Matthew 6:1
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.
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(1) From the protest against the casuistry which tampered with and distorted the great primary commandments, the Sermon on the Mount passes to the defects of character and action which vitiated the religion of Pharisaism even where it was at its best. Its excellence had been that it laid stress, as the religion of Islam did afterwards, on the three great duties of the religious life, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, rather than on sacrifices and offerings. Verbally, Pharisaism accepted on this point the widest and most spiritual teaching of the prophets, and so its home was in the Synagogue rather than the Temple, and it gained a hold on the minds of the people which the priests never gained. But a subtle evil found its way even here. Love of praise and power, rather than spontaneous love, and self-denial, and adoration, was the mainspring of their action, and so that which is the essence of all religion was absent even from the acts in which the purest and highest form of religion naturally shows itself.

Your alms.—The better MSS. give righteousness, and obviously with a far truer meaning, as the wider word which branches off afterwards into the three heads of alms, fasting, prayer. In Rabbinic language the whole was often used for the part, and “righteousness” was identified with “mercifulness,” and that with giving money. The Greek version of the LXX. often renders the Hebrew word for righteousness by “alms.” In the New Testament, however, there is no such narrowing of its meaning, and here the full significance of the word is fixed by its use in Matthew 5:20. The reading “alms” probably arose from a misconception of the real meaning of the passage, and the consequent assumption that it simply introduced the rule given in Matthew 6:2-3.

To be seen of them.—It is the motive, and not the fact of publicity, that vitiates the action. The high ideal of the disciple of Christ is to let his light shine “before men” (the self-same words are used in Matthew 5:16 as here), and yet to be indifferent to their praise or even their opinion. In most religious men there is probably a mingling of the two motives, and we dare not say at what precise stage the presence of the lower overpowers the higher. It is enough to remember that it is the little speck which may taint the whole character till it loses all its life.

Of your Father which is in heaven.—More accurately, with your Father, as meaning, “in His estimate.” The act is not done to and for Him, and therefore (speaking after the manner of men) He looks on it as having no claim to payment.

Matthew 6:1. Take heed that ye do not your alms, &c. — As some copies and very ancient versions read δικαιοσυνην, righteousness, instead of ελεημοσυνην, alms-deeds, and several of the fathers quote the passage so, “I choose, with Beza,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to follow that reading; because it prevents the appearance of a tautology in the following words, and makes this verse a general and very proper introduction to the remaining part of the section, in which the caution is branched out into the particular heads of alms, prayer, and fasting.” The doctor therefore reads, Take heed that ye practise not your righteousness, in which interpretation of the clause, and for similar reasons, he is followed by Dr. Campbell. The verse is a general caution against vain glory in any of our good works, all which are here summed up together in the comprehensive word, righteousness. This general caution our Lord applies, in the sequel, to the three principal branches of it, relating to our neighbour, Matthew 6:2-4; to God, Matthew 6:5-6; and to ourselves, Matthew 6:16-18. Before men to be seen of them — Barely the being seen, while we are doing any of the things hereafter mentioned, is a circumstance purely indifferent; but the doing them with a view to be seen and admired, this is what our Lord condemns.

6:1-4 Our Lord next warned against hypocrisy and outward show in religious duties. What we do, must be done from an inward principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be praised of men. In these verses we are cautioned against hypocrisy in giving alms. Take heed of it. It is a subtle sin; and vain-glory creeps into what we do, before we are aware. But the duty is not the less necessary and excellent for being abused by hypocrites to serve their pride. The doom Christ passes, at first may seem a promise, but it is their reward; not the reward God promises to those who do good, but the reward hypocrites promise themselves, and a poor reward it is; they did it to be seen of men, and they are seen of men. When we take least notice of our good deeds ourselves, God takes most notice of them. He will reward thee; not as a master who gives his servant what he earns, and no more, but as a Father who gives abundantly to his son that serves him.Take heed that ye do not your alms - The word "alms" here denotes liberality to the poor and needy. In the margin, as in the best editions of the Greek it is "righteousness;" either referring to almsgiving as eminently a righteous act, or more probably including all that is specified in this and the following verses - almsgiving, prayer, fasting, Matthew 6:2-18. Our Saviour here does not positively command his disciples to aid the poor, but supposes that they would do it of course, and gives them directions how to do it. It is the nature of religion to help those who are really needy; and a real Christian does not wait to be "commanded" to do it, but only asks for the opportunity. See Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; Luke 19:8.

Before men ... - Our Lord does not require us never to give alms before people, but only forbids our doing it "to be seen of them," for the purposes of ostentation and to seek their praise. To a person who is disposed to do good from a right motive, it matters little whether it be in public or in private. The only thing that renders it even desirable that our good deeds should be seen is that God may be glorified. See Matthew 5:16.

Otherwise - If your only motive for doing it is to be seen by people, God will not reward you. Take heed, therefore, that you do not do it to be seen, "otherwise" God will not reward you.


Sermon on the Mount—continued.

Mt 6:1-18. Further Illustration of the Righteousness of the Kingdom—Its Unostentatiousness.

General Caution against Ostentation in Religious Duties (Mt 6:1).

1. Take heed that ye do not your alms—But the true reading seems clearly to be "your righteousness." The external authority for both readings is pretty nearly equal; but internal evidence is decidedly in favor of "righteousness." The subject of the second verse being "almsgiving" that word—so like the other in Greek—might easily be substituted for it by the copyist: whereas the opposite would not be so likely. But it is still more in favor of "righteousness," that if we so read the first verse, it then becomes a general heading for this whole section of the discourse, inculcating unostentatiousness in all deeds of righteousness—Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting being, in that case, but selected examples of this righteousness; whereas, if we read, "Do not your alms," &c., this first verse will have no reference but to that one point. By "righteousness," in this case, we are to understand that same righteousness of the kingdom of heaven, whose leading features—in opposition to traditional perversions of it—it is the great object of this discourse to open up: that righteousness of which the Lord says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:20). To "do" this righteousness, was an old and well-understood expression. Thus, "Blessed is he that doeth righteousness at all times" (Ps 106:3). It refers to the actings of righteousness in the life—the outgoings of the gracious nature—of which our Lord afterwards said to His disciples, "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples" (Joh 15:8).

before men, to be seen of them—with the view or intention of being beheld of them. See the same expression in Mt 5:28. True, He had required them to let their light so shine before men that they might see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven (Mt 5:16). But this is quite consistent with not making a display of our righteousness for self-glorification. In fact, the doing of the former necessarily implies our not doing the latter.

otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven—When all duty is done to God—as primarily enjoining and finally judging of it—He will take care that it be duly recognized; but when done purely for ostentation, God cannot own it, nor is His judgment of it even thought of—God accepts only what is done to Himself. So much for the general principle. Now follow three illustrations of it.

Almsgiving (Mt 6:2-4).Matthew 6:1-4 Christ continuing his sermon, giveth directions about

alms giving,

Matthew 6:5-13 prayer,

Matthew 6:14-15 forgiving our brethren,

Matthew 6:16-18 fasting,

Matthew 6:19-21 laying up treasure in heaven,

Matthew 6:22-23 keeping a single eye,

Matthew 6:24-31 and exhorteth not to be anxious about worldly things,

but principally to seek God’s kingdom and


Alms are any acts of kindness freely done by us for the relief of any that are in distress and misery, which, when they are done from a principle of love to God, his precepts commanding them, obedience in faith to his promises made to the giving of them, and that he may be glorified, are truly good works, acts of religion, and acceptable to God, Acts 10:31, though meritorious of nothing from him; otherwise they are merely acts of humanity and morality, to the reward of which God is by no promise obliged. Therefore Christ’s disciples are obliged to take heed, that in the doing of their alms, though they may do them before men, God may he glorified, Philippians 2:15 1 Peter 2:12; yet they do them not before men on purpose that they should take notice of them, and applaud them for them, for God rewardeth no action of which he is not the end.

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men,.... Some copies read, "take heed that ye do not your righteousness", &c. which is a very good reading: but then, by "righteousness", is not meant righteousness, as comprehending all other righteous acts, as particularly alms, prayer, and fasting, hereafter mentioned; but alms only; nothing being more common with the Jews than to call alms "righteousness": and whatever word Matthew made use of, there is no doubt to be made of it, but this was the word Christ used. Now alms was so called, because it is a righteous action, which ought to be performed; and to withhold from the poor what is meet, is to deal unrighteously: hence we read of the "mammon of unrighteousness"; by which is meant, not money unrighteously got, but that which is unrighteously kept from the poor: also it might be so called, because the Jews very much placed their justifying righteousness before God in the performance of it: let us first see how, according to them, it was to be done, and then what confidence they placed in it, and how much they made use of it. The account Maimonides (f) gives is as follows, who observes: that

"we are bound to take heed to the commandment of alms more than all the affirmative commands; because alms is a sign of a "righteous" man, the seed of Abraham our father; as it is said, in Genesis 18:19. Nor is the throne of Israel established, nor can the law of truth stand, but by alms; as it is said, Proverbs 16:19. Nor shall Israel be redeemed, but by alms, according to Isaiah 1:27. There are (says he) eight degrees in giving alms, the one above another; the highest, than which there is none higher, is this; when one relieves an Israelite, and gives him a gift, or lends to him, or takes him into partnership, or finds him work, so that he strengthens his hands before he stands in need of asking; and of this it is said, and "thou shalt relieve him, a stranger and a sojourner, that he may live with thee": which is as much as to say, relieve him before he falls, and is brought to necessity. The next to this is, when a man gives alms to the poor, and he knows not to whom he gives; nor does the poor man know of whom he receives; for, behold, this is doing it for the sake of it; as the chamber of secrets, which was in the sanctuary, into which righteous men privately put, and the poor children of good men were privately supported: and the next to this is, when a man puts into the alms chest: and a man does not put into the alms chest except he knows that the governor is faithful and wise, and knows how to manage as should be; such an one as R. Chananiah ben Tradion. The next to this is, when the giver knows to whom he gives, but the poor man does not know from whom he receives; as the great ones of the wise men, who used to go secretly, and cast their money at the doors of the poor; and this is right to do, and a good method it is when the governors of alms do not dispose aright. The next to this is, when the poor man knows of whom he takes, but does not know the giver; as the great men among the wise men, who used to bind up their money in linen cloths, and put them behind them, and the poor came and took them, that they might not be ashamed. The next to this is, when a man puts it into his hands before he asks. The next to this is, when he gives to him after he has asked. The next to this is, when he gives to him less than is proper, with a pleasant countenance. The next to this is, when he gives with grief.''

Now this work, or duty, they magnify at a very great rate: not content to say (g), that

"he that does alms, does that which is more excellent than all offerings;''

they further affirm (h), that

"giving of alms and beneficence , "are equal to the whole law";''

or, it is all one as if a man performed the whole law. Moreover, they give (i) out,

"that whoever takes of his goods, and does alms with them, he shall be delivered from the "damnation of hell".''

Yea, they reckon that this gives a right and title to eternal life (k).

"He that says, let this "sela", or "shekel", be for alms, that his children may live, and that he may be worthy of the life of the world to come, lo! this is , "a perfect righteous man".''

Or, as elsewhere (l) expressed,

"let this sela be for alms, that my son may live, and that he may be a son of the world to come; lo! this is a perfect righteous man.''

Thus, you see, they looked upon it as their righteousness; and what made them heirs of heaven, and gave them a title to eternal glory. Now our Lord advises them to take heed, as what would be of bad consequence, and very detrimental to them, that they did not their alms before men,

to be seen of them; not but alms may be lawfully done before, or in the sight of men, and a good end may be answered by it; namely, to stir up others to acts of liberality; but then this must not be done with this view, to be seen of men, in order to gain their applause, and a good name among them,


Take heed that ye do not your {1} alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no {a} reward of your Father which is in heaven.

(1) Ambition makes alms vain.

(a) This word reward is always taken in the scriptures for a free recompense, and therefore the schoolmen fondly set it to be answerable to a deserving, which they call merit.

Matthew 6:1. Connection: However (προσέχετε δέ, be upon your guard), to those doctrines and prescriptions regarding the true δικαιοσύνη, I must add a warning with reference to the practice of it (ποιεῖν, 1 John 3:7). This warning, stated in general terms in Matthew 6:1, is then specially applied in Matthew 6:2 to almsgiving, in Matthew 6:5 to prayer, and in Matthew 6:16 to fasting. Accordingly δικαιοσύνη is righteousness generally (Matthew 5:6; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:20), and not benevolence specially, which, besides, it never means, not even in 2 Corinthians 9:10, any more than צרקה (not even in Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Daniel 4:24), which in the LXX., and that more frequently by way of interpretation, is rendered by ἐλεημοσύνη, in which the δικαιοσύνη manifests itself by acts of charity; comp. Tob 2:14; Tob 12:9.

On εἰ δὲ μήγε, after which we are here to supply προσέχετε τὴν δικαιοσύν. ὑμ. μὴ ποιεῖν, etc., see on 2 Corinthians 11:16.

μισθὸνοὐρανοῖς] See on Matthew 5:12; Matthew 5:46.

Matthew 6:1 describes the general character of Pharisaic righteousness. hen follow three special examples: alms, Matthew 6:2-4; prayer, Matthew 6:5-6; fasting, Matthew 6:16-18. The transition from the one theme to the other was almost inevitable, and we may be sure that what follows formed part of the instruction on the hill.

Ch. Matthew 6:1-4. Almsgiving

(2) The Kingdom of Heaven exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees in regard to (a) Almsgiving, 1–4

1. alms] The best MSS. have “righteousness;” the two words were nearly synonymous with the Jews, partly because the poor had a right to share in the produce of the land; partly because almsgiving is the most natural and obvious external work of righteousness. In the same way agapé (love), the leading Christian virtue, has lost its original breadth of meaning and has sunk to the modern and restricted sense of “charity.”

Matthew 6:1. Προσέχετε, take ye heed) The hortatory address,[241] ΠΡΟΣΈΧΕ ΣΕΑΥΤῼ, take heed to thyself was familiar to the early Christians; since the Hebrew השמר[242] (which occurs so frequently in Deuteronomy), was thus rendered by the LXX.—ΤῊΝ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣΎΝΗΝ[243], ὑμῶν, your righteousness) This depends upon μὴ ποιεῖν, not to do.[244]—δικαιοσύνην, righteousness) The treatment of the subsequent divisions relating to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, exhibits such an exact analogy that from a comparison of them it becomes evident, that the warning contained in this verse does not apply solely and exclusively to the first division, but has the force of a general proposition. The design of the whole discourse is to teach true righteousness; (see ch. Matthew 5:6; Matthew 5:10; Matthew 5:20, and Matthew 6:33); and this reading accords with that design. Others read ἐλεημοσύνην,[245] almsgiving.[246] Righteousness is the whole (cf. Gnomon on ch. Matthew 5:6), three divisions of which follow immediately; viz., almsgiving, as being our especial duty towards our neighbour—prayer, as occupying the same position with regard to God—fasting, as holding the same place with reference to ourselves. These three relations, to God, to ourselves, and to our neighbour, are frequently enumerated in Holy Writ; see Romans 2:21Romans 7:12Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 6:11 to 1 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Corinthians 13:6; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 5:9; 1 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:8 to Titus 2:12; Hebrews 12:12-13.—θεαθῆναι, to be seen as a spectacle) Theatre and hypocrite[247] (spoken of in the next verse) are words of cognate meaning.

[241] Celeusma, from the Greek κέλευσμα—properly an exhortation to any work; especially of sailors: Either the cry of sailors for encouraging one another, or a beating of time to the rowers.—See RIDDLE.—(I. B.)

[242] E. V. Take heed, etc.—See Deuteronomy 12:13, etc.—(I. B.)

[243] E. M. τὴν ἐλεημοσύνην.—(I. B.)

[244] i.e. τὴν δικαιοσύνην is the accusative after μὴ ποιέιν—so that the passage must be rendered “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness,” etc.—(I. B.)

[245] See f. n. 7 to last page.—(I. B.)

[246] BDabc Vulg. Hilary read δικαιοσύνην. But Z supports ἐλεημοσύνην, the reading of the Rec. Text.—ED.

[247] The word originally signifies one who answers, thence, one who takes part in a dramatic dialogue, thence, one who assumes a feigned character.—(I. B.)

Verses 1-18. - The relation of our Lord and his disciples to the religion of the day (continued); vide Matthew 5:17, note. (b) Our Lord turns from cases which could be directly deduced from the Law to those which belonged only to recognized religious duty. Of these he instances three: alms (vers. 2-4), prayer (vers. 5-8, 9-15), fasting (vers. 16-18). It is, indeed, true that the performance of these duties on special occasions was implied in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 26:12-15); but there are no regulations concerning their observance in ordinary and daily life. These were matters of custom and tradition; to this the Law, in its original aim and method, did not extend. There was therefore the more need for the Law to be supplemented by the instructions of the Jewish leaders. These our Lord does not reject, but only corrects. Verse 1. - Matthew only. Take heed; προσέχετε [δέ] (Westcott and Hort). If "but" is genuine, as is on the whole more probable, our Lord places this warning in close relation to the preceding charge. Aim at "perfection," but beware of mere show. Rather you must consider the estimate that will be formed of you by your Father which is in heaven. That ye do not your alms; Revised Version, your righteousness (so the manuscripts). Although one of the Hebrew words for "righteousness" (צרקה) was used especially for the righteousness of almsgiving (cf. Deuteronomy 6:25, LXX.; and 'Psalms of Solomon,' 9:6, where see Professor Ryle's and Mr. James's note), yet it is improbable that τὴν δικαιοσύνην should here be rendered "alms," because

(1) it has this meaning nowhere else in the New Testament;

(2) the word for "alms" (ἐλεημοσύνη) comes in the next verse;

(3) the emphatic position of τὴν δικαιοσύνην (μὴ ποιεῖν), in contrast to ποιῇς ἐλεημοσύνην (ver. 2), points to it being a collective expression of which the various parts are mentioned in the following verses. The form also of the sentence, "when," etc., at the head of each of the other subjects, (vers. 5,16) shows that these are co-ordinated with ver. 2. Your; in contrast to that of the typical Jews. The limitation implied in ὑμῶν, gives a more partial and probably more external meaning to "righteousness" (cf. Ezekiel 18:22, 24) than is to be seen in the corresponding phrase in 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:7. To be seen of them (πρὸς τὸ θεαθῆναι αὐτοῖς. Having for your final purpose (cf. Ellicott on 1 Corinthians 9:18) to be gazed at by them (cf. Matthew 23:5; Acts 1:11; and T.R. of Acts 8:18; at. supra, Matthew 5:28). Otherwise (Winer, § 65:3. c). Ye have no reward (Matthew 5:12, note). Of your Father; Authorized Version margin and Revised Version, with; the thought being not that it is given by him, but that it is laid up with him (παρὰ τῷ Πατρὶ ὑμῶν). Perhaps, however, the preposition rather means "in the judgment of" (cf. 1 Peter 2:4). Your Father (Matthew 5:16. note). Notice the frequent repetition of the phrase in this context (Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:4, 6, 8, 15, 18 bis). Matthew 6:1Of your Father (παρὰ)

The A. V. implies the source of the reward; but the preposition means with, by the side of; so that the true sense is, reserved for you and awaiting you by the side of your Father. Rev., rightly, with.

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