All for God’s Glory | Matthew 6:1-8

All for God’s Glory | Matthew 6:1-8

Last week we started a series called “Live to Give.” Almost always we are working our way through a book of the Bible, but every once in a while we focus on a topic, and dig into texts of Scripture on that topic. And this series is focused on living lives of radical generosity. With our time, our energy, our resources—in every way, how can our lives reflect the generosity of our God? 

Today we look at how Jesus addressed the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for making huge shows out of some of the most important disciplines within their faith. Giving to the needy, praying, and fasting—all of these had become charades. They were all about the show, all about what people thought vs. what God thought. 

We live in a culture driven by image. How you are presented, how people see you, determines who you really are—or at least that’s how so many of us think, whether we know it or not. This can happen with our faith as well. Maybe we don’t struggle in the same ways the Pharisees do, as obnoxious as they were, but part of this sinful tendency that all people have is trying to find our identity and our value in what people think of us, rather than in Christ. We go through the motions, doing things God wants to do, not because our hearts are in it, but because that’s how we want others to see us. Honestly, if we call it what it is, it’s hypocrisy. 

So today we’re in Matthew chapter 6, which is the sermon on the mount. Jesus has been explaining how far off the Jews were with their traditions. He’s been teaching what inner righteousness looks like as opposed to merely outward righteousness. And in Matthew 6 he continues this theme, but with specific disciplines of the Christian faith. You see, even with these outward things that we do—giving, praying, and fasting— our inward motivations can be totally off. Let’s read, and see what Jesus says, starting in Mathew 6:1.  

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. 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. 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.

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. 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. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

At this point, Jesus goes into a digression of sorts. He gives us a model of how to pray. I encourage you to read that later. But I do want us to move down to verse 16, and read three more verses. You’ll see the parallel he’s making, but this time he’s talking about fasting. So starting with vs. 16:

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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 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.

So, Jesus gives us three of the primary disciplines for practicing Jews—giving, praying, and fasting—and he makes very clear with them that these disciplines are not to be done for show! In fact, his main point is right there is verse 1: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” Why? Because that is false righteousness. That doesn’t reflect the true righteousness that we receive from Christ. It’s fake. And guess what? There is a reward for it…you perform it for people, you get your reward from people, but not from God. True righteousness that we receive by repenting and placing our faith in Christ is a righteousness of the heart. 

Ultimately, we’re not to do anything, when it comes to our faith, simply for show, or just so people are impressed with us. That’s not the point of our faith. But that’s what the Pharisees did, so Jesus was telling them what God thought about their performances. This is sort-of a performance review. In thinking about how to give God every part of who you are, this includes your motivations. The includes the reasons you do the things you do. 

So let’s look at these three disciplines one at a time and see what we can learn from Jesus. The first one is giving to the needy. Let me summarize Jesus’ words simply by saying this: 

  1. Give and Forget (vv. 1-4).

That may sound familiar, because it’s close to the common saying, “Forgive and Forget.” Look at verse 2 again: “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.” Now, I don’t think they’re referring to an actual trumpet here, although that certainly could have happened. But it seems like Jesus is just using this as an expression, and it’s a pretty good one! If you’ve had a trumpet player in the family, your entire family might hate the sound of the trumpet. That was certainly true for me growing up. I played the trumpet, still do; I love it. But, growing up, my brother and sister hated the trumpet. Why? Because it’s LOUD, right?!  

But Jesus doesn’t bring up the trumpet just because it was loud; he brings it up because it was used to announce things! For the Pharisees, they had turned giving alms, or giving to the needy, into an announcement and a show! Why were they announcing it so dramatically? We see it right there in verse 2, “to be praised by others.” That’s why they were giving in the first place and why they did it in very public places, and that’s also why they didn’t receive a reward from the Father. Why? Because they had received their reward. What was their reward? Man’s praise. That’s what they wanted anyway. We are NOT to be like the Pharisees. 

Instead, what are we to do? He says it right there in verse 3: “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.” In other words: we give, then forget. Not only are we not to give to impress people, but in a very real sense, we shouldn’t do it to impress ourselves either! That’s what he means by “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Give, then move on! Don’t walk around with a different kind of strut all day, thinking about how good of a person you are for giving to the needy. 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find joy in giving, we should! It’s better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). But, do you do it because you want to feel good about yourself, or do you give out of the overflow of a heart captivated by the Gospel. Giving is a wonderful thing, a beautiful thing, but we give because Christ gave infinitely more, yes?! That must forever be our motivation. That must forever be what compels us toward lives of radical generosity. Not because it adds to our ego. And certainly not because people will think highly of us. 

We, as church leadership, in thinking about tithes and offerings– we don’t want you to give out of compulsion, or to be recognized, and we don’t want you to ever be guilted into giving. We want you to give, like 2 Corinthians 9:7 puts it, as a “cheerful giver, not reluctantly or under compulsion.” Our goal is for all of us to give out of an overflow because Christ gave us infinitely more. We give, then move on. We certainly don’t dwell on our own goodness. The 2nd discipline that Jesus brings up is prayer, and I summarize his words with this: 

2. Pray in Secret (vv. 5-8). 

The Pharisees were very active in prayer, which is a great thing! Part of what it means to give every part of who we are to the Lord means we are actively reliant upon Him. And that means we’re praying. We’re asking for help. We’re interceding on behalf of others. But when we look at verses 5-6, we see that the Pharisees’ motivations for praying were not ideal, to say the least. They prayed to be seen praying. That’s what was wrong with what the Pharisees were doing. To be clear: Jesus is not saying that we shouldn’t ever pray publicly. We see public prayers throughout the New Testament; we see Jesus himself praying publicly. But he’s making the point that prayer, of all things, is not a performance.

Just think about it: of all things to twist and make about us, prayer? The purpose of prayer is to know the Father, and to nourish the life of Christ in us. It could not be more opposite from performance! Prayer is meant for focusing our attention on God, and yet the Pharisees had turned it around to make it something that pointed to themselves, and their own self-righteousness. It’s the trumpet all over again! “Look at me! I am praying!” 

This is probably why they had begun to “heap up empty phrases”, as he says in verse 7. That means that were repeating things over and over and over just for the purpose of making the prayer last longer. This is something that the Gentiles did, because they thought that their pagan gods would not hear them until they said it a certain number of times. It reminds of a child who constantly tries to get his dad’s attention: “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, DAD!” Imagine an adult doing that. “Honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey, honey.” It’s a sign of immaturity. Of all beings in the universe, God doesn’t need us to pray in some ritualistic manner, saying the same thing over and over and over because that’s how we get His attention. In fact, in verse 8, Jesus says, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” 

Listen: maybe you don’t struggle with thinking that more words mean a higher likelihood that God will hear you. But, I bet we struggle more than we know with praying without really thinking. It’s easy to pray without thinking, using the same words, phrases, sentences we always use, without reverence and worship. Think about when we pray before meals, if you do that. Are you heaping up empty phrases, not really thinking about what you’re saying? When we come before the Father in prayer, we’re focusing all our attention on Him. We’re speaking to GOD! Let’s not forget that! We can use the same phrases, and even pray the same things, especially if it’s a need that we have, but don’t repeat it for the sake of repeating it. Slow down, make sure in your heart and mind you realize who it is you’re speaking with. 

We know that Jesus isn’t condemning public prayer, but I do think it’s worth noting his emphasis on private prayer. Here’s the truth: if we really believe in prayer, that God hears our prayers (though maybe He doesn’t always answer the way we’d like him to)—if we really believe in prayer, we will pray when we’re alone. We will pray when there’s only an audience of One. Do you pray when you’re alone? Do you really believe that you have direct access to God because of Christ? Because if the majority of your prayer time is public, and you don’t really pray in secret, then you need to check your faith. 

I’m not saying all this to make you feel guilty; I’m saying this because God might be revealing a heart issue in some of us. And prayer is a major, major part of what it means to give God every part of who we are. Public praying should be an overflow of a deep, meaningful, secret prayer life. The 3rd discipline. I’ll summarize Jesus’ words like this: 

3. Fast with Focus

In verses 16-18, Jesus addresses the Pharisees yet again saying almost the exact same thing about fasting that he did with giving and praying. Fasting usually means abstaining from food, at least in some way. We see people fast in the Bible particularly during times of mourning, or important times where the people needed special guidance from the Lord. The goal is focusing our attention on God, and reminding ourselves that we’re not to rely on food as much as we are to rely on God for fulfillment and nourishment. Now that may seem like an easy thing for us to say: “Well, of course I rely on God and not on food.” If that’s you, if you think that’s an easy thing, you’ve likely never gone without eating! 

It’s remarkable how much we desire food, and think about food, and often we don’t realize just how much we think about food until we skip a meal or two. I love food, and there’s nothing wrong with loving food, but even food can become an idol! And perhaps this is an untouched subject in churches today, but giving God every part of who you are includes your diet. It includes every part of how you nourish your body. 

We can easily grow to think that the primary nourishment we need as human beings is FOOD as opposed to a regular appetite of the Word of God! Do you remember what Jesus said in response to Satan when he was fasting and being tempted with food! He quoted the Old Testament, and he said: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

This is why I would encourage you to consider making fasting one of your spiritual disciplines. If your health allows you to, maybe just once or twice a year, you take a day where you don’t eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Maybe a few times a year. If you need some guidance on how to go about fasting in a healthy way, let me know, we have several great resources that can help with that. 

But, the purpose of fasting is clear:  not to diet, and certainly not to show off your spirituality. The Pharisees had made it all into a show. They’d put on old clothes or tear them up, get dirty, and even use make-up to make it obvious that they weren’t eating. The purpose of fasting was to look spiritual. They wanted to be seen. They wanted to draw attention to themselves, and guess what, they did! And that became their reward! They were seeking man’s attention; they got it, so once again, God sees no purpose in giving a reward when they were seeking something different anyway. 

Now again, maybe you’re not tempted to look like you’re fasting. Or to make fasting some sort of show. But, generally, do you love the attention you get from people more than the attention you get from God? This is so relevant for us today. I encourage you to think about the “why” every single time you do anything. Why am I posting about this online? Why am I being kind to my neighbor? Why am I complaining about Millennials, or Boomers? Why am I gathering with God’s people? 

Are you doing it for attention? Are you doing it for man’s praise? Are you doing it to be seen as something maybe you’re not? Because not only are we to fast with focus on God. We’re to live our entire lives focused on God, and not ourselves. When considering giving every part of who we are to the Lord, this includes why we do the things we do. Even the spiritual things. Especially the spiritual things. 

Concluding Remarks

With these three examples that Jesus brings up, he’s speaking to the heart. What is our motivation for doing anything that we do, especially when it comes to our faith? 

  • “Well, I’m supposed to come to church, and if I don’t, people will notice I’m gone and what will they think of me?” Or, on the other side of it:
  • “I’m going to be here every week no matter what, and everyone will see how devoted I am.”

As followers of Jesus, we need to gather with the Body of Christ. We need to serve the Body of Christ. You need to be here, and be committed, and be serving. But we must look at the WHY. Why should I gather with the church, even when I don’t feel like it? Even when some people are annoying, or the music’s not my personal style. Why should I gather with the church? Not to look holy. Not so that no one will look down on me if I’m not here. But because God has established the Church to spur us on toward Godliness. He didn’t establish the church to make us feel good about ourselves, or to cater to our personal preferences. You know why we call this worship gathering? A Worship service? Because this isn’t about us! This is all about Him! 

Our motivation for everything we do should be the greatest motivation there is: for the glory of God! That’s it. Jesus isn’t saying that no one is ever to know anything we ever do for God. In fact, you can look back at Matthew 5:16, Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

That seems to contradict everything Jesus said today. But it doesn’t. In Matthew 5, Jesus is addressing cowardice. He’s saying, we’re not to be afraid of opposition or rejection; we’re to be bold! In Matthew 6, today, Jesus is addressing hypocrisy. And the interesting thing is that both cowardice and hypocrisy too much value on what other people think! Why would we hide our faith? Because we’re embarrassed! We’re worried about what people will think! That’s cowardice. Why would we put on a show! Because we’re worried about what people think! Matthew 5 and 6 go together perfectly. Stop worrying about what people think. Stop putting so much value in what people say about you. All that matters is what God says about us. If you are a child of the living God, that is all the recognition you will ever need. It’s all the courage you will ever need.

Let me close with Revelation chapter 4. The 24 elders at the throne of God. They do something shocking with their personal recognition and status, their own importance and even their own reward. Revelation 4:9-11, it says this:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” 

Our hope, our joy, our fulfillment, our redemption, our identity: all of it is hidden with Christ. We have no need to puff ourselves up in front of people, or pretend we’re anything that we’re not, or do things just for attention, especially when it comes to our faith. We don’t need man’s praise because we have a far greater reward from God. Just like the elders who cast down their crowns at the throne, we too need no recognition from man in His presence. Because He is worthy of all the recognition. Every day we live, every week when we gather together: this is the goal! To STOP thinking about ourselves and place all our focus upon God. 

Verse 11, again: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We need no parade of charades or pretense, we need only the one who is worthy, the one in whom we find our identity as children.