. . .
For God's Glory or Our Own?
Good morning. If you would, please turn with me in your bibles to Matthew 6. As we come to a new chapter, we come to a new section in the SotM. We have the same theme. We are still seeking to understand what it means to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and Scribes. In much of Chapter 5 Jesus developed that theme by giving us a clear understanding of the law of God. There were various laws that had come to be misunderstood. So he gave the proper interpretation of them.
In Chapter 6 Jesus turns to deal with various religious practices. He’s going to be talking about doing your righteousness before men. And he’s going to talk about various religious practices (or practices that are believed to be righteous things).
The passage for today is just going to be the first verse. We are going to read the first 4 verses, but we’re going to concentrated on the first verse. And that’s because this verse serves as something of an introduction to this new section we are entering into. And we are going to talk about the internal life. We’re going to talk about the orientation of the heart. Because that’s the most fundamental thing when it comes to this whole notion of righteousness.
So let’s read Matthew 6:1-4.
“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.
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. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
As we enter into this new section, one way you may think of it is in terms of the vertical and horizontal planes.
In chapter 5, much of what we looked at dealt with our relationships to our neighbor. We get angry at our neighbor. We break the oath that we made with our neighbor. We lust after our neighbors and we have enemies who are, for all intents and purposes, our neighbors.
As we move into chapter 6, what we are going to find is that a lot of it deals with our life as it relates primarily to God. As you see from what we read today, it talks about how we handle our money and what giving to God looks like. Then it talks about prayer and fasting. Each of these deals expressly with our relationship to God.
But you’ll notice that its not just about the giving or the prayer or the fasting. It’s about how we go about the giving and the fasting. What you find is that as this section looks at the vertical, it also looks to the internal. He’s focusing on our inner life and really what is going on inside our hearts and our minds.
You see, Jesus is talking to a bunch of religious people. These were church going folk, just like you and I. And he is pressing home the fact that life is not just about what happens on the outside. It’s not just about being good and doing religious things. It’s really about what’s going on on the inside.
That’s the primary place of concern in the Christian faith. God is concerned with the inner workings of the heart. That’s central command for one’s relationship with God.
And that’s what we want to talk about today. The Lord wants us to think about why we do what we do. Or, to put it another way, Jesus wants us to examine the whole issue regarding our motives.
And there are three things that we need to think about today when it comes to our motives. We need to think about the importance of our motives, the challenge of our motives, and the consequences of our motives.
I. The importance of our motives -
The question we should ask is, “Do you really know how important your motives are?”
You come to church and you hear me preach and you hear me say, “This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do.” But it might be that we end up thinking that the dos and the don’ts are the primary focus of the Christian life. But that’s not at all true.
The most important thing is the orientation of our hearts.
This is also the most important thing you will hear today: Motives are the most important factor in one’s actions. The motive may be said at times to be even more important than the action itself.
Too often we think in terms of what is right and wrong. But you have to remember that what is right can be wrong too. It depends at that moment upon your motives.
You’ll notice from the following sections that this is certainly true. In the verses we read, it talked about giving. The following passages deal with prayer and fasting. These are all very good things, right? These are all religious acts. They can be said to be acts of piety. And we know that God, in his Word, commands that we do these things. He commands us to give. He commands us to pray. He commands that fasting be used to supplement our prayers.
But yet, what is Jesus saying here in these passages? He’s saying that your alms, prayers, and periods of fasting can be a total disgrace if you do them with the wrong motive. You can dump thousands of dollars into the church’s coffers; you can go on a mega fast; you can do all kinds of religious things, but if your heart is not in the right place, then everything you did is for nothing. God will not be pleased with it in any respect.
Now you may think about the shock that this had for the people of Jesus’ time. The Pharisees and the Scribes were some of the greatest when it comes to these acts. They were pros at praying. They were elites when it came to fasting. There was no doubt that they had expertise in every kind of religious practice.
But Jesus tells us that you can do all kinds of religious things: you can go to church, you can sing the songs, you can even read your Bible, and yet, despite having done these pious deeds, God still may not be pleased with your actions
So in these cases, what matters most is not so much what you are doing, but what you are doing these things for. Why are you doing them? What is really driving you? What is the end goal you really are trying to gain by doing this?
It is not enough simply to say, “I did this; I did what God wanted me to. God is therefore pleased with me.” We need to realize that God is always looking deeper. He examines the heart. Externals may have their place. Certainly, you need to do the right things. God commands certain actions. But we need to remember that internal realities are important too. The internals may very well be the most important factor.
So it is important that you and I also conduct and internal scan. We need to look at what we are doing and take a good inventory of why we are doing these things. That might be a place where we need to focus our attention and do some repenting. And its imperative to do that because it is such and essential part of our obedience to God.
Which brings us to the challenge of the motives. If motives are one of the most important factors in our deeds, we need to recognize that there’s a difficulty we face.
II. The challenge of motives -
As a matter of fact Jesus points out the challenge in the very first word of chapter 6. “Beware.” Jesus is saying that you need to have some degree of skepticism when it comes to your heart and its motives. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.”
Now, you recognize this isn’t forbidding us from doing righteous deeds in front of other people. Some people have used verses like this to say that we should never have public prayers and do religious acts in an open forum. That’s not the case at all. It’s not saying that we should not be seen at all. It’s talking about the motives for why we are doing them in the public realm.
Jesus is talking about our desire to be recognized. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before others to be seen by them.” It’s because we have a yearning to be acknowledged by others and we want to people to marvel at us. We want people to think that we are great and pious.
So really, its a form of vanity. It’s about being admired. That’s what the challenge is. It is not wanting the glory to God to God and having a earnest desire to do what he wants simply for the reason that He wants it. It is about us. It’s about the acclaim and the recognition that we can get out of doing this specific act.
This was obviously a problem in Jesus’ day. People were making a show out of how much money they were giving and they were standing in places where they would be easily seen and heard when they went to pray. And people could pass by and ooo and awe over what they had said.
That may seem kind of silly to us today. But let’s not think that we are anywise safe from this kind of thing. We have cameras. We have social media, which might be considered the superhighway of vanity. So, as one pastor said, we take the picture of our Bible and the cup of coffee. We make sure the lighting is just right. We then take another picture. We adjust the angle a little bit. And then, once we get the best picture we possibly can get we use a filter to enhance it that much more. Then we post it to our Instagram page. And what happens the whole set up probably takes longer than it does for us to read the passage that is assigned that day.
But nothing satisfies us more than how many comments and likes people give us. We’re getting noticed.
Let’s not forget that we live in the age of the selfie. And this is the age of the selfie not just because of social media and influence of corporate world where they are trying to show themselves to be oh so philanthropic and kind. The challenge isn’t because of anything external. It is our own hearts. That’s the root of the problem. That’s the place where the issue rises. We desire the glamour.
You Bible Bee kids know how this plays out. You’ve met with this challenge. What motivation is there for memorizing the next passage. “If I get all 7 verses of this passage, I’m going to get noticed!” Whether consciously or unconsciously, you’ve been there. You’ve been in that position. Maybe you didn’t post a selfie and start a thread, but the drive (the motivation) was not altogether holy.
I know because I’ve been there too. The sermon writing process isn’t without its pitfalls. I’m afraid I know all too well what it is like to say, “I’ve got to make this better than that guy.” This message has got to impress. I wish I could stand here and say that every time I get into this pulpit I am doing it for the glory of God alone.
It’s found in one’s being baptized and making his public profession of faith. These are all good things. These are things that God commands. These are things that are important. But why are you doing it? Is it because you know deep down that you need to follow Christ and live for him? Or are you doing it because you know that everyone else thinks you should. You have this desire to please them or be seen by them.
You see, we are all pious pre-madona’s by nature. And even when we are supposedly doing things for God, we can be secretly trying to steal the glory. We can be doing all the right things, but doing them for all the wrong reasons.
This is especially so if we are not converted. The heart of an unregenerate person cannot do things for the glory of God. The heart is turned inward by its very nature. And that’s why we need to be born again. There’s no way we can truly do anything for God if we are not born of God and made a friend of God. You can be an enemy of God and be a very religious person. The church is a mixed society and we shouldn’t presume that everyone is necessarily a believer. If history has shown us anything, it is that unbelief can mascaraed as belief.
And if that’s the case, then its imperative that you seek redemption from this sorry state. There’s no possible way for you to overcome the challenge of the inner life if your heart is dead. That’s where you need to look at yourself and take heed to the words, “Beware.” Beware of going along with the crowd. Beware of doing this because all your friends are doing it. Beware of your selfish religiosity. You need to cry out to God and be born again.
And with that we can talk about the consequences of our motives.
III. The consequence of our motives
In the last half of verse 1 Jesus gives us a clue as to what is in store for those who practice their righteousness before men and for those who are being righteous for righteousness sake.
He says, “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.”
In sum, there is a reward to be had or lost. Those who’s motives have been pure have a reward, but those who have had a formalistic religion (where it was all externals and internally it was a show), they will have no reward.
Now, it is my opinion that those who do not gain the reward are specifically those who are unconverted. And you have to understand how much of a shock this will be. All this time they have no doubt seen themselves as pretty good. For all these years they have been doing all kinds of religious deeds. People have marveled at them. They’ve complimented them on how disciplined they’ve been and how pious they have acted.
Surely then, when they get to heaven God is going to gush all over them too, right? But that’s not the way it will pan out. When they get there they are going to find out that God has seen right through them the whole time. They are going to realize that the Lord has been repulsed by what they have done. And they are not going to get any reward.
There may be a further hint in the original language too. It might also be translated, “You will have no reward beside (or in the vicinity of) your Father in heaven.” the word “from” is the word “para” which means in “near” or “in proximity to.”
So, if you take it that way, it means you are not going to be in heaven at all. You will not only not have a reward, but you will not even be in God’s favorable presence. The implication is, of course, that you will be cast out of his presence and find yourself damned.
This is the interesting thing. Hell is littered with all kinds of religious people. Some of what seemed to be the most pious people that ever walked the face of the earth might be said to be found there.
Dante’s Inferno is the classic book which was written in the 14th century. It was required reading in college. I still remember one section of that book. Of course, it is a fictitious story of a man who took a journey through the different levels of hell. And on one of the levels there were priests who were being dunked upside down in flames of fire. Hot coals were being placed on the bottoms of their feet.
I don’t know that Dante really depicted anything real about hell. He was simply trying to make a point about the priests of his day. They were in charge of the sacred ministry. They carried out the duties of worship. They handled the sacraments and the Scriptures. They offered the prayers on behalf of the people. But they were not true believers. As a result, they not only did not enjoy the blessings of heaven, but for all eternity they were to receive a torturous baptism of death.
In contrast to this stands the believer. The one who is wary of his heart and seeks to beware of his poor motives, there’s a promise for him. There is a promise of a reward. While we are not told what that reward is, we do know that at least part of it is being received into God’s presence.
And even though we do not have any clarity on what the reward is we at least know that it means that God’s attention is turned towards us. There’s a sense in which he acknowledges us and the works that we have done.
In another week or two the 2022 Winter Olympics will commence. And all the different metals will be awarded to the various athletes. And in each instance, that person has the opportunity to stand on a platform in front of all the crowds. And one of the commissioners from the Olympics will come with their reward, and he will place it around the neck of that athlete. And for a moment he will have the opportunity to bask in the joy of that recognition.
There is a sense in which that is what Jesus promises anyone who has been poor in spirit. This is what happens to the one who has sought purity of heart in regards to his righteous deeds. He will have a moment where he stands in the presence of God and is acknowledged by him as a good an faithful servant. God will bestow a reward, but perhaps better than that he will stand in the presence of God and be recognized by him.