Matthew 6:1, Take Caution
By Joshua Claycamp, January 27, 2013
“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)
Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 6. We have officially left behind chapter 5, so we are moving our way through the Sermon on the Mount, into chapter 6. The literary unit that we’re going to be looking at for the next little while deals with three specific things: giving, praying and fasting. That’s the literary unit and it has to do with hypocrisy. There’s a common thread that runs throughout the course of the passage. It talks about hypocrites – you’ll notice vs. 2 and then again in vs. 5, and then again in vs. 16. That’s one common thread and the other that you’ll notice as you read through that passage is that he mentions the idea of reward from the Father.
So today we’re just going to be looking at chapter 6, verse 1, but since it is a whole literary unit all the way through verse 18, I’m going to go ahead and read the whole thing, then we will pray and get to work. So if you would look with me at Matthew chapter 6, starting in vs. 1:
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.
Thus, 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. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-18 ESV)
Father, we thank you so much that you have chosen us out of this world, we humble people, Lord, who are not deserving of your grace and your mercy and your goodness. We just thank you, Father, that you saved us and you died on the cross to forgive us of our sins to make us your children, to make us a part of your family. Father, we live in a world in which it is sometimes so difficult to see you, to focus on you, to keep our gaze on you, that sometimes all we can see is just the people around us and what they think and how they view our actions and sometimes we’re tempted by that to live for their approval and not for yours. Father, we pray that we, here at Bridge Baptist Church, would have eyes only for you, that we would care only what you think, that our attention would be focused only on what you say to us and how you think we ought to live. I pray, Lord, that we would live lives that are to your glory, to your honor and to your praise first and foremost, by seeking you and seeking your Son, who is at your side. I pray, Father, that we would keep our gaze, our eyes and our attention focused in. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hypocrisy: No Substance, Nothing Weighty
In 1937, the RMS Queen Mary was commissioned. At the time of its launch from England it was the largest ocean-going ship in the world. It traveled millions of miles; it carried hundreds of thousands of passengers; it served through four decades and one world war, until it was decommissioned in 1967, eventually sold to some investors in Long Beach, California and turned into a floating museum and tourist attraction and hotel there. When the ship was delivered to the new proprietors there they underwent a series of significant renovations to remake the ship, to turn it into a floating stationary hotel in the harbor there in Long Beach. They were going to put a museum and a couple of other touristy type of attractions into it, so they began to strip down the whole hulk of the ship so that they could begin their renovations. In order to remove the boilers and a couple of the engines from the engine room, they needed to remove the smoke stacks, which was fine because they needed to do some renovations on the smoke stacks, scrape off 30-40 years worth of paint and put on a fresh coat. The workman climbed up to the top of the smoke stacks to hook up the hoists for the crane and on their climb up they noticed that the paint was really brittle in some places. As they were climbing on the side their foot almost kicked all the way through the side of these giant, steel smoke stacks. So they hooked up the hoists to the top of the smoke stacks and the crane operator applied the gears, beginning to hoist the smoke stacks off of the ship. As he was hoisting he noticed that the weight of the stacks was significantly lighter than what he was expecting, not having as much mass as he thought they ought. Of course, they all floated the smoke stacks under the pier and began the renovation process of sandblasting and stripping and removing paint. They found over 40 coats of paint that had been applied over the years and as they began to strip all of it off, the smoke stacks began to crumble into nothing. There was absolutely nothing left of 1.25 inch steel plating that they were originally built out of. The years of being on the ocean, just the corrosive effects of all of that completely deteriorated the smoke stacks, so much so that there was really nothing substantive or weighty left in them. The thing that was really holding it altogether was just the 40 coats of paint. On the outside they looked like smoke stacks, but there was nothing substantive to them on the inside. There was nothing weighty to them on the inside.
I start with that this afternoon because we as Christians face the unique danger if we do not fix our gaze on Jesus, if we look to the things of this world rather than to Christ, of being Christians on the outside with nothing substantive on the inside. Jesus has been working His way through the Sermon on the Mount; He starts off with what brings true happiness in the beatitudes. Then He begins to confront some of the false teaching of the scribes and the Pharisees. And it’s not just what we know and what we believe, but then there is also the practical outworking of how that is to be in our lives. He comes here to chapter 6 verse 1. He is transitioning from false teaching now into false living, and how a Christian truly ought to live.
We pick it up, He says in chapter 6 vs. 1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them,” look at this, “for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” There will be nothing of substance if you focus your gaze and attention on those around you. The first thing that Jesus says here is “beware”. Now, that’s an interesting word. It’s a word that literally means to focus your mind, your gaze and your attention on something. He’s calling for rigorous mental disciplined effort.
BEWARE: Focused Attention with a View towards Caution
I’m from the south, so I’m just going to go ahead and confess this – I hope it doesn’t make me sound to red-neck, but I love NASCAR. I love the fact that those cars go around in circles. Yes, they are making only left hand turns. You’re thinking to yourself, “what kind of a sport is this?” But there’s actually quite a bit of effort in terms of driving a vehicle around in a circle, making left hand turns. It’s actually a lot harder than it looks. The forces, the dynamics that are involved, there has to be just enough down force on that car in order to keep it glued to the track, but if you have too much down force than the car won’t be able to go fast. And so they’re literally skirting this fine line between less down force to go fast but not so little down force that when you go into a turn you lose your grip on the track and the centrifugal force pulls you up and slams you into the wall. The shortest distance around the track is the fastest, so as you dive down into that turn, you have to do it just right. Otherwise you’ll upset the balance of the car, you’ll disrupt the airflow over the car, and you’ll slide into the wall. Those drivers are literally gripping that wheel with both hands, they’re gritting their teeth, they’re driving a very fine line, and of course they’ve got the pedal all the way to the metal, going as fast they could possibly go. Now that’s the kind of mental effort that they have to apply to it, and if they don’t do it just right one of two things will happen: either you won’t go too fast and you’ll lose, which nobody wants, or you’ll go fast but you’ll lose your grip on the track, slam into the wall and you’ll die, which nobody wants either. Just to drive that fine line requires a great deal of mental exertion. You and I probably don’t put that much mental exertion and focus into our day-to-day lives. And at the same time, we all know what it is to be wary of other people.
A couple of weeks ago I was driving up highway one, just before the Peterson Creek bridge. As I was approaching the bridge, I was on the outside lane, towards the rails, and I just happen to glance over at the car right next to me, and I noticed that it was a female drive and she was steering with her knee, she had in one hand a toothbrush...she was brushing her teeth. In her other hand she was holding her cell phone and she was texting. Now, I’m wary of those kinds of drivers; I am alert to them. They are dangerous. She seemed to have it under control; she wasn’t swerving or anything, but I was still freaked out by it, because that is still very dangerous. I was wary of her being next to me. We were just coming up to the bridge and it had just snowed that day so there was some snow and ice on the road. What if she just swerves and looses control and slams into me and then I pitch off Peterson Creek bridge, into the creek below, and I just don’t want that to happen, so I just let off the gas and drifted back, “You just go on ahead; you just have the right of way. I don’t need to be next to you, or anywhere near you.” Now as she continued on her way, I noted which vehicle she was in and I kept my eye on that car. I was wary of the car because she could lose control and hurt me, and so I was aware, paying attention, exerting a deal of mental discipline to note where she was in relation to me.
That’s exactly what Jesus is saying here in chapter 6 vs. 1. His statement is “beware” or “be wary”; in other words, be paying attention, and there is a serious danger involved in this. It has a negative aspect to it. Pay attention, be applying yourself, be exerting mental effort, noting that when you do your righteousness, you don’t do it so that people can see you doing it. That’s what Jesus is saying here. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” In other words, are we to be focused in and zoomed in and paying careful attention to when we do our righteousness so that other people are not seeing it? Is that what Jesus is saying?
A number of years ago, I was having lunch with a fellow…well, I was having lunch and he was sitting across the table from me and we ordered, and he didn’t order anything. I said, “Are you ok? I mean, are you sick? You’re not feeling well, are you not going to have lunch?” and he said, “Oh, no, no. I’m fine.” And that was his only explanation. So we continued on and after a while I said, “Well, would you like some of my fries? Would you like me to buy you lunch – I mean, are you hurting financially? What’s going on here?” and he said, “No, I’m fine. I can pay for my own lunch. I just don’t want to.” I said, “Well, it is 12:00 o’clock - It is lunch time. What’s going on?” Eventually, after just continuing to probe and ask he said, “Listen, I’m fasting, and I’m trying to be quiet about it. I don’t want people to see it. You know, I take seriously what Jesus says in Matthew 6, so I’m trying not to make a big show about it.”
So then, of course I felt horrible – “I’m sorry! Don’t worry, I don’t think you’re holy or anything.” Now, some of us have that perception when we read this passage, that when you do your righteousness nobody can see it at all, because if they see it then somehow that negates some aspect of the righteousness. So Jesus’ teaching here is that when you do your righteousness, nobody can see it, ever! It should be so secret and so private, almost, that we’re not even really sure what we’re doing ourselves with our righteousness. Maybe I am being righteous, maybe I’m not. I don’t know – maybe that’s just how righteous I am. Some of us kind of take that approach as we read this passage, and it’s kind of silly. Is that what Jesus is saying? I don’t think so.
There are a couple of things I just want you to note here. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness” – that verb “practicing” is similar to what you would find in a lawyer’s office or a doctor’s office. Doctors would say that they have a medical “practice” and lawyers refer to their profession as a legal “practice”. They understand that, as part of their profession, they practice what they do in order to get better, in order to become perfect, to get good at who they are within their profession. That’s the exact same idea as what Jesus is alluding to here.
God Expects us to do and Looks for Righteousness
God expects us to do righteousness. Deuteronomy 6:25, Moses speaking to the people of Israel makes this statement: “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” So doing God’s law, doing what God commands us, obeying God – to do that is righteous. God is looking for righteousness in our lives. He is looking for a practice of righteousness.
Psalm 11:7 says, “For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds” – the Lord is righteous; it is who He is as a person. It is His character. He is a righteous God, and He loves deeds, these things that we do which are righteous. Then is says, “the upright shall behold his face.” So the thrust of the Psalm is that the Lord is a righteous Lord and He wants to see righteous deeds. Since looking for the doing of righteous deeds is the thrust of the first line of that verse, then we look for the completion of the thought in the second line (that’s kind of how Hebrew poetry works – the second line is complimentary to the first line). So to be upright is to be a person who does righteous deeds. The Lord loves righteous deeds; if you’re upright in that you do them, you will see the Lord.
Isaiah 5:7 says, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice,” – He loves it (we saw that from Psalm 11:7), and here He is looking for it – “he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” So, He may not find justice and righteousness. He planted Israel as a vineyard and the comparison there is that His people are to produce fruit; the type of fruit that they are supposed to be producing is justice and righteousness, and He comes, just like a vinedresser to His vineyard, to His people and He’s looking for something. He expects to find it there. He’s looking for justice. He’s looking for righteousness. He may not find it. It says that what he found instead was bloodshed and an outcry, but He still expects it. So, God expects us to be righteous. He loves righteousness, He expects it in us and He’s looking for it from us. This is what Scripture is saying. This righteousness that we’re talking about is apparently something that can be discerned; it’s something that can be observed. Justice as opposed to bloodshed? Righteousness as opposed to an outcry? Is this a righteousness that is so secret that nobody knows about it? Is that what Jesus is saying?
There’s a problem with this – that can’t really be what Christ means. Why not? Well, we’re in the Sermon on the Mount. Going back to the Beatitudes, Matthew chapter 5 vs. 10 – blessedness or happiness, that thing which makes us happy or joyful, the source of joy, that’s what the Beatitudes are all about. Jesus makes the statement, “Blessed (or happy) are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” So, how will people be able to persecute you if they don’t see that you are righteous? Even the wicked are supposed to be able to see your righteousness and hate it and persecute you for it.
So, when He comes to chapter 6 vs. 1 and He says, “Don’t practice your righteousness in order to be seen by others” He can’t possibly be meaning that it’s supposed to be super secret. Matthew chapter 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” You have two groups of people mentioned right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Group A is evil and wicked and they see your righteousness and hate it and persecute you for it. Group B, they see your righteousness, they see your good deeds, they like it, and they give glory to your Father.
In both of those statements, you don’t have either one happen, whether it is persecution or glory being given to God, if the world is not able to see your righteousness, which means that whatever Jesus means with what He’s saying here in Matthew chapter 6 vs.1, He is not saying that your righteousness needs to be secret and hidden from view. He is not saying, “hide your light under a basked”. He is not saying, “Hide your light so that the world is not able to see you.” We are called to be righteous. This passage makes it sound like we are called to have a practice not at all dissimilar to a lawyer or a doctor, our daily lives are to be practices of righteousness. To apply to metaphor to the smoke stacks of the RMS Queen Mary, Jesus isn’t saying, “don’t be a smoke stack. Be so secret about your righteousness that you cease to exist as an entity.”
Notice the second half of the phrase here: “in order to be seen by others,” in order to be seen by people. The first half of the Sermon on the Mount says that people are going to see us and they are going to do one of two things: They are either going to persecute us or they are going to glorify God…but they are going to see us. They are going to observe what we’re doing. And what we’re doing should be good. Jesus’ statement here is that when you do it, the motivation, the desire of your heart should not be so that they will see it – that’s the thrust of what Christ is saying here.
This verse is going to kick off all the rest through to verse 18, three specific examples. In each of these passages He’s going to mention hypocrites (vs. 2, 5, and 16). In verse one of chapter 6, He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness,” that is, have a disciplined mental focus on the things that you do, not really on what you do, but on the heart behind the things that you do. In other words be focusing, be paying careful attention to who you’re performing for. You are to be righteous, but don’t be righteous for the sake of other people to see what you’re doing.
The word there, “in order to be seen” – the Greek word there is “theomai”. The legendary Baptist scholar, Dr. A.T. Robertson notes that the root of this word is where we derive the English word “theatre” – a show to be seen, something to be performed. You’ll notice Christ’s response here, in vs. 2, 5, and 16, that He’s saying, when you do your righteous deeds, don’t be doing it as though you’re putting on a show for the world to see what you’re doing; don’t be like hypocrites. I’m sure most of you in this room have heard that the root meaning of the word “hypocrite” is a reference to the actors of Greek theatre, they would wear masks to represent a character. So a hypocrite is literally someone who wears a mask, someone who puts on a costume to represent someone else, to pretend to be something else. So what Jesus is saying here is that the people that He is calling us to be, as Christians, are not pretenders, not actors, not performers. He’s saying, don’t be like the hypocrites; be wary of doing your righteousness, that you’re not doing it for others to see.
What’s the Difference?
What is the difference between an actor who plays the role of a fireman, verses a real fireman? If your house was burning down and you needed to be rescued, would you want your favourite fireman TV star to come running to your aid? I hope not – they wouldn’t be able to do much for you. If you look at them thought, there’s not a lot of difference. Real firemen wear yellow jackets, well, so do TV firemen. Real firemen wear oxygen tanks, well, so do TV firemen. Real firemen wear cool firemen hats, well, so do TV firemen. Real firemen climb up ladders and smash out windows and go charging into fire, well, TV firemen do those things as well. What’s the difference between a TV fireman and a real fireman? Have you ever really asked yourself that question? What’s the real difference? Some of you are saying, “Well, real firemen really do it and TV firemen just pretend to do it.” Yeah, that’s true, but don’t you think the difference is more than just the appearance? Why does a man become a fireman? Why does a man become an actor? You see, you can get a TV fireman that will do his own stunts and run into literal burning buildings and put on quite a show that looks quite real, and he won’t look, in actuality, all that different from a real fireman. They can be very similar, if not identical by all outward appearances. But what’s the difference? When you look at a TV fireman verses a real fireman I dare say the difference is this: one of them has a passion for saving lives and one of them has a passion for convincing you that they are something that they are not. There is a difference in their heart, in their passion, which has led them down radically different paths. One is performing, but one is attempting to do something real. That’s the difference – it comes back to their heart, in terms of what they desire. At the end of the day, if you’re in a burning building you do not want a man who just pretends, who is just passionate about putting on a show. You want a man who, as a result of his heart, has spent years actually running up and down stairs and ladders, years carrying hundred pound heavy hoses and actual oxygen tanks filled with real oxygen. You want a man who is disciplined and trained and practiced and prepared for the moment you need him because he has loved you and he has loved the idea of saving you long before you were ever in a position of where you needed saving. There is a fundamental night-and-day difference between the actor and the real-deal, although from all outward practical appearances they look exactly the same.
The Corrosive of the World
The apostle Paul makes an interesting statement in 2 Timothy: “…in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…lovers of pleasure….having the appearance of godliness, but denying it’s power.” (3:1-5) They will look on the outside like Christians, but on the inside there is not substance to who they are. In other words, that smoke stack that comes off the RMS Queen Mary, it looks like a smoke stack. It actually was a smoke stack at one point in time. It actually had real 1.25 inch thick steel plating. It actually could bear the forces of wind and the elements of the sea. It actually was real at one point in time. But because of the corrosiveness of this world, it’s not actually what it’s supposed to be - it’s just paint, on the outside; it just looks like a smoke stack. If you were to knock on it, as the men who climbed it that day knocked on it and kicked it with their feet, you’d find that even though it looks good on the outside, with just a little bit of banging on it, it gives way; it gives in. There’s no actual substance, there’s no weight to it, there’s nothing concrete there. That is the description of a hypocrite. That is what a hypocrite is.
The Pharisees and the religious leaders killed Jesus, not because He made them look bad. It wasn’t that this guy came along and he happened to know a couple of good Bible verses and he had a better teaching of the Scriptures than what they had. That wasn’t the issue at all. You see, the Pharisees stood at an interesting position: they had Rome, the empire, owning Israel – they were subdued, under the thumb of the Romans. You have people within Jerusalem, within Israel, who aren’t so sure that that’s a good thing because they had Caesar saying, “You have to worship me - I’m god. I’m okay with you continuing on with your political and religious traditions so long as we’re the real boss and you pay us tribute.” Then you have a group of people within Israel, the zealots, who say, “You know what? Politics and religion don’t mix so well for us. This Caesar guy is claiming we should worship him, that he’s our king, but Yahweh is our king and we’re not so sure we’re comfortable with that.” And in the middle of these two opposite groups, this group of people: the Scribes and the Pharisees and the religious leaders. So they have to put on a show for the religious establishment to make them happy, and at the same time they have to play just the right tune for the empire. In fact, they become so good at playing both sides – that’s how they have secured their position. That’s how they have gotten to where they are. And they’re making good money off of it.
The reason that they hated Jesus was not because He came along and had a couple of teachings that were better than their teachings, that made more sense, that sounded truer (although that is the case). The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is simply this: what Jesus taught, He taught it with the expectation that, as truth, it laid claim on your life, regardless of who you were. What Jesus came and taught was not just one of a different set of teachings that had all kinds of different interpretations. What He said was that His way was the right way and that everything else was false. It wasn’t that He made them look bad. It wasn’t that He stood them up. It wasn’t that He could draw bigger crowds. It was that in the teaching of the crowds He began to show them what true godliness was, what true spirituality was. The outworking of that is that it began to show them up as phonies, which means that this delicate balancing act that they have walked, in terms of keeping the religious crowd impressed with them and keeping the government crowd happy with them, they began to loose their grip on their position – that’s why they killed Jesus!
Are We Real?
So how many of us are doing that? How many of us in this room have friends that attend this church and we like the social club here? Nice people, moral people who have a great work ethic, a great moral ethic. We come to church and sing a few songs. We’ll listen to that guy preach. We’ll go home…and we’ll go back to our normal lives. We won’t crack open a Bible, we won’t lead our kids in a Bible study, we won’t talk to our kids about Jesus, we won’t talk to our coworkers about Jesus, we won’t actually be salt and light. But we’ll look like that on Sunday. That’s some of us in this room. Jesus isn’t saying that your righteousness should be nonexistent and hidden even from yourself; He’s not calling you to not do righteousness. But what He is saying is that when you are righteous, whether or not you make the people at church happy, or whether or not you make the people at your office happy, that should not even remotely be your consideration. At the end of the day, making Jesus happy should be your only consideration.
Look at it from the other side: How many of us are like this: we genuinely love God; we worship Him, we come here, we like that our pastor preaches for way too long, we love sitting here and listening to him go on and on about the Bible, we love singing those songs, we love going to life group, and we love all of those things. But then in our offices, in our schools, with our classmates, with our coworkers, with our colleagues – always a good opportunity to talk about Jesus, we just never find the time. We don’t want to upset them. How many of us in this room, the people you work with, who you might even say are your friends, don’t even know that you attend church, don’t even know that you love Jesus?
It can go two ways: you can put on a show here, on Sunday, or you can put on a show Monday through Friday. Both shows are wrong. Whether you’re trying to make me happy or whether you’re trying to make your boss at the office happy, Jesus is not happy! That’s the point of what Christ is saying here in this text. Beware, be paying close mental, focused attention; keep it in front of your eyes and don’t ever take your eye off of this – are you living a life of integrity all the way through, that seeks to honor Him, or are you seeking to please different people who are in the room at different times. Be wary of that.
Focusing on the Reward
Some of you are here thinking, “Yeah, but we don’t necessarily see Jesus. We don’t have Him with us there in our office. He’s not necessarily there when I tuck my kids in at night. And it’s just so tempting to do what is convenient or to do what is practical or to do what is most pragmatic in that moment, and all I really see at any given moment, at any given time of the day is the people who are around me. I want to be a nice person. I want to be a polite person. I don’t want to rub anybody the wrong way. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, and since they’re the ones that I see, the temptation is overwhelming. I want to be a righteous person. I want to stand up for the truth. But all I see on a day-to-day basis is really just the people I’m interacting with.”
Look at how Jesus responds to that – “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then [if this is what you do] you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
That’s an unfortunate translation. A better way to translate that last part of that verse is “then you will have no reward at the side of your Father in heaven” – that’s the correct understanding of that preposition. Jesus’ statement here is that if you practice your righteousness to be seen by others, if that’s your goal –your concern is the perspective of those around you and how you appear to them – then you will have no “reward” …
When we hear that we think that, we think that Jesus is hinting at the possibility of giving us something cool and, living in this materialistic world we live in, we jump to things like a fancy house or streets of gold – all those things we have in our mind about what heaven might look like; if we practice our righteousness for the sake of being seen by other people then we won’t get cool rewards in heaven. This translation almost makes it sound like that “from your Father” – like something that’s coming from Him to you. The preposition here in this passage says “at the Father’s side”.
Who’s at the Father’s side? Jesus is. In John Chapter 1, as the apostle John is introducing Christ to us, he makes the statement: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” That’s the same construction in the Greek as what you find here in Matthew chapter six - at the Father’s side. Jesus is at the Father’s side, and Jesus himself here, in this passage, says to you that if your desire is what other people think of you then you will have no reward at your Father’s side in heaven. The idea here is not the things you might get, but being in the presence of the Father.
In other words, the secret to keeping your eyes off of what the world thinks and to doing what is actual righteousness is keeping the goal in view, keeping your eye on the prize (which is not necessarily on the house or the streets of gold or all this sort of nonsense). The prize is entering into the presence of Jesus, actually longing for and actually desiring to see Him someday face to face and hearing Him say, “Well done.”
Tapping on the Metal of Your Life: What will we hear?
If Jesus were to come and just tap on your life the way those construction workers tapped on the side of those smoke stacks, would it ring true? Would He find substance? Would He find weight to who you are as a person? Would there actually be convictions that you were willing to stand up for because you knew it honored Christ, and it didn’t matter who else it might upset or who else it might please? Was it simply because you wanted to honor Him? If He were to knock on your life, would it ring true or would it be hollow-sounding? In John 5:44, Jesus makes the statement, “How can you believe,” or in other words, How can you have faith, “when you receive glory,” (glory meaning “substance” or “weight” and in this context “recognition” or “approval” or “honor”) that is, people look at you and they see a substantive person and they clap for you, “how can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory,” that is, substance, honor, recognition, gravity, something of matter, something that really counts, “when you do not seek [that] from the only God,” the glory that can only come from Him? You may not have noticed it, but Jesus is saying that your basic ability to trust in Him hinges on where you go when you want to find glory or substance.
The other passage to note is 2 Corinthians 3:18. To be a person that’s willing to stand up for what is right, it’s not going to happen overnight. Some of you are here today thinking, “Well, baby steps. I’m telling people I go to church. I haven’t necessarily gone full out and just shared the Gospel, but it’s baby steps.” Paul makes this statement in 2 Corinthians: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
When you see Jesus calling out the scribes and the religious hypocrites, preaching the truth that there is nothing that you can do to be saved except relying on God, that we’re all spiritual beggars, when you see Jesus standing up in a very religious society and basically telling them that their whole religion is wrong, you see a man that is obviously a man of substance. By any measurement you might apply to Him, whether you’re Christian or not, you can’t ever get around this fact: Jesus did not care about His retirement plan; He was not overly concerned with keeping His boss happy.
He was not even concerned with keeping His best friends all that happy – they love and adore Him, and at one point in time He says, “I’m going to die,” and Peter says, “No you’re not.” Now, if it were me I would be like, “Yeah, that’s cool. You love me – maybe I won’t die. Maybe I’ll let you stand up and fight for me.” Not Christ: “Peter, you’re wrong. Best friend that you are, though I love you dearly and you are one of my inner circle of three, I’m not living to make you happy. You don’t have the things of God in mind – get behind me, Satan.”
When we look at that, it’s clear that Jesus didn’t care what anyone thought about Him, or whether they fully understood Him or whether they fully comprehended what He was doing, or whether any of it made sense. As we look at Him and the way He lived is life, if we, through faith, will follow Him in the same path, the Bible promises that God’s glory will come to us and that we will be transformed, degree by degree, bit by bit, baby step by baby step, into the likeness of Christ. Which means that when you look at Jesus in the Bible and you see a character who doesn’t even really care what His best friends think about Him, and He just wants to do what God wants Him to do, you’re going to be challenged in that same way.
Glory not Hypocrisy
The substance and the weight of who we are, the glory that is to be ours, that God desires to give us only comes, in this passage, if we are always keeping our eye on the temptation of living for the approval of others instead of the approval of God. Church, my prayer for you is that you would not crumble, that you would not be corroded, that you would not be overly influenced by the people of this world, but that you would live for the glory of God and that through the conviction of following Him that you would have real substance and real weight to you life. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have nothing waiting for you at the side of the Father.”
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.