these concepts? Matthew highlighted three problems that Jesus dealt with. These good religious concepts and practices had gone awry with the passing of the years. The concepts that were threatened by false practices were:-
THE CONCEPT OF GIVING
God taught Israel the following with reference to giving. Two main ideas were taught to the nation.
1. With reference to God
a) There were specific national feasts ordained by God. These were to be kept by the nation as a whole. These feasts helped to bond Israel as a nation (Cf. Leviticus 23).
b) There were occasions for personal worship. The worshipper must always remember to bring an appropriate offering each time he worships God (Leviticus 1-7).
c) Each must give according to his ability (Deuteronomy 16:17).
d) No one must appear before the Lord empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16e).
e) There was to be special support for the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple (Exodus 35-40; 1 Chronicles 22-29; Haggai; Malachi).
2. With reference to Man
a) Tithes were to be given as part of their religion. The tithes were given to support the Levites in their work (Leviticus 14, 18).
b) Special offerings for the poor were also encouraged. This concept was well expressed in the Book of Deuteronomy.
c) The poor were identified as “the stranger, the fatherless, the widow…” (Deuteronomy 14:29; 26:12).
i) God warned that “the poor will never cease from the land…” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
ii) Those who were rich and had farmlands, orchards or vineyards must allow the poor of the land to go to their fields and glean enough food for daily sustenance (Deuteronomy 23: 24-25).
THE QUESTION OF ALMSGIVING IN THE DAYS OF JESUS
What was designed as a good humanitarian and philanthropic exercise was severely threatened in the days of Jesus. The institution of giving was essentially sound. What was needed was cleansing of corrupting practices. In His usual deep and incisive manner, Jesus addressed the problem.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable
deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise
you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus did not decry the act of almsgiving. The giving of alms was to be commended and encouraged. However, there were some who performed charitable deeds with wrong purposes.
1. To gain applause from men
This was what some were doing. The charitable deed was performed to impress an audience!
2. To seek personal glory
The giver is far more conscious of himself than he is of the poor. He appears to also be more conscious of himself than of God!
The original idea of giving began as an act of worship. The grateful worshipper brings an offering to God in humble acknowledgment of the fact that his wealth is a blessing from God (Cf. Deuteronomy 26). This element was virtually non-existent!
A SPECIAL REWARD FROM GOD
There was a special reward promised to all who walked in obedience to the Lord. Jesus. Reference to a reward from God must lead us to consider what Moses wrote in the following text. (The context of Deuteronomy 26 is the presentation of tithes/gifts for the poor).
The worshipper may offer this prayer to God as he presents his offering.
“Look down from Your holy habitation,
from heaven, and bless Your people Israel
and the land which You have given us,
just as You swore to our fathers, ‘a land
flowing with milk and honey.’ ”
The Lord’s reply was breath-taking and awesome.
“…He will set you high above all nations which
He has made, in praise, in name, and in honour,
and that you may be a holy people to the LORD
your God, just as He has spoken.”