By Jason Seville
Over the past year I’ve been chronologically reading through all four Gospels by following a “Harmony of the Gospels” approach. It has been incredible.
The observations I’m about to share are not earth-shattering, but were a good reminder and challenge to me this when I was spending time in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 6:1 (all references here are ESV) 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.” Jesus then provides a pretty clear outline, giving three examples where people can fall into the danger practicing righteousness before others:
Giving to the needy, 6:2-4 (note the “when you give to the needy” in v.2).
Prayer, 6:5-15 (note the “when you pray” beginning v. 5).
Fasting, 6:16-18 (note the “when you fast” beginning v.16).
In each of these three sections, Jesus discusses how to give/pray/fast in a bad way and how to do it in a way that honors God.
There is much that can be said about these verses (Lord’s prayer, storing up treasure in heaven vs. earth, teaching on forgiveness, etc), but what hit me was the following thought:
It’s not wrong to practice righteousness.
The problem in this passage isn’t with practicing righteousness, but with the motive behind practicing righteousness. “Beware of practicing your righteousness IN ORDER TO BE SEEN…” Bad motives will then lead to no reward in heaven. IS there a reward for those who practice righteousness for bad motives? Sure, there is. The only problem is that it is an earthly reward (see vv.2, 5, and 16 — “they have received their reward”) of little consequence that is nothing in comparison to the possible heavenly reward for true righteousness.
Jesus allows for a good practicing of righteousness. When you give, give like this… When you pray, pray like this… When you fast, fast like this…
Let us not flee from practicing righteousness because of our fear of legalism or of “works-righteousness”!!!
Practicing righteousness with good motives will lead to.
Treasures in heaven, 6:19-24.
Not worrying about the trivial things of this world, 6:25-34.
So, the question I had to ask myself this morning was, “Am I practicing righteousness by (at the least) giving to the needy, praying, and fasting? Am I doing this AT ALL? And to the extent that I am doing this, am I doing it in a way that honors God?”