“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
(Matthew 6:1-4 NIV)
In Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel account, Jesus was focused on teaching His disciples about their relationship to God, including a new definition of righteousness. As we begin Chapter 6, Jesus moves on to teach His disciples (and us) about our relationship to ourselves, applying this new righteousness to practical examples of daily living.
Jewish life consisted of many regular practices. Three regular practices were giving, prayer, and fasting. But more importantly, Jesus opens Chapter 6 with the overall theme of righteous living: in every observed practice, beware of hypocrisy.
Jesus is not telling His disciples to stop these regular practices. In fact, He is saying just the opposite. But Jesus is telling His disciples to check their heart, to ask why they are observing these practices. To live in this new righteousness, it must come from the inside out, from a heart to honor God, and with no consideration of anyone else’s thought or reaction.
Jesus uses strong language in verse 1 to teach His disciples. The opening English phrase “Be careful” is one Greek word, meaning, “Listen up! All eyes up here! Give me your full attention!”.
Jesus basically says, don’t do any act or righteousness ( a good thing) to be seen by others (for the wrong reason). The phrase “be seen” is a single Greek word meaning “a public showing, to be beheld by others”. This Greek word has the same root word as our English word “theater”. So Jesus is saying, “don’t make a theatrical performance, a public showing or spectacle out of your righteous living. This is a private matter, between you and Me.”
So what happens to those who ignore Jesus’ advice and seek their 30 seconds of fame? Jesus says there is no eternal benefit for what they do – they are paid in full right then and there. Like exhaling outside on a cold day, we see our breath for just a moment, then it dissipates, gone forever. Just like doing a good thing so that others will see us and think well of us.
Jesus even goes on tell His disciples that when giving to the needy, don’t even let one hand know what the other is doing. This is a curious phrase, but seems to warn against a self-righteous attitude, as if to say, “don’t even congratulate yourself or shake your own hand for what you have done.”
Time to do the motivation heart-check again. Why do I do what I do? Is it the right thing, but for the wrong reason? I don’t need to get Jesus’ attention, or be afraid that He will miss what I do for good – He sees everything I do.
Let me do everything I do for an audience of one and One alone. That is my reward.
How about you? Why do you do what you do?