During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rejected the interpretation of the law held by the Jewish religious leaders known as the Pharisees. By focusing on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, the Pharisees had gone off in the wrong direction with endless rules and regulations, rather than focusing on their heart which is the central focus of God. In like manner, the Pharisees also had a tendency to make a big show of their every action in order to gain approval from others. Jesus made a point to shine a light on this practice in His Sermon on the Mount.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
One of the ways the Pharisees were guilty of practicing their righteousness to please others was in relation to charitable giving.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:2 (NIV)
Jesus was in essences telling the Pharisees that giving for public recognition was not giving at all – it was in fact buying the praise of men. For that reason, there would be no reward from God because the reward of public praise had already been received.
The Pharisees were also well known for making a big show during prayer time. Again, they tried to impress people in the synagogue or on the street corner with their ostentatious demonstration of prayer.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Matthew 6:5 (NIV)
And again, Jesus pointed out that those who pray in this way will not be recognized by God since they have already received their reward of adulation from man.
“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7 (NIV)
Finally, Jesus taught that endless repetition was completely unnecessary. Jesus said that there was no need to pray in this manner because God is already well aware of your every need.
“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8 (NIV)
These examples of pretending to serve God while actually seeking the approval of those watching, applies to any and all transactions between us and our Lord. When we pray, when we give, when we serve others out of love, we should be willing to do all behind closed doors in the sight of no one else but God. True righteousness does not seek attention. True righteousness seeks the will of God and His blessing without recognition from others.
Answer each question as though you were speaking privately to Jesus. Don’t just answer yes or no, explain your answer completely to yourself and to the Lord.
Are you praying, giving, or serving to impress others?
Are you content praying, giving and serving in private so that only God knows?
Are your public prayers directed to God or those around you listening?
Are you serving others for their praise or to bring glory to God?
Are your prayers to God personal, specific, and succinct?
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