In our last lesson, I alluded to a threefold cord of Christian conduct that God expects of each of us. We talked about walking in fellowship by prayer and reading the word and worshipping together with other believers in a Bible believing, Bible teaching church as being one type of threefold cord that is not easily broken. But I also said, that this isn’t the same threefold cord that God expects of us in Matthew 6. And that if we put the behaviors God expects of us into habitual practice, we’ll grow closer to God than we ever thought possible. In today’s lesson, we’ll examine this threefold cord of Christian conduct from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 6:1–4 Jesus says, “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 thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
There are three points of note pertinent to our conversation in this portion of Scripture. First, notice that Christ expects us to give alms by His use of the word “when.” When means at the given time. It does not mean “if.” It means that God’s expectation is that we will give alms as part of our normal Christian walk. But what are alms anyway?
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (Deluxe Second Edition) defines alms as:
1. anything given gratuitously to relieve the poor, as money, food, or clothing
2. a deed of mercy
Secondly, it’s important to point out that alms are something we give above and beyond the tithes and offerings that we give to our local church. Tithes as you know are the first ten percent of the gross amount of everything we receive. The Bible teaches that the first tenth belongs to God and if we keep if for ourselves, we are stealing from Him (Malachi 3:8-10). Offerings are what we give to the local church to support aspects of ministry that are not covered by the tithe such as missions giving, the benevolent fund, food pantry, special events, etc. Offerings are given above the tithe. Alms are what we do privately apart from the local congregation. Alms are given above all the tithes and offerings we give to the local church. Christ expects us to give alms as well as our tithes and offerings.
Thirdly, God says that when we give our alms, He will reward us openly. That’s a great promise from God and He never fails to keep His promises. The points about His expectation and being rewarded by God for practicing these behaviors are likewise found in the next two passages of Scripture:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.—Matthew 6:5–6, (AV)
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.—Matthew 6:16–18, (AV)
Together, giving, prayer, and fasting are a threefold cord of Christian conduct that cannot easily be broken. When habitually practiced, we will grow closer to God than we ever thought possible. Many Christians are already a giving and praying people. Sadly, fasting as a habitual practice has fallen largely by the wayside. I know of only a small handful of other believers who fast regularly. I don’t know of any church in my local area that practices corporate fasting. I do know of a church in California where the entire congregation fasts together for the first 21 days of every new year. And God blesses that church mightily. In Getting on the Fast Track—Part 4, we’ll explore the Biblical motives for fasting.