This first verse kind of sums up the first part of this chapter. If we are doing our good works for the sake of others, that’s as much benefit as we’ll receive from it, there is no eternal reward.
Jesus gives three examples of areas that we are prone to do our acts of righteousness before men instead of before and for God. Jesus contrasts the way that we should live with the way that pagans and hypocrites live.
A few lessons for us from these verses.
God sees everything that we do, the good, and the bad. There is no point in trying to hide things from God, He sees it all. These good deeds are normal, expected behavior for the Christian. “When you give,” “when you pray,” “when you fast.”
The pitfall here is not that a person is giving, praying, or fasting, it is the attitude that they approach the thing with. A righteous life draws attention to God, not us.
Is it possible to do good deeds in public with good motives? Yes, we have examples of this elsewhere in the Bible. It can be a good thing, but only when it points others to Christ.
Jesus is addressing one ditch on the side of the road. We need to guard ourselves against these wrong motives that Jesus is addressing.
In Luke Jesus tells a parable that gives us an example of what this looks like. The Pharisee was doing a lot of things right, but he had the wrong mindset. He was looking down on others, and he thought that all the good things he was doing were justifying him before God.
Seeking the praise of men can take many forms. We can be hypocrites in many different ways.
We may never say out loud that it is “futile to serve God,” but what do our lives say, what do the things that we spend time and energy on say?
Giving in a Proper Manner
It begins by recognizing that the things that we have are gifts from God. This gives us a completely different perspective on giving.
Especially here in America, there is the idea that if we work hard for what we have, we should enjoy it! This isn’t to say that we aren’t to enjoy life, and the things that God has given us, but recognizing that everything we have comes from God changes our approach to possessions and wealth.
Money doesn’t help every situation, it is easy to give money and feel good about that, but perhaps that isn’t what is needed. This shouldn’t keep us from giving, but we should be encouraged to find other ways to give as well.
In the Old Testament first fruits were talked about often, are we giving our best and our “first fruits?.” Are we as intentional about giving as we are about investing, or hobbies, or other things?
Give cheerfully, not grudgingly, you can enjoy giving!
Give sacrificially. Our ability to give to God sacrificially doesn’t depend on our amount of wealth. Similarly, our financial situation doesn’t mean that we aren’t unable to give sacrificially.
Praying in a Proper Manner
What is the purpose of prayer? Jesus makes it clear that it isn’t to make God aware of our needs, but we are to recognize God for who He is “our Father in Heaven.”
We are also to align ourselves with God’s will. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”
We also need to recognize how much we depend on God for our spiritual and physical needs.
God knows so much more than we do, yet He is still moved by our interest, our prayers, our concerns.
Fasting in a Proper Manner
Fasting is often inconvenient. It isn’t just simple to fast, it can actually be somewhat difficult. Why don’t we do it more? Do we only do it occasionally?
What is fasting? What does it look like?
Fasting can be used as a regular discipline to deny ourselves and our flesh and focus on God. Fasting is similar to (and synonymous) with prayer. It can be done on a regular schedule, or it can be done when we have a specific need.
Ahab was one of the most wicked kings, yet when he fasted and prayed and humbled himself before God, God’s heart was touched.
The king in Nineveh proclaimed a fast, by their fasting they demonstrated how serious they were about repenting.
Are we feeling strongly enough about our needs and others needs?
Let us not neglect fasting.
Have we fallen into the pitfall of the pious? Are we doing good things to be seen by others? Is the root of why we do things for others to see them and think positively of me? Am I more concerned about what others think or about what God thinks.
Scriptures used – Matthew 5, Matthew 6:1-24, Acts 4, Acts 12, Acts 13, Daniel 6, Esther 4, Luke 18:9-14, Malachi 3, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Corinthians, Luke 21, 1 Kings 21:21-29, Jonah 3:4-10