“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1
We ended the last chapter with the perplexing command, "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Alongside Jesus' explanation of what that true standard of perfection really is, we realize that being perfect as God is perfect is impossible for us without God's grace. The natural question that follows both of these realizations for most human beings in our sinful nature is to ask, "Why do good at all?" If we cannot live up to God's standard then why try? If we will be covered by God's grace through Jesus' death on the cross and His forgiveness of our sins then why try? Maybe then you might be thinking, well we ought to do good for others and in front of others, so they don't think we're awful people and they applaud us for our good character. Jesus immediately shuts down that answer by telling us that practicing our so-called righteousness in front of others won't win us any points in the eyes of God... so we're back to the question, then why try?
The first answer we find in Jesus' Sermon is that we do good because we are commanded to do good.
vs. 2 - "when you give to the needy..."
vs. 5 - "And when you pray,..."
vs. 16 - "And when you fast..."
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
He doesn't say "if you give, if you pray, or if you fast..." no, the expectation that we will give, pray, and fast are implied through that one little word 'when'. Then when He does say, "if you forgive," He couples it with what will happen if we do not forgive.
The second answer we then find is that since doing good is not an option, but a command then we are responsible for Who and What we are seeking when we do good.
When you do good...
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:2-4
What are you seeking when you give to the needy? Are you like the hypocrite whom Jesus calls out here, that makes all sorts of noise about how generous they are? The reward this person was seeking was the attention and praise of others and they have received their reward. We are to seek a better reward by giving so that only the Father will see.
When you pray...
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6
Again, Jesus calls out the hypocrites who liked to stand in plain view of everyone in the Temple and on the street seeking the attention and praise of others; they have received their reward. We are to seek a better reward by praying to the Father in private where we can focus all of our attention on Him and not the opinions of others.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6:7-13
When we pray, we're not to simply go through a recitation of phrases that have lost all meaning in our spirits. We also won't get what we're asking from God by repeating it over and over. Is Jesus saying that we should only pray the exact words of what we've come to know as the Lord's Prayer? No, I don't think so, because this isn't how Jesus models prayer for us throughout the rest of His life. Look specifically at how Jesus prays over the experience He is about to endure for our sake in the Garden of Gethsemane and the prayer He prays for His followers both with Him and those that will believe through their testimony. However when He says, "Pray then like this:" He outlines for us the exact attitude we are to come to God with when we pray. We are to come in reverence to Who God is and seeking the kingdom that He has promised us. We are to come in faith that He will provide, knowing our needs before we even speak them. We are to come having been reconciled with others, just as Jesus had just taught,
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24
We are commanded to forgive, just as we have been forgiven and we are to come before God in repentance knowing that we cannot live up to His standard of righteousness and that only He can deliver us. You certainly cannot come in reverence, seeking God, longing for His kingdom, with faith and repentance, being reconciled with others, expecting forgiveness if your entire focus is not on God at all!
When you fast...
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18
When we fast, we should not be seeking the attention and praise of others like the hypocrites do. Do you see the pattern? Whatever you worship and seek after with your "righteous acts" that is where you will find your reward. If you're worshiping the praise and attention you receive from people who see your actions, but not your heart, and consider you holy then their high consideration of your character and their flattery is the reward you receive. We are to seek a better reward from the only One worthy of our Worship!
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
The rewards that we receive for our toil here on this earth will pass away. It is not wrong to work hard to provide for your family, it is not wrong to be generous, it is not wrong to gather together for public prayer or even for accountability in fasting. When we're asking the question, why do good? We're revealing the condition of our hearts, that what we're seeking after is not God because we cannot help to do good when we are seeking Him. When we die or Jesus returns, whichever comes first... what people thought of us and how wealthy we were won't matter.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:22-24
What are your eyes fixed on? Are they bound by a reward that will pass away? This isn't about how much is in your bank account or whether or not you make a decent salary. What are you seeking? What are you worshiping? If it's not God, then you will receive the reward you deserve in this life and that thought should be terrifying.
This next part of Jesus' Sermon He begins with the word, 'therefore', and as my Pastor likes to say when you see the word 'therefore' when studying God's Word, you must ask, "What is it there for? It is there to be the conclusion of everything Jesus just taught.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25-34
There you have it fully summarized. When we seek God we don't need to worry about the opinions of others or even of our physical needs. All of these things come second to serving God and seeking Him faithfully.