Exchanging Heavenly Reward for Earthly Gain
What Jesus Teaches in Matthew 6 about the Risk
of Losing Heavenly Reward by Practicing Faith for Earthly Gain
F. Wayne Mac Leod
Light To My
Path Book Distribution
Sydney Mines, N.S. Canada
Exchanging Heavenly Reward for Earthly Gain
Copyright © 2016 by F. Wayne Mac Leod
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007
A Special thanks to Sue St. Amour for proof reading this text.
Table of Contents
Who among us has not enjoyed the praise and recognition of those around us for a job well done? While it is nice to know we have been appreciated, sometimes this praise and recognition is more important to us than it ought to be.
Our ministry can quickly become about us—about being recognized by people or about giving ourselves a sense of personal value. When this happens, God is pushed aside. We use His name but we no longer seek His glory. We take for ourselves the glory due to Him alone.
Jesus warns us about this danger in Matthew 6. In this passage, He challenges us to take a moment to consider our motivation and focus in ministry. Not all ministries done in His name are for His glory.
This is a brief look at what Jesus teaches about practicing righteousness with the purpose of being seen by others. It is not an exhaustive study but a brief reminder of Jesus’ teaching on this important subject.
My desire is that this quick look of Matthew 6 will be an inspiration and challenge for the reader. I trust the Lord will use it to refocus our lives and ministries so that in all things He alone receives the glory.
- F. Wayne Mac Leod
Matthew 6 is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Here in this sermon the Lord Jesus shares many powerful truths about the Christian life and what God expects of us as believers. The focus of this study, however, will be on Matthew 6:1-24. Of particular importance is the teaching of Jesus regarding rewards and the public practice of faith.
Before we look at the teaching of Jesus in this passage, it is important that we begin with a basic understanding of what Scripture teaches about rewards. There are a few simple truths about spiritual rewards we need to understand.
REWARDS ARE GIVEN FOR FAITHFUL SERVICE
While we do not know the nature of the rewards God promises, the Bible teaches that He will reward faithful service. This was the expectation of the apostle Paul as he approached the end of his life. Listen to what he told his co-worker Timothy:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
As the apostle prepared to die, he looked forward to the reward the Lord had prepared for him. Notice the connection between this crown and his "good fight". Paul’s understanding here is that because he had “finished the race,” he would receive this reward. Paul was a very strong believer in the fact that His salvation had nothing to do with his personal efforts but he teaches us here that he would be rewarded for what He did with the salvation freely given to him.
Listen to what the apostle James told those who suffered for their faith in his day:
12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
Speaking through the apostle John in Revelation 2:10 the Lord Jesus expresses the same idea when He said to the church in Smyrna:
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Notice, in all these verses the connection between this crown and the faithfulness of those suffering for their faith. This crown is given to those who have “fought the good fight,” “finished the race,” have remained “steadfast under trial,” have stood “the test of time,” or who have been “faithful unto death.” While our salvation is a free gift given to the undeserving sinner, the rewards mentioned here appear to be given to those who have been faithful to what God has given.
Writing to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, the apostle Paul explains the Christian life by means of an illustration about a building. Listen to what he told the Corinthians:
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one had done. 14 if the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Paul teaches some important principles in this passage. Notice in 1 Corinthians 3:11 that the Lord Jesus is the foundation of this building that is being constructed. It is upon His work and His teaching that we are to build our lives. It is, however, our responsibility to build on this foundation. What will we build on the foundation of Christ’s work and teaching? Paul tells us that some will build on that foundation with the gold and silver of faithful service. Others will build only with stray and hay. The day is coming when the Lord will call us to answer for how we have used our lives. The fire of His judgement will test the quality of what we have built on the foundation of His work and word. If our work survives the test of fire we will receive our reward if not, we will "suffer loss."
Notice from 1 Corinthians 3:14 that if we have faithfully built on the foundation with gold and silver we will receive a reward. On the other hand, if our work is burned up we will "suffer loss" of reward. 1 Corinthians 3:15 tells us that while our salvation will be assured, our reward will be lost. We can have eternal life and not receive a reward for faithful service.
Peter told pastors to "shepherd the flock of God" under them by means of their godly example without desire for personal gain (1 Peter 5:2, 3). He told them that if they did so, the Chief Shepherd would appear and give them an "unfading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4). The context would indicate that this "unfading crown" was the reward for faithful service as true pastors of God's people.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:41-42:
The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
The point we are making is clear. God rewards those who are faithful to Him. This reward is not the same as salvation and eternal life. We can have eternal life and still not receive a reward. While Scripture does not teach us about the nature of these rewards, it is sufficient for us to know that God sees our faithfulness and will reward us accordingly.
WE ARE CALLED TO SEEK THESE REWARDS
The second point we need to make here is that God calls us to seek a reward. There are those who feel that seeking reward is selfish and should never be the desire of the Christian. While this is perfectly understandable, Scripture still teaches that believers need to live their lives in such a way that they receive God's reward and commendation.
I have often considered the response of the master to his servant in Matthew 25:21: "Well done, good and faithful servant." I do not think there could be a reward more wonderful than this. To hear the Lord speak these words to me when I stand before Him, would be greater than anything I could ever imagine. I want Him to say this to me. I want my life and service to be such that He is pleased with how I have used my spiritual gifts and the resources He has provided. I believe this ought to be the heart of every Christian.
Is it wrong for me to want to hear those words? Is it wrong for a bride to desire to hear her husband express his love for her? Is it wrong for a child to seek to please his or her parents? God has created in us a deep longing to please Him. What blessing it is for us to know that we have brought Him great honour by our faithfulness here below.
Paul told the Corinthians that he expected them to run the race to win the prize:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Imagine a runner running a race with no desire to win the prize. What kind of race would he run? Imagine that runner never disciplining himself in preparation. Would he not be a shame to the race? If you are going to run the race, run to win. Do everything in your power to win the prize at the end of the race. This is what the apostle is telling the Corinthians here. He is telling them that if they were going to serve the Lord than they were to do so with all their might. They were not to compromise or be undisciplined in their efforts but give themselves fully to all that God had called them to do. They were to run to win the prize. They were to run to gain the approval of their Lord.
Paul told the Philippians:
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
One of Paul's great ambitions in life was to press on for the prize. That prize was not so that he could boast of his own efforts or proudly display his medals. It was to bring Christ all the glory. It was to know that his life had been lived faithfully for his Lord. It was to know that he had pleased his Saviour. Any lesser ambition in life would have been unworthy of his calling.
WE CAN LOSE OUR REWARDS
There is one final principle we need to understand about spiritual rewards before proceeding with our study. Scripture teaches that we can lose our reward.
Listen to what the Lord told the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:11:
I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
The challenge of the Lord for the church of Philadelphia was that they persevere in their service and spiritual walk. They were to hold on firmly to what they had received so that no one could take away their crown. Their crown would be the reward of faithful service. It appears from this verse, however, that this crown could be lost. We are not speaking about salvation here. We saw in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 that an individual could be saved but lose his or her reward.
The apostle John challenged his readers in 2 John 1:8
8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
John reminded his readers that they were to be careful. He told them that they were to live in such a way as to receive a "full reward." It was possible, according to John, for the believer to lose what the apostles had worked hard to communicate to them, thus surrender their full reward.
Jesus told a parable of a master who asked his servants to invest his money for him while he was away on a journey. To one of his servants he gave five talents, another received two talents and the final servant received one talent. When he returned from his journey, he called his servants to give an account of what they had done with his money. The first two servants invested the money and returned it with interest to the master. The final servant, however, buried his talent and did not invest it. He returned only what the master had given him. Angry with this final servant, the master said:
28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who had not, even what he has will be taken away. (Matthew 25:18-29)
Consider this verse for a moment. The master takes away the investment he made in the life of this final servant and gave it to the one who had been most faithful. Would you continue to give responsibility to someone who proved they were not ready for that responsibility? Will God remove unused gifts and opportunities from us? Will He not give those opportunities instead to someone who will be faithful? With the loss of gifts and opportunities comes the loss or reward.
What do we learn from this brief study? God rewards those who have been faithful to Him. He expects that we live our lives in such a way as to receive those rewards. We are to run to receive the prize. If we are unfaithful, we will sacrifice our reward and stand before God ashamed. May God give us grace to commit our lives to honouring Him and receiving all He has in store for us.
- What are the requirements for spiritual rewards?
- What is the difference between a spiritual reward and salvation? Can an individual be saved and still not receive a spiritual reward?
- Is it wrong for us to seek spiritual rewards? What should be our motivation in seeking spiritual rewards?
- What did Paul mean when he challenged the Corinthians to run in such a way to receive the prize?
- Can we lose our spiritual rewards? What Biblical proof is there that we can lose spiritual rewards?
- Take a moment to thank the Lord that though He is under no obligation to reward us for service, it is His delight to do so.
- Ask the Lord to help you to live your life in such a way that you are running to receive the prize.
- Ask the Lord to show you what His calling is on your life. Ask Him to show you how you can be faithful in that call.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before people in order to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1)
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. (Matthew 6:5)
In the last chapter, we took a moment to examine some very basic teaching about spiritual rewards. We saw that it is possible to lose our rewards. In this study, we will examine one of the ways we can lose our spiritual rewards—by practicing righteousness to be seen by others.
Let's begin by examining what the Lord Jesus told His listeners in Matthew 6:1:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before people in order to be seen by them…
Notice how the verse begins with the word "beware." This tells us something of the importance of what Jesus is about to say. The word "beware" carries with it the sense of caution. It demands that we give special attention to what follows. We usually use this word to warn people about danger. This is what Jesus is telling us here. He is challenging us to take this matter seriously because we have a lot to lose if we don't.
Jesus goes on to tell us that we are beware of practicing righteousness before people in order to be seen by them. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying here is found in the words: "in order to be seen by them." What Jesus is speaking about here is practicing our faith with the purpose of being noticed by other people. This does not mean that we should never show people our faith or that we should hide our relationship with the Lord. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:14-16:
14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 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.
The Lord expects that we live out our faith before people. People ought to know that we are believers in the Lord Jesus by our lifestyle. They should see Jesus in us and in our actions. We are to shine brightly for Him in this dark world.
When Jesus speaks in Matthew 6:1 about practicing our faith to be seen, he is speaking about the motivation behind the practice of our faith. The phrase "in order to be seen by them" helps us to understand what Jesus is saying here. "In order to be seen by them" gives us a sense of the purpose behind this type of righteousness. Those who practice their faith to be seen, have a very particular motive. That motive is not the glory of God but their own glory.
Jesus goes on in Matthew 6 to illustrate what He means. In verse 2, He speaks about an individual who is giving a gift to the needy.
2 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…
Notice what is happening here. The action of giving to the needy was a requirement of the Law of Moses. God expected His people to show compassion and generosity to the poor in their midst. The act of giving to the needy was good and pleasing to the Lord. What was not pleasing, however, was the motivation behind this gift spoken of in verse 2.
Notice what the individual of Matthew 6:2 does. He announces his gift by means of a trumpet. The trumpet is a loud instrument used to get people's attention. For example, when the children of Israel were in the wilderness and they needed to move camp; a trumpet would sound to tell them it was time. If a military commander wanted his army to attack the enemy, he would sound the trumpet.
By sounding a trumpet, the individual of Matthew 6:2 is calling everyone to notice him and his good deed. His concern is not to honour God by ministering to the poor, but that people would look at him and think highly of his generosity.
Jesus goes on in Matthew 6:5 to give another example of righteousness practiced to be seen by others:
5 And when you pray, you must not be like hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others…
Notice again the phrase "that they may be seen by others." This gives us the motivation behind the praying. People who pray to be seen by others, pray so that people will think well of them. They want others to admire their faith. The focus of this kind of prayer is not to worship God or seek His blessing. It is to impress people. These individuals do not love to pray so much as they love to be seen praying.
Jesus uses a final example in Matthew 6:16:
16 And when you fast do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by other…
While fasting is a Biblical discipline, the individuals mentioned here by Jesus, feel the need to let others know what they are doing. They disfigure their faces to show people that they are fasting. The purpose of this disfiguring of the face is to draw attention to themselves and their actions.
Jesus calls these individuals, hypocrites. A hypocrite is an actor pretending to be someone he or she is not in reality. In this case, the individuals Jesus speaks about pretend to be holy but in reality they are selfish and self-centred. They play the role of a generous benefactor but they are seeking attention for themselves. They pray with wonderful and pious words but their hearts are not turned to God but toward themselves and their reputation. They fast for the purpose of appearing religious but they do not truly cry out in their souls to God. The hypocrite uses religion for personal gain. He or she uses the name of God to lift themselves up before people.
There is something very serious about practicing righteousness to be seen by others. This type of "righteousness" takes the glory due to God alone and uses it for personal gain. Are you ready to stand before God with this on your heart? Are you ready to give an answer to Him for why you felt you could divert attention from Him to yourself? This is nothing short of blasphemy and idolatry!
We are to beware of anything that would strip God of the glory due His name. The desire of all true believers ought to be that of John the Baptist when he said: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
It is important that we realise who we really are and what God has done for us. What can we give that He has not first given us? God gives to us so that we can give to others. He blesses us so that the blessing can flow to others. We are not the source of this blessing but merely a channel. The channel is nothing in itself. Shall the channel lift itself up above the source of all blessing? Shall we take the credit for what God has done?
How easy it is for us to seek the glory and credit for ourselves. We can preach sermons so that others will be impressed with our ability to communicate but have no true desire to communicate the heart of God. We can attend church to have the respect and admiration of people around us. We can ask for prayer but in reality, be boasting of all the things we are doing for the Lord. We can read our Bibles simply to ease a guilty conscience. We can confess our sins so that people will see us as humble. We can be a friendly church so that people will join us and we will have more members. We can sing praise to God not because we want to honour Him but because we love music. In fact, we can practice "righteousness" with no desire for God at all. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:1 to beware of this kind of "righteousness."
A "righteousness" practiced to be seen by people, is not the kind of righteousness God requires. It is a hypocritical righteousness that steals from God what is rightfully His. It diverts attention away from God to ourselves. In fact, it lifts itself up to the level of God and uses His name to promote itself. Are we ready to stand before God with this on our conscience?
- What is the difference between living our faith before people and practicing our faith to be seen? What is the difference between being a shining light for the Lord and seeking the attention of people?
- Have you ever found yourself using your faith as a means to lift yourself up? Explain.
- Why is practicing faith to be seen by others an offense to God?
- List some ways we can practice our faith to be seen? Have you been guilty of any of these things?
- Ask the Lord to help you to be a true and shining light for Him and His glory alone.
- Ask God to give you grace to resist the temptation to take any glory due to His name for yourself.
- Ask the Lord to forgive you for times you have practiced your faith merely to be seen by others
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. (Matthew 6:2)
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. (Matthew 6:5)
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. (Matthew 6:16)
So far in this study we have taken a brief look at what Scripture teaches about spiritual rewards. We saw that these rewards are given for faithful service but can be lost for various reasons. In the last chapter, we considered the warning of Jesus about practicing righteousness for the purpose of being seen by others. In this chapter, we will see the reason for this warning of Jesus and its connection with spiritual rewards.
In the verses quoted above there is a central theme. In each verse Jesus warns His listeners about practicing faith for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves. In Matthew 6:2, He speaks about sounding a trumpet to draw attention to the gifts given to the needy. In Matthew 6:5, He speaks about praying in the synagogues and street corners for the purpose of being noticed by people. Finally, in Matthew 6:16, He speaks about disfiguring our faces to draw attention to the fact that we are fasting. In each of these cases, Jesus tells us that those who engage in these practices with this selfish motivation have already received their reward.
Notice, that Jesus speaks in the past tense— “they have received their reward." This is significant. Jesus is telling those who practice their faith to be seen by others that their reward has already been given and they should not expect another.
The second point we need to make in this regard is found in Matthew 6:1 where Jesus introduces this topic:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before people in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from you Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:2, 5, 16 tell us that those who practice their righteousness in order to be seen, have already received their reward. Matthew 6:1 takes this one step further and tells us that their reward will not be from God the Father. The reward received for practicing righteousness to be noticed by others is not a heavenly reward—it is an earthly reward.
What is the nature of this earthly reward? Those who give to the needy with the sounding of trumpets gain recognition. People see them as generous, kind and compassionate. Those who receive gifts from their hand offer their gratitude, thanksgiving and praise.
Those who pray in the synagogues and street corners are seen as holy people and receive a special place in society. Those who fast by disfiguring their faces may be admired for their dedication to their faith and seen as examples to follow. These types of rewards are exactly what many people are looking for. They want to be recognized. They enjoy the place they receive in society. They delight in the gratitude, praise and recognition they receive from their fellow human beings.
Pastors love the status of being a leader in a big church and the recognition it gives them. They love the crowds they draw with their preaching or the respect they receive from fellow pastors as their church grows in size. Ordinary church members love to distinguish themselves from everyone else by means of the gifts they bring or the way they pray in public. We love to be seen in church so we can maintain our reputation as a respectable Christian. In all these things, we receive the praise and recognition of our fellow believers or society.
In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus challenges the motivations behind this type of religious practice.
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20—but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
What is Jesus saying here? In the context of this chapter, He is telling us that we ought not to be making it a priority to seek treasures for ourselves on this earth. The praise and admiration of other human beings is wonderful but it is an earthly reward. How much greater is the praise and recognition of God! Earthly titles will be of no value when we stand before the Lord. The pastor is judged alongside the ordinary church member. The king stands beside the citizen to receive his reward or punishment. Our rich possessions on this earth will remain here when we perish and we will stand naked before our God to give an account of how we have used what He has given. Our possessions or positions in society will mean nothing when we stand before God. We will not be judged on the basis of how much we were able to get people to respect and admire us.
What Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 is that those who make it their goal to receive their reward on this earth will not receive another in heaven. We are given a choice to make. We can either live for the praise and recognition of this world or we can live for the praise and glory of God—we cannot have both.
Consider what the apostle Paul had to say in Galatians 1:10:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Paul has an important point to make here. He told the Galatians that if he were trying to please human beings, he would not be a servant of Christ. His goal in life was not to serve and please people. His goal was to live for and please the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Paul had a choice to make –please God or please people. He chose to be a servant of God. This decision would mean great opposition. He would be hated and his message rejected. Choosing God meant opposition from his fellow human beings. Choosing God meant personal suffering and struggle. Choosing God meant dying to what others thought about him.
The Old Testament prophets were often called on to speak strong words against the people of God. They were rejected by those to whom they preached. Some were killed or persecuted for the message they brought. Being a servant of God will often require a willingness to suffer at the hand of man. Those who live to please people cannot be servants of Christ. They must choose between pleasing people or pleasing God.
Those who live out their faith to be seen by people serve another god. Their desire is not to please God but themselves. Listen to what the Lord God said to His people through Zechariah:
4 Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: 5 "Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? (Zechariah 7:4-5)
While the people of God fasted, mourned, ate and drink in their religious celebrations, God saw that their heart was far from Him. They were not doing this for Him but for themselves. Could He reward these people for serving themselves? Could He reward them for a faith that had themselves at the centre and ignored Him?
If God were to reward those who practice their faith to be seen, what would He be rewarding? These individuals are proud and selfish individuals. Their faith consists of drawing attention to themselves. Their desire is that people worship them and not God. God will not reward pride and selfishness.
Those who practice faith in Christ's name to be seen are not only guilty of pride and selfishness but also of taking the glory due to God for themselves. When the apostles were in Lystra they met a man who had never walked. Speaking to this man Paul said: "Stand upright on your feet" (Acts 14:10). The man got up and started walking for the first time in his life. The crowds saw this incredible miracle and said: "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" (Acts 14:11). The priests of Zeus, the pagan god of the city, brought an ox to sacrifice it to Paul and Barnabas as gods. Notice the response of the apostles to this in Acts 14:14-15:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
Imagine Paul and Barnabas allowing the people of Lystra to worship them as gods. Imagine them taking the credit for the miracle that took place that day. We would be shocked at such disrespect and blasphemy? The apostles, literally "tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd" to stop this terrible thing from happening. They would not take the credit for what God had done. They would not have people focus their praise and worship on them. They would not steal the glory due to God alone and keep it for themselves. They could not even bear the thought of such a sin.
What reward would the apostles have received if they had used this miracle to receive the praise of the inhabitants of Lystra? The only reward they would have received was the praise of these men. Be assured, however, that they would have had to answer to god for their idolatry.
The reward received by those who practice their faith to be seen is the recognition of people around them. This reward is even more than they deserve. They give not out of compassion but selfishness, yet they receive the gratitude and thanks of men and woman. They fast and pray only to be seen and praised for their spiritual devotion but their heart is not for God but themselves. For this they receive the admiration of those who see them. These hypocrites are praised and given seats of honour. If their true motives were seen, even this reward would be stripped from them. They receive more than they deserve on this earth. There will be no reward in heaven for them.
How careful we need to be in the practice of our faith. We dare not take the glory due to God for ourselves. We dare not be content with passing earthly rewards and lose the reward that lasts for all eternity. How easy it is, however, to find ourselves wanting these temporary rewards? How easy it is for us to slip into this sin of pride and seeking glory for ourselves.
We need to see the sin in practicing our faith in order to be seen. We need more people who have the attitude of Paul and Barnabas –who upon seeing the people wanting to praise them, tore their clothes in deep grief. How serious a matter it is to take what belongs to God and keep it for ourselves. The time for our reward will come but it is our duty now to point men and women to Him. Let’s not seek the temporary rewards of this earth but rather store up treasure in heaven for the glory of God.
- What are the examples Jesus gives in Matthew 6 of ways people who practice their righteousness to be seen of men? What are some other examples of this type of righteousness?
- Can those who seek to please others or please themselves truly be servants of Christ? See Galatians 1:10.
- What was the response of Paul and Barnabas when the people of Lystra wanted to give them credit for the work of God in Acts 14:14-15? What does this teach us about the attitude we also need to have.
- What is the motivation behind a righteousness practiced to be seen by others? Can God reward this kind of motivation?
- What earthly reward would the people Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6 receive? What is the difference this reward and the reward God offers in heaven?
- Ask the Lord to forgive you for any time you have taken the credit for what He alone has done.
- Take a moment to examine your faith? What is the motivation for the things you do? Ask the Lord to show you your true motivation in the practice of your faith.
- Ask the Lord to strip away from you any desire to lift yourself up. Ask Him to teach you to rejoice in Him. Ask Him to help you to point people to Him alone.
4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)
6 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. (Matthew 6:6)
17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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 6:17-18)
In Matthew 6:2, Jesus used the illustration of a man who gave gifts by blowing a trumpet to attract attention to himself and his actions. Jesus warns against this practice and tells us how we should give in verse 3:
3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. (Matthew 6:3)
No one needs to see you give. Instead of blowing a trumpet to announce your offering, give in secrecy, not letting anyone know what you have given. Consider this for a moment. Who is the source of everything you have? Who is the rightful owner of all your possessions? Who puts it on your heart to give? Can we take the credit for giving what does not truly belong to us? Can we receive praise for giving what God has put into our hands for someone else? We give in secret so that God alone receives the glory. He is the provider; we are merely instruments of His generosity and compassion. Do nothing that would take this glory from God.
Listen to what the prophet Isaiah tells us:
15 Shall the axe boast over him who hews with
or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood. (Isaiah 10)
Isaiah’s words are important in this context. Imagine the axe boasting that it took down a big tree or the saw boasting that it reduced that tree to small pieces. What is the axe without the person who handles it? What is the saw without someone to move it across the grains of wood? If there is to be any boasting it would have to be in the person who skillfully handles the axe and the saw. The point is this—I am the axe that God uses to accomplish His purpose on this earth. I am merely the instrument in His hands. If there is to be any boasting, it must be in the wonderful plan and purpose of God. I would have nothing to give, were it not for the provision of the Lord God. I would not have a desire to give, were it not for his grace to move my hardened and selfish heart.
Jesus goes on to tell us that not only are we to give in secret but we are also to pray in private. Listen to what Jesus told those listening to Him in Matthew 6:6:
6 But when you pray, go to 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. (Matthew 6:6)
Jesus teaches that the same principle to those who fast.
17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 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 6:17, 18)
We fast and pray to seek the favour of our God. Shall we who are merely the seekers of that favour receive more glory than the Giver of all favours? Shall the beggar receive more glory than the Provider? True righteousness will never compete with God for praise.
Listen to what John the Baptist told his disciples when they noticed that more people were following Jesus than their master John.
27 John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is not complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30)
John was not threatened by people leaving him to follow Christ. Notice the illustration he uses in John 3:29. He speaks of a bridegroom and his friend who stands beside him during the wedding ceremony. At that time, all attention is on the bridegroom because this is his day. No one focuses on the bridegroom’s friend. This, according to John, was how it should be. What kind of friend would take attention away from the bridegroom on his wedding day? A good friend rejoices at the attention the bridegroom receives on his special day. This was how John felt toward Christ. He wanted Him to receive all the attention. In fact, John made this his goal in life. He would decrease so that Christ would increase. He would move aside so that Jesus would receive the glory. He would become less important so that Jesus would become all important. He would fade out of sight so that Jesus could receive all the attention.
The Lord God makes it quite clear that He will not share His glory with another. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah He says:
I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
And again, in Isaiah 48:11 He says:
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:11)
The righteousness Jesus speaks about here in Matthew 6 is practiced in secret for one very important reason—that God might receive all the glory. It is practiced in secret because if it were practiced openly, attention would shift from God to the individual practicing the righteous deed. The heart of the person practicing true righteousness is to see that God receives the glory due His name.
Having examined Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6 about the secret practice of righteousness, it now falls on us to examine this teaching in the context of the remainder of Scripture. I will only touch on this so I do not distract from the central purpose of this study. It is important, however, that we understand this teaching of Jesus in light of the instruction of the rest of Scripture about the public practice of faith.
Secrecy and Being Ashamed
The secret practice of righteousness should not be confused with being ashamed of Christ. It is quite possible to practice our faith in hiding because we are ashamed of being a Christian. Listen to what Jesus tells us about being ashamed of Him in Mark 8:38:
38 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8)
Jesus calls us to secrecy when we pray or give. Here in Mark 8:38, however, He reminds us that He will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of Him. Certainly, the motive is very different in these two kinds of people. One practices righteousness in secret so that all glory will go to God. The other practices righteousness in secret because he is ashamed to be known as a disciple of God. The Lord God knows the motivation of our heart and will reward us accordingly.
Secrecy and Being a Light
The secret practice of righteousness does not remove our obligation to be bold witnesses for Christ. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus makes this clear when He said:
14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 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. (Matthew 5)
How do we reconcile Jesus' teaching about praying and giving in secret and what He tells us here about letting people see our good works? The key to understanding this again is the motivation. Notice in Matthew 5:16 that the goal of letting other see our good works is that people would "give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). While Jesus expects us to be bold witnesses for Him in a world of darkness, our purpose in doing so must be the glory of God. We must be willing to take a stand for Him and be shining examples of His purpose. There will be times, however, when giving Him the glory will mean practicing our righteousness in secret so that we do not take this glory due His name for ourselves. By searching our heart, we can discern when it is best to stand as a light on a hill and when it is best to close the door behind us to practice our righteousness in secret.
Public Expressions of Faith
Jesus' teaching about the secret practice of righteousness does not remove our obligation to public expressions of faith. Consider how Jesus and the apostles prayed in public or performed miracles for all to see. Some of the great prayers of Scripture were written down for everyone to read. I have regularly led the people of God in public prayer. I have prayed with individuals about their specific needs. God expects nothing less of me as His servant.
God also called for public celebration of His name in singing, giving and public sacrifice. Scripture is filled with illustrations of believers gathering together to express their common faith. We are encouraged in Scripture to gather with each other in public worship for the edification of one another and the glory of God.
The teaching of Jesus about the secret practice of righteousness is obviously not intended to be applied to every aspect of our faith all the time. Yes, there is a time for praying and giving in secret but there is also a time to take a public stand for the glory of our God. The warning of Jesus in this passage is not about practicing righteousness in public but about doing so for the purpose of being seen. He reminds us that if our motivation is to pray so that others will see us, then it would be better for us to go to our room, close the door and pray where only God can see. If we find ourselves giving so that others will notice, then it would be better to seek a way to give so that only God knows what we gave.
The secret practice of righteousness is not motivated by greater rewards in heaven—it is about giving God greater glory. It is about us getting out of the way so that all eyes are focused on God, His compassion, mercy and grace. This should be the heart cry of everyone who practices their faith, whether in public or private.
Some time ago, I attended a church near my home. I was dressed in my suit and tie as I stepped inside the door. I was greeted by a man who commented on how well I was dressed. As I made my way to the sanctuary where the service was going to take place another person greeted me with another comment about how well I was dressed. Before I got to my seat still a third person approached with a similar comment. To be honest, by this time I was quite frustrated. I had come to church to worship God yet three people had commented on my suit and tie. I was uncomfortable with this attention and so I decided to return home and dress more casually so as not to be a distraction. My desire was that the Lord receive the attention here. I did not want people to be looking at me and my suit.
The point I am making is simply this. God deserves all the attention. As we examine our lives, we will see that there are times when we need to withdraw to our rooms, close the door and seek the forgiveness of God for taking attention away from Him. There will be other times when we discover that we have not honoured Him because we have not taken a stand. We have remained behind closed doors when God has been challenging us to step out for the glory of His name. In all these things, we need the wisdom of God in knowing when to withdraw and when to step out. May He grant us this wisdom for the greater glory of His name.
- Does Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6 mean that we should never practice our faith in public? Explain.
- How do we know when it is time to let our works be seen and when it is best to practice our righteousness in secret?
- Take a moment to examine your life and ministry. Are there things you are doing in public that would be best done in secret? Why?
- What is the attitude of John in John 3:30? Has this been your attitude? What needs to happen for you to have this same attitude?
- Ask the Lord to examine your heart and show you areas of your life where you have been seeking glory for yourself and not for Him.
- Ask the Lord to teach you when and how to practice your righteousness in secret.
- Ask the Lord to give you wisdom to know when you are to leave the secret place and take a public stand for His glory.
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)
As we conclude this study on what Jesus teaches about the practice of righteousness to be seen, I would like to take a moment to examine His words in Matthew 6:19-24. These verses are a very fitting conclusion to this brief study.
First of all, Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:19-20 not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth. Consider the context of these verses. Jesus has been speaking about the practice of righteousness to be seen and the rewards that are the result of this motivation. Those who practice their faith for the purpose of being noticed by people have already received their reward on earth and should not expect to be rewarded in heaven by the Father.
Jesus' words show us that we should not be seeking treasures on this earth. The praise and admiration of other people is one of those earthly treasures we can lay up for ourselves here below. There are many who seek glory, honour and recognition in this life.
Notice that Jesus uses the word "treasure" here. A treasure is something we place a high value on. We know how easy it is to place a high value on being recognized and appreciated by others in this world. Who doesn't want to be respected and admired? What Jesus is telling us, however, is that we should not place a high value on human praise. We should not be overly concerned about what others think of us. Those who seek to accumulate this kind of treasure will only hinder their ability to serve the Lord and forfeit their heavenly reward.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:19 that earthly treasures will be eaten by moths and rust. They will be stolen from us by thieves and destroyed. As we stand before God, it will not matter what people thought of us –only what God thinks. Those who faithfully served the Lord were often hated by those to whom they spoke. Stephen, the deacon of the early church, was stoned to death for preaching the truth of the gospel. He was hated by those who listened to him but received by the Lord and rewarded for his faithfulness unto death (see Acts 6:8-15). Stephen did not place a high value on what people thought of him—his great concern was what God thought.
How petty these earthly treasures will appear as we stand before God. These earthly things we value will hold no significance in heaven. Jesus' advice to us all in Matthew 6:19-20 is to live our lives in such a way that we will receive our reward not on this earth but in heaven.
Notice secondly what Jesus tells His listeners in Matthew 6:22-23:
22 Eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.
What is Jesus teaching in these verses and what is its application to the theme of this study? The eye is the part of our body that can see and focus on a particular object. It represents our vision and our motivation in life. It is what we focus on and give priority to. A healthy spiritual vision brings health and life. An unhealthy spiritual vision will only bring sickness and death.
What are your spiritual eyes focused on today? Have they fixed their gaze on earthly treasures and the praise of other human beings? Have they been dazzled by the wealth and attractions of this world? Have these things become the focus of your eyes or have you been captivated by Christ and who He is? Have your eyes been looking into the light of eternity? What was the vision of Paul in Philippians 3:7-8 when he said:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3)
Paul had no eye for the things of this world. His education, his experience or what people thought of him were unimportant. His eyes were for Christ alone. Christ and His glory is what was the focus of His attention. He had no room for anything else. Paul's spiritual vision was healthy and for this reason he was filled with the light of Christ.
What Jesus is telling us is that our spiritual vision is vital. If our vision is healthy, there will not be the temptation to seek the praise of men. If our vision is healthy, we will not be attracted to worldly treasures that are passing. Instead, we will seek Christ and His reward. We will live with a vision of Christ and His glory.
Finally, in Matthew 6:24 Jesus told His listeners that they could not serve two masters.
24 No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6)
The word translated "money" in this verse is the word "mammonas". It can also be translated by the words "riches," or "treasures." It does not only refer to money but to those things we value in life and treat as treasures. This connects verse 24 with Jesus' teaching about not storing up "treasures" on earth in verse 19.
What is Jesus telling us here? He is telling us that when we store up treasures on this earth and value them, we are making them masters in our lives. When we set our eyes on this world and its rewards we are making these things gods. What do you treasure? What you treasure most will become your guide, motivation and ultimately your god. When what people think of us becomes our great treasure in life, we make this god. It will determine how we live our lives. It will determine also what our reward will be.
In Matthew 6, Jesus reminds us of the great temptation to practice our righteousness in order to be seen and praised by others. The person who does this, turns the focus away from God to themselves. They take the glory due to God and keep it for themselves. Jesus warns us against this and encourages us to learn how to give all glory to Him.
Jesus goes on to tell us that the praise and admiration of human beings here below will not last. In the end, we will stand before God and give an account of our attitudes and actions. The praise of men and the treasures we have amassed on this earth will mean nothing to us then. Our great goal in life is to please God. This is the only treasure that will last.
If we set our eyes on the things of this world, we cannot expect to know the fullness of God's blessing. An earthly focus in not a healthy focus. Only when our eyes are focused on Christ and His glory can we experience the fullness of God's heart for us. This means placing little value on the praise and recognition of people on this earth. It means making the glory of Christ our great objective in life. We will willingly die to ourselves and any praise we could receive so that Christ will receive the glory. This is vision and goal.
Finally, if we are to live in such a way that God receives the glory we must renounce any temptation to treasure anything else in life more than Him. Nothing must take His place. We will reject any desire to take glory for ourselves that could go to Christ. We will not allow selfish ambition or vain praise to become god in His place. He alone will be our God. We will bow the knee to no other treasure.
What will our eyes focus on? Will we allow the things of this earth to dazzle us or will Christ and the glory of His name become our vision? When our focus and treasure is right our righteousness will reflect this and so will our heavenly reward.
- The focus of this study has been on what Jesus teaches about practicing righteousness to be seen by others. Is being noticed, respected and praised by people a treasure that will last? Explain.
- What things do you treasure in life? What is your greatest treasure? Are there things in your life that keep you from treasuring God and His glory? What are they?
- Jesus speaks in Matthew 6 about how a healthy eye can bring light to the body. How does our spiritual vision affect our ability to minister in Christ's name and the rewards we are storing up?
- How can what we treasure begin to take the place of God in our lives? Can we be a true servant of God if we treasure other things more than Him?
- Ask God to help you to make Him your greatest treasure in life. Ask Him to forgive you for placing anyone or anything above Him.
- Ask God to give you a clear vision of His purpose for your life. Ask Him to give you grace to be faithful not only in the calling He has on your life but also in giving Him all the glory in that calling.
- Take a moment to examine your life and what you treasure most in life. Ask God to forgive you for any treasure that is more important than Him and His glory in your life.
Light To My Path (LTMP) is a book writing and distribution ministry reaching out to needy Christian workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many Christian workers in developing countries do not have the resources necessary to obtain Bible training or purchase Bible study materials for their ministries and personal encouragement. F. Wayne Mac Leod is a member of Action International Ministries and has been writing these books with a goal to distribute them to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world.
To date tens of thousands of books are being used in preaching, teaching, evangelism and encouragement of local believers in over sixty countries. Books have now been translated into a number of languages. The goal is to make them available to as many believers as possible.
The ministry of LTMP is a faith based ministry and we trust the Lord for the resources necessary to distribute the books for the encouragement and strengthening of believers around the world. Would you pray that the Lord would open doors for the translation and further distribution of these books?