I really enjoy the first few verses of chapter 6, because when put into practice, change can truly take place within an individual. “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” (verse 1). So after an entire chapter in which we’re given tough standards to live by, Jesus then tells us not to perform acts of righteousness to be seen by others. This verse is quite difficult to carry out in day to day living. We love being praised for the good things we’ve done, and sometimes it is the praise which motivates us to do good things. Yet Jesus doesn’t simply desire pure acts, he desires pure motives. We should avoid activities in which we are praised to the point that God is forgotten by others. Every action we perform should serve to turn people toward God’s goodness and love. The apostle Paul was alarmed when people were saying they served him instead of Jesus in 2nd Corinthians. Paul understood that even though he was being a diligent and serving pastor, the praise which resulted from his good works had to be directed towards God and God alone.
Verse 2 continues to encourage us to dually perform good works and also avoid praise from 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” (verse 2). It can be difficult to serve others without proclaiming it to the world. In our earthly insecurities, we feel the need for man’s affirmation more than we do for God’s affirmation. Yet Jesus wants us to resemble our Father in heaven, and the reward of our Father is much greater than mere affirmation from men. Jesus gives us a characteristic here of hypocrites: they want to let everyone know when they do good things. And as the end of this verse states, people who want others to praise them and then receive that praise receive their reward, the adulation of men. This type of reward is shallow, because men’s feelings are fickle and their good feelings toward us won’t last. These first two verses serve to show us that a reward from God and a reward from man look very different. While the first two verses instruct us to avoid certain actions, the third verse tells us what we should do. “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” (verses 3-4). I love that Jesus continually speaks of giving to the needy. Jesus doesn’t want us to read this passage and assume that we’ll never have pure enough motives to serve people so we should just give up instead. Jesus doesn’t want that. He wants us to serve people, but he wants our service to be performed with purity of heart. Our service is to be totally self-forgetful. We are to completely take ourselves out of the equation, so that we serve people without thinking of how they’ll respond to our act of service. This may seem hard, but there are some simple ways to do this. For instance, you could write someone an encouraging letter and not sign it. Don’t tell anyone about it. It may seem silly, but God sees your heart and looks down on you from heaven with love. Honestly, it’s kind of thrilling, knowing that God is the only one who sees your act. This verse reminds us of the omniscience of God. God sees everything we do, whether men see it or not. And God will reward us for our acts done where only He can see them. What is our reward? I believe we please God, because we are doing things for others selflessly just as Jesus did. Everything Jesus did was to give glory back to God. As Christians, we are called to serve our fellow man. We need to approach this activity with the glory of God being our focal point, with the glory of ourselves being totally out of the picture. God sees what we do, and our secret acts will continue to renew and grow our relationship with our wonderful and loving Father.