Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.”
All of us know someone who likes to be the center of attention. You know that guy who talks loud and acts out when in front of a crowd. Or that girl who likes to over-dramatize every little thing in order to be noticed and gain sympathy. This trait of human nature may get results in some situations, but it is not going to fly in God’s kingdom. Those who practice and flaunt their righteousness before men lose out on a heavenly reward.
Closely studying the Sermon on the Mount reveals a common thread in all of the lessons. Outward action is always trumped by inward attitude. It is easy to get caught up in how we look to other people, but the only thing that really matters is how we look to God. Jesus pointed this out over and over. Even in the spiritual disciplines it is the heart and motives that truly matter.
In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three spiritual disciplines that should be exercised without fanfare or for human reward. As God’s children we are called to alleviate the suffering of the poor, to pray, and to fast, but these should be private affairs between us and God. Those who make them an opportunity to be noticed or to gain the applause of men have misunderstood the intent.
Apparently some of the “religious” people of Jesus’ day would sound a trumpet to call in the poor with the desired effect of drawing attention to themselves in the process. Giving to the poor was expected, but the why and the way it was done mattered. Those who acted with the wrong motives forfeited their heavenly reward.
Jesus taught that giving should be done in secret – don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This secret giving will be seen by your Heavenly Father who rewards beyond what this world can ever give.
Next Jesus turned to praying. Don’t pray like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners in order to be seen by men. These men have received their reward in full. Instead, He taught, go into an inner room, close the door, and pray to your Heavenly Father in secret. He sees what is done in seclusion and will richly reward you.
Then Jesus spoke about fasting. Some “worshippers” were overdramatizing this spiritual discipline. They gave up food or some other commodity to supposedly seek God, but made a huge show of the practice in order to draw attention to themselves and gain the approval of men. Jesus told them instead to make every effort to act normal; get dressed, wash your face, and do your hair when fasting. This spiritual discipline, along with all the others, should be between you and God alone. The Father, Jesus reiterated, who sees in secret will reward those who have the right motives while others will only get the dregs of human praise.
So if you are jealous of that guy who makes his way to the center of every party or the girl who over-dramatizes and attracts all sorts of attention, consider the words of Jesus. Outward action is always trumped by inward attitudes. Especially when it comes to spiritual disciplines it is the person with the right motives and the secret actions who gets the best reward: A pure heart and the applause of his Heavenly Father.
Sandra Sheridan is a midwest wife and mother of five. She shares her letters to her children with our readers. Visit her at www.VersesFromMama.com.