The one thing that Jesus often points to throughout this sermon is our hearts. And in this passage, he makes it clear that God not only looks at our actions, but our motivations as well.
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (1)
He then gives three examples. First, he talks about giving. In those days, people would basically announce to the world when they were about to give some money to the poor. In full view of everyone, they would show their great “generosity” and “compassion” for the poor. But Jesus said, “You won’t receive any reward from God for this. You have already received your reward: the admiration of others, and the pride that comes from it.”
Then he talked about prayer, how some people prayed these long, loud prayers, showing just how spiritual they were to those around. I’m sure there have been times when you have heard prayers and you wondered just who the person was talking to.
Finally, he pointed out how many people look like they’ve been sucking on lemons for a week (loose translation) when they fast to show how spiritual they’ve been.
And Jesus makes it clear, God will not reward any of these things. Rather, he rewards the things done in secret. The things that only he knows about. The things not done for show, but out of our love for him.
It’s very easy to point at others and criticize them, but how about you? Are you constantly concerned about what others think of you? Are you constantly concerned about how spiritual you appear to others?
Or are you genuine?
You may fool others (although I wouldn’t bet on it), but you can’t fool God. It is not enough to do the right thing. You need to have the right motivation.
What’s the right motivation? Again, your love for God. And your love for others. Nothing else matters. Notice that both of these things are outwardly focused. When we become inwardly focused, constantly thinking about what others think of us, then all the things we do, no matter how good, become worthless in the eyes of God.
I have to admit, I struggle with this a lot. I constantly have to ask myself, “Who am I trying to please? When I speak at church, am I trying to impress people with my spirituality, or am I truly letting God speak through me? Whenever I do anything for God, whose approval am I trying to win?”
Who are you trying to please? Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Lord, too many times, I’m too concerned about what others think of me. I’m too inward focused. Forgive me. Lord, help me to be outward focused. Focused on loving you and loving the people around me. Change me Lord. Make me like you. In Jesus name, amen.