From early on, the church had to face the reality that it is a mixed body, composed of good and evil. In times of persecution the imminent threat of martyrdom served to separate the wheat from the tares. Following the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The scandalous immorality which Christians detested in the lifestyle of the world came home to roost in the church.
How would the church respond? Some sought to preserve their moral integrity by fleeing to the desert and spending their lives in prayer and penance. In time, the church developed a system of discipline by which those convicted of grave sins were excluded for a time from the communion of the faithful. They were restored to fellowship after they repented.
In Matthews’s writing, we see a keen awareness that people within the church are not innocent of the faults he attributed to those who opposed Jesus. Everyone falls under his indictment. He warns: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before people to be seen by them” (6:1). “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets … but … do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (6:2–3).
We ought to examine the reality of hypocrisy and corruption within the church. We must also examine our lives to see if we are bearing good fruit. Do we live by these instructions to “put on mercy and compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col.3:12-14). The closer we move to God, the more aware we become of our shortcomings. We have the privilege of going to God in prayer and being moulded into the perfect likeness of Jesus.