Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Doing Right Things for Right Reasons

Part 17 of Kingdom Life

Text: Matthew 6:1-4

You can listen to this sermon here.



“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” (v. 1). 


Living for the Applause 

Comedian Jerry Lewis, in an interview with GQ, admits that his act “is fueled by an unquenchable thirst for attention. He says, “I need the applause.” [1] Lady Gaga performs a song called “Applause.” The song says, “I live for the applause.” Many performers live for the applause. As followers of Jesus, we must be very careful not to perform acts of righteousness for the applause of others.


The Best Reason to Do Right Things 

The word “righteousness” (v.1) refers to types of religious acts, such as giving to the needy (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18). Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (v. 1). But earlier he said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16). Is this a contradiction? 

No, Jesus isn’t contradicting himself. He’s addressing two different sins. In 5:16, he’s addressing the sin of cowardice. In 6:1, he’s addressing the sin of pride. We are to “show when tempted to hide” and “hide when tempted to show.” [2] Jesus doesn’t merely want us to do right things. He wants us to do right things for right reasons.

The best reason to do right things is to bring glory to God. 

As the apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Those who do religious things “in order to be seen by [other people]” (v.1) desire praise from those people. [3] Their motivation is their own glory. [4]


Religious Hypocrites 

Jesus declares, “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” (v. 2). Jesus calls these religious show-offs “hypocrites.”

“A ‘hypocrite’ originally was an actor who wore a mask in a Greek play, thereby pretending he was something he was not. So it came to be used for a person who looked one way on the outside but was something else on the inside.” [5] In this context, “hypocrites” refers to people who “are not so much deceivers as disastrously self-deceived.” [6] They think they’re impressing God when in reality they’re only impressing other people. [7]


The Heart of Worship 

We can hide our true motivation from other people, but we can’t hide it from God. Trying to hide what’s in our heart from God is like a little child trying to hide by covering his eyes. “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

God said about the people of Isaiah’s day, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13; cf. Matt. 15:8). God isn’t pleased by religious acts that aren’t motivated by a love for God. If we live for the applause of people, we “will have no reward from [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 1).


The Applause of God 

Jesus says, “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” (vv. 3-4). “The references to ‘Father’ rather than to ‘God’ in both verses 1 and 4 are intentional and probably allude to the fact that just as a child seeks the approval of his parents above all others, so the approval of the heavenly Father will matter more to the child of God than the approval of other people.” [8]

There should be nothing more satisfying than receiving the approval of the God who loves us. [9]

If you’re a parent, can you remember a time when you were really proud of your child? Now imagine your heavenly Father feeling like that about you. Isn’t the approval of God more satisfying than the approval of others?

To please God, we must do right things for right reasons, and the best reason is to bring glory to him. 


[1] http://www.gq.com/story/jerry-lewis-interview-gq-august-2011
[2] A. B. Bruce, Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, 116.
[3] The same Greek word (doxazo) is used in both 6:2 (“praised”) and 5:16 (“giving glory”).
[4] This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t praise people who do good. This is a way we can encourage others. But we must always acknowledge that the ultimate praise belongs to God, who gives us the ability and opportunity to do good.
[5] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, 219.
[6] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 237.
[7] “They were not giving but buying. They wanted the praise of men, they paid for it, and they have got it. The tran-saction is ended and they can claim nothing more” (Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, 91).
[8] Charles L. Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, Kindle locations 3682-3685.
[9] This doesn’t mean that we can gain God’s approval in the sense that we can earn salvation. But when we enter God’s family through faith in Jesus, God is pleased when we obey him because we love him.