“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 ESV)
We just finished studying a passage from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus addressed how we think of sin. He corrected our erroneous belief that sin is only “doing” and not in “thinking”.
In this next section Jesus will focus on three religious practices – things the Jews did (and we still do today) that have spiritual significance. These practices are giving, praying, and fasting. Today’s verse is a summary statement for the three examples that will follow.
In Jesus’ day the religious leaders of Israel – the Pharisees and Sadducees – made a show of their presumed religious piety. Their faith was mainly an act to impress those around them. These men had no relationship with God. Their hearts were distant from Him.
As a result, they attempted to earn favor with God through their behavior. But in fact, their behavior made a mockery of God because man’s behavior can never be righteous apart from Him [Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23 et. al].
God makes it clear: He is not impressed by any religious activity [Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11; Hosea 6:6 et. al]. He is interested in our hearts – our motives and attitudes [Micah 6:8; Matthew 15:8]. God rejects any and all seemingly benevolent outward activity that is done with the wrong motives.
The Greek word translated “to be seen” is τηεαομαι (pronounced: theh-ah’-om-ahee). We get our word “theatre” from the root of this word. Jesus is condemning a public display of spirituality that is nothing more than a performance – something done with the intention of being seen and making an impression.
The goal of such behaviors is to glorify the performers rather than glorifying God. We glorify God so that others notice Him and are drawn to Him because only He has the power to save us from our sin. When we call attention to ourselves we are drawing people away from God.
Note that Jesus is not condemning publicly performed good deeds. He previously commanded us to let our light shine [Matthew 5:14-16]. We can help Habitat for Humanity build a house. We can give money to a homeless person on the street. These are visible things. But we are not to do them for the sake of being esteemed by our fellow man.
Anyone who practices righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them will have no reward from God. Notice that Jesus calls God the “Father” of these people. Jesus is addressing Christians here. These people are already saved because they put their trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins [John 1:12]. Salvation is not the issue here. The issue is eternal reward.
When we do things for the approval of our fellow man, that approval is our reward. This is sad because such approval is temporary. It won’t last for eternity. It likely won’t last for very long on earth either.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.