While reading Matthew this morning, I pondered what it means to “practice your righteousness in front of others” (Matt. 6:1).
Does this mean we should not do good things for God’s glory publicly? Does it mean we should serve the Lord in secret, or only within the confines of the church body? As we ponder this verse within the scope of Scripture, we arrive at a much better understanding of Jesus’ teaching.
In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus COMMANDS us to go into all the world and make disciples. Therefore, this requires public proclamation and godly living from us that is clearly visible. Peter tells us to be ready to give a defense for the hope we have in Jesus when questioned (1st Peter 3:15). Additionally, Jesus COMMANDS us to let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:16).
So, what are we supposed to do? Are we to do good works so others can see them, or are we supposed to do good works privately?
I think the answer is found in your motivation for your actions. Jesus warns against doing “righteous things” for the praise/attention of others. On the other hand, Jesus commands us to do good things publicly to the extent that God is glorified because of our actions. The difference between the two is not so much visible as it is internal. In short, we must ask, “WHY AM I DOING THIS?”. Allow me to expound upon this.
There is a long-standing tradition within the American church that those who donate a large sum to the church have buildings, pews, rooms, and other things named in their honor. The fact that someone has something named after THEM because they gave to the church is one example of a person receiving the honor and not God—this is why Jesus said to give in a manner that our left hand is unaware of what our right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3). There is also a tendency for some to pray ONLY when in public and not privately. Jesus warns against this in Matt. 6:5-6. If the only time we talk to God is when we are in the middle of a crowd something is very wrong within us. In short, Jesus is warning against HYPOCRISY, not holiness and righteous deeds.
The problem that Jesus worked to correct was that the religious leaders of His day were pretending to be holy in front of others while rejecting holiness in private. According to Jesus, our public lives should flow from our private time with the Lord. This makes sense if you think about it. As Christians, our job is to worship God and help others worship God with us. Hence, if you and I do not personally/privately worship God, then we are completely unable to help others worship the Lord. This is why Jesus rebukes the religious leaders of His day—they were completely inept at their jobs because they had personally rejected fellowship with the Lord. Sure, they were good at doing all sorts of “religious stuff”, but they were awful at worshipping and fellowshipping with God. And Jesus despised this!
Let’s make this personal. That is, let’s take a minute for introspection and see if there is any wickedness in me similar to the wickedness Jesus identified in the Pharisees:
Do I spend time fellowshipping with my Lord? How?
That’s it. Only one question. But it’s a big question. If we neglect fellowship with our Lord, then we are “playing church” but not living as the church. Remember… God made us His temple and indwells with His Spirit so we could worship and fellowship with Him (2nd Corinthians 3:16). Our primary struggle in this life is not doing more good things or not doing bad things, our primary struggle is submitting ourselves to God through fellowship with and worship of God.
Bearing this in mind, let me encourage you to engage your God. He came from heaven to earth and died on the cross so we could have access into presence. Seek to know Him TODAY. Allow tomorrow to worry about itself, but do not let today pass without engaging our Great God!