TRA 9th March, 2003
The Promise of Private Reward
Exactly 214 years ago today the first Christian worship service was held in Australia. The Americans would have made today a national holiday called "Thanksgiving". But Australians are not too fussed about celebrating the first worship service designed to give thanks to God for the safe arrival and survival of the first European settlers.
Australia never was a Christian nation. It was neither founded by Pilgrims nor birthed in prayer. We were a secular dumping ground for prisoners from Great Britain. The Government wanted prisoners, especially the troublesome Irish, kept out of sight and out of mind. There was little concern for either their moral or spiritual welfare. It would be more than thirty years before a Roman Catholic priest would officially come to Australia to provide spiritual over-sight, although there were several convict priests. The British saw Australia as a remote penal colony and had little concern for the convicts' spiritual needs. There were to be no clergy. The manifest for the First Fleet, among the 700 spades and 8000 fish-hooks, listed just one Bible. How-ever, Evangelical Christians in England, including John Newton, the former slave trader prior to his conversion and author of "Amazing Grace" and William Wilberforce, the Earl of Shaftesbury, who had led to fight against slavery, made sure a Chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson, was sent. King George III finally appointed 'our trusty and well-beloved Richard Johnson ... to be chaplain to the settlement within our territory called New South Wales'. Christian societies gave Johnson over 2000 Bibles. The First Fleet landed on 26 January, 1788 and disgorged 1000 convicts and their jailers into the virgin bush of Sydney Cove.
After landing, rum was broken out and the founding of our nation began with a hangover! Eight days later, on Sunday 3rd February, 'divine service was performed under a great tree by the Rev. Richard Johnson'. Johnson built a 'wattle and daub' church with his own hands. It was later destroyed by an arsonist. An eyewitness said convict behaviour was 'regular and attentive'. The celebrations of the following Wednesday was much more to their liking. That night the convict women were landed, extra rations of rum were issued and a bacchanalian orgy followed that ceased only when the revellers were drenched by a thunderstorm.
Christianity came to Australia in the hearts of a few convicts, jailers, and free-settlers. Australia was not a province of the official church or any major Christian mission. There were Christians in all sections of colonial society: converts among the convicts, marines, military and the free settlers. These lay people met in small groups without a minister. Those who owned a Bible counted it among their most treasured possessions. After forty years there were only eight churches and twelve clergy in the entire nation, including our own. Early believers were rough characters, often poorly educated, but fair dinkum about their faith. Before long the Christian faith was beginning to have an enormous influence. There is no organisation in Australia that has as many people involved on a committed basis like the Church of Christ. Australians appreciate a religion that is practical, that shows evidence of care for others, and that demonstrates the character of the believer is consistent. That is the essence of Christianity, a balance between private piety and public service; between personal, inner piety and outward, practical service.
Jesus made the point when He said in effect: "You see the Pharisees? They emphasize their piety, their character, the hours they spend in prayer. You followers of mine must have a righteousness of a higher quality than the Pharisees. You will see some pagans who are helping others, whose lives are kindly and full of good deeds. Well, as followers of mine, your practical service must outdo that of the pagans." Jesus made a promise: "If your righteousness, both private and public, without making a show of either, exceeds that of the Pharisees and pagans, your Father in heaven will reward you." He outlines a basic principle, "If you want to make a big show of your religion before others, people will praise you, but that is all the reward you will get. But if you live your life so that only God knows the quality of your inner life and the quantity of your outer service, then God will reward you in a most wonderful way." Matt 6:1-18
There you have it from the Master Teacher: If you are going to live a good religious life, inwardly and outwardly, privately and publicly, in devotion and piety, in service and helpfulness, then do it in such a way that you do not attract attention to yourself. It does not matter how quietly and unnoticed you live that sort of life. God sees. God knows. God will reward you. Do not live for the eyes of others. Live for God. He sees and knows. Jesus gave us three examples of the way to apply this principle: in giving to others, Matt 6:2-4 in prayers to God; Matt 6:5-6 and in fasting as a form of self discipline. Matt 6:16-18. He outlines the three major areas of religious duties. First, to others in need; second, to God in private devotions; and third, to ourselves through personal discipline.
1. DUTY TOWARDS THE NEEDY
Matt 6:2-3 Jesus makes it clear that we are to care for the poor and needy. The Old Testament makes that demand. In Deuteronomy 24 we read of how believers were to always care for the poor. Jesus even offers advice for giving parties. He told His host, "When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours - for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you." Luke 14:12f
We who are Christian have to care for the poor. We tell Governments "Care for the poor!" Governments may be short of money, but they are also bankrupt of ideas if they take money from the poor to care for the rich. President John F. Kennedy once said, "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich!" Jesus says: "When you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full." Matt 6:2 It is a basic principle of Scripture. If you do some act of kindness so that others will praise you, that praise is all you are going to get. The King James Version speaks of such people as "sounding a trumpet before them." I know folk who blow their own trumpets! Jesus said, "When you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.' Matt 6:3-4
Jesus said that if you do something for Him and His Kingdom, God will reward you. "Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven." Matt 5:12 "You can be sure that whoever gives even a drink of cold water to one of the least of these My followers because he is My follower, will certainly receive his reward." Matt 10:41,42 Some feel uncomfortable about being rewarded. One might say, "I don't mind helping the needy, but I don't want a reward. I don't want a trophy on the mantle-piece." Fair enough! But that is not what Jesus is talking about. When He speaks of rewards it is an extension of the thing you do. For example, when you help someone, your reward is in seeing that your concern is fulfilled. The needy have their needs met. That is your reward. When you help children, your reward is in knowing that they are cared for. When you feed the hungry - your reward is in knowing that they are fed. The lonely - your reward is knowing that they are involved in a circle of friendship. The reward is in the fulfilment of the things that are desired. When you see that a need is met, there, already, is your reward!
2, DEVOTION TOWARDS GOD
There is a reward also in our devotion to God. Matt 6:5-6 He says in effect: "When you pray, do not be like the Pharisees who hurry to the synagogue but on the way stop on a street corner where there is a crowd and say their prayers there. They go to the synagogue and make sure they get up front. They draw attention to themselves. That is their reward. People note their piety, and say what good prayers they are. That is their reward! If you want to pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father in private. Your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you."
You may object, "I don't want to be rewarded for praying to God." You will, when you realise the reward is the assurance you are a child of God. That you can enter His presence with confidence. That your thirst is met and your hunger satisfied. That your soul is restored and your sins are forgiven. That you are no longer alienated from Him but reconciled. That instead of weakness, you have His resources to aid you, and that instead of being alone you belong to the whole family of God. These are the rewards of prayer. Your reward is fellowship with God. Jesus said that if you pray to attract attention to yourself, you will get the attention, but that is all you will get. But when you pray privately and quietly with devotion of heart, God will see you and reward you with His presence.
3. DISCIPLINE TOWARDS YOURSELF.
We have a duty to help the needy, to be devoted to God and to discipline our own lives. For this example, Jesus chose "fasting". It was a good choice. When you fast, you use body, mind and spirit. Jesus fasted. The Apostles fasted. Paul fasted. But many of us have forgotten the discipline of fasting. Some use Lent for fasting. They abstain from food, drink, or from something else. Lent becomes a time for discipline of body, mind and spirit. Jesus warned: "When you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair so that others cannot know that you are fasting … only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father who sees what you do in private, will reward you." Matthew 6:16-18 There is a blessing for the spiritual discipline of the body, mind and soul.
God will reward you. Someone will say, "I don't need a reward because I do something for myself." You will be rewarded, nonetheless. You will develop a character that is more disciplined, fitter, abler; you will improve in health; you will be more Christlike in what you do; you will be more effective in your personal witness to others; you will be more confident in the way you use your money; you will align yourself more closely with those who have to go without, as you have chosen to do. In the promise of this chapter there is the principle that in life, it is only what you do privately, in secret, for others in need, in devotion to God, and in discipline of self, that becomes the gilt-edged security that does not tarnish - what Jesus called treasure stored up in heaven.
The Christian life is a balance between public witness: "Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven," Matt 5:16 and private worship - the way we dispense charity, how we pray, and how we discipline self. You have to be seen doing good works, but you never do good works to be seen. Jesus Himself is our example. He went about doing good, but His good deeds were not performed so that He would be admired for them. All public display is the pleasing of self and when your aim is to please self, you cannot please God. Jesus said, "Make certain that you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. Do it privately, and God who sees in secret will reward you." Can we be sure of this? Yes, we can! It was His second promise in the Gospels. There will be a private reward for all who exercise their duty towards the poor, practise their devotion towards God, and learn to discipline themselves. You will have your reward!
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