- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

Excerpts from a sermon by the Rev. Edwin P. Elliott Jr. at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Manassas.
Today we will talk about private morality. Jesus asks us to avoid setting up a false image of ourselves. Our reading today [Matthew 6:1-4] shows that a mishandled charity annoys God. Jesus said, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father." Some mercy deeds are really pity-deeds, and reveal what is truly in your heart.
We might call this a moral "Potemkin village." Back when Catherine the Great ruled Russia, field marshal Grigori Potemkin built cutout villages along the river to impress her visitors with a fake prosperity in the countryside. If your morality is made by some Potemkin, it has no real value.
"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?" Yet the works must have the true motivation. In the final analysis, if they are Potemkin villages, they do more harm than good, for it looks like something was done, when it was not. We cannot fit both God and fake compassion in the same heart.
Charity is not neutral. It comes with a context and consequences. One of the most disturbing passage of Scripture says, "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." The Great Society welfare program was started with "compassion" and tender mercy. But in the end, it brought the collapse of the working two-parent family. Now, children are burdened with not having a father.
We must ask, "Who is our charity and private morality impressing?" Jesus said, "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do … that they may have glory of men." Our goal is to receive praise from God, not from men.
There are times when our charity is known to others. Different departments may compete to raise the most money. But that can be done to praise and serve God, rather than to be a public performance. God sees through all our performances. Nothing stops God from understanding what is actually there. The Psalms tell us, "Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."
In the moments of our sorrows and sadness, our joys and triumphs, God is always there observing. Doesn't that unnerve us a bit? There is no private space from God, even as we may spend a day thinking about or doing something we call private. God knows our situations, so believers do not need to compulsively seek their own welfare. The Bible assures us that a righteous God does not forget your labors of love "which ye has showed toward his name." For the Lord is our judge, lawgiver, king and savior.
When you are practicing your morality, I encourage you not to look at the bottom line as the world would see it, but as God would see it. Be certain that what you do is real for Him. So, we must go beyond the merit-badge mentality. When you give charity, Jesus tells us, don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. We tithe, for example, for things that are important to God. Writing off a donation to save money from our taxes is a different matter.
In everything, the ultimate focus of our deeds is Christ. The righteous, the Bible tells us, took care of the hungry and thirsty, but did so by seeing Christ. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me." Our charitable activities must be done in the light of what He said and commanded. We've seen bad investments in our age because people are looking at their own bottom line. The accountants of our age are liars. But the accountants of eternity are precise, and worth our investment.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. C. Phillip Johnson at New Prospect Family Praise and Worship Center in the District.


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