“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.” (Matthew 6:1–4, ESV)
As we move into chapter 6 we move into a series of statements from Jesus about sincerity of heart and purpose where He speaks in numerous ways of not doing things for the rewards and recognition here but for those that come in eternity. In verses 1-4 Jesus speaks a warning to those who purposely “practice” their righteous acts in such a way that they will be seen and applauded by others. He gives the example of those who make a public display of their giving with trumpet flair or an admiring entourage who praises them for their goodness to others. He calls them hypocrites because they do it for the show and for their own glory and not necessarily for the benefit of others.
Today’s leading news story shines as an example of the emptiness of this kind of living. A prominent and wealthy public individual had his private thoughts and words exposed to the world this week. This individual is one who had acted friendly and given considerable funds over a long period to the very group he privately spoke against. But his private words did not remain that way, and the public response to this private revelation was quick, loud, and firm. Yet even this response was not universal, for I even heard a willingness to forgive him by others should he be willing to make a significant financial contribution. I do not know him, and I do not know those who said they would back off if he continued to make financial contributions, and I must be careful in making any firm determination. I cannot imagine this individual making these comments in a public forum, but he made them and they became public exposing him for the actor he appears to be.
But this individual is not alone, though maybe more extreme or more exposed, I know there have been times in my life when I have acted one way and thought another hoping my thoughts would not be exposed. I know that my motives have not always been pure, and I think it is pretty safe to say that this is true for all of us.
Jesus said to beware of doing things for the public applause, knowing that what really matters is what will last for eternity. This does not mean that we disconnect from this world, but it means when we connect we do so in such a way that people might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). It is Him who knows fully the motives of our hearts, and it is Him who will judge those who are His for their works. This judgment is separate from the judgment that those who have not trusted Christ for their salvation will be subject. In this later judgment their guilt has already been determined, and the only answer to avoid eternal guilt is belief in His Son in this life and calling upon Him for salvation.
The Bible does speak of a judgment for believers in which their works are considered by God. Paul wrote, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:9–10, ESV) Here he is speaking only to believers for it is believers whose objective is to please God and who recognize that their real home is eternity in His presence. It is we who trust Christ who are told that we will stand before our Lord at the “judgment seat of Christ” to receive what is due for what we have done in His body—the church including good and evil.
Later in chapter 6 of Matthew Jesus tells us, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20–21, ESV) Notice the link He makes between our treasure and our hearts. Those who do things for the recognition they receive in this world will receive all of the reward they will ever get here and now. But in God’s Word we learn that there is so much more—a more that has its blessings here and now but which has its greatest blessing handed to us by our Lord Himself when we appear before Him.
As I said, I do not know this particular individual in the news today. At this time there is likely a lot of turmoil in his life, and I don’t know what the outcome of that turmoil might be. My prayer is that he will hear his own words, repent of them, and look to our God who can turn the darkest of dark into the brightest of bright. Our God can take that which was repugnant and change its fragrance. It is my prayer that the odor of his life might change and that people might give praise to God as a result. Similarly, as I examine my own heart and my own motives at times I realize there are things which I did for what I would get here. But at the same time, I also know that because of what God has done in my heart there are things that will last and bring eternal reward. I know this because of His Word for myself just as I have that same confidence for all who call on His name and submit themselves to His incredible work in their lives.
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11–15, ESV)
A hypocrite is an actor. Jesus says don’t be like the actors who get their applause while they are standing on the stage.