Do you remember that day you walked into the glass door in an office building or at some motel? What about the day you got off the elevator and missed your step and fell flat on the floor right in front of everyone? If you remember any such incident in your life, you likely also remember that one of the first things you did was to get up and look around to see who actually saw you? Often we are so conscious of who might be looking that we overlook what we did to ourselves in the process. Some years ago I was preaching at a church in Houston, Texas and it was time for me to get to the front of the building to preach, but I was at the back, in the foyer, not paying attention to what was between me and the front of the building and walked right into a glass door that didn’t give much in the process. I was so set on not being seen as the nut that walked into the door I quickly pushed it open and walked on in, not realizing that I had knocked my glasses all side ways and bent them severely and that blood was coming from the side of my nose where the glasses had hit. Of course, I made much more of a spectacle than if I had simply stopped and not been concerned about who saw me.
In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus warned about practicing our righteousness in front of others “TO BE SEEN BY THEM.” He said if we do such good deeds in order to be seen by others then we have no reward from the Father in heaven. Notice, it isn’t a matter of whether or not we are seen by another person. Most of Jesus’ great deeds of healing were done before the watching eyes of the people. It was the motive behind them. Are we doing the good deed in order to have people see them and tell us what great things we are doing? Quite often the good deeds that are done in life are observed by others and even if not it is often the case that the one who was benefitted by the good deed will go and tell others what was done for them. God’s concern is our motive behind the action, not who does or doesn’t see it.
He used three powerful illustrations to make this point more memorable for us. The first one was, “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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that you giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Every time I read this I think of my days as a fund raiser for Freed-Hardeman University. I had the privilege of meeting with some amazing people who were willing to share what they had for the good of the cause of Christ in powerful ways. What amazed me was that most of the ones who were most generous were also the people who wanted to make certain others didn’t know what they had done. One incident that always stands out in my memory was meeting with a man under his single car carport one day, who lived in a small two bedroom home and drove an older pickup truck. He talked about a gift he wanted to make to the college but was very concerned that his name not appear anywhere saying what his gift was. He didn’t want any buildings named after him or any honor received. Looking at his outward appearance I was wondering what he would be giving that would be such a concern for him. When he said he wanted to give $4,000,000.00 to the school, I almost passed out.
Giving, generosity, sharing are fundamental to Christian living. There is no such thing as a stingy Christian. You can be a Christian or you can be stingy, but you can’t be both at the same time. Following Christ demands that we be willing to share what we have in this world. But it is always vital that we keep in mind that the motivation for such giving must be to please God and for his seeing, not for praise from anyone on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that if people know what we have done it makes it bad. That just can’t be my motivation for the gifts.
His second illustration was about 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. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” He went on to tell them not to just go on and on in their prayers since God knows our needs before we ask. Did Jesus mean it was wrong to pray in public? Certainly not. Jesus prayed in public and private many times. The longest recorded prayer from him is in John 17. The early church had a public prayer time when Peter and John were released from jail after being arrested for healing a man and preaching Jesus to the crowd. It isn’t how public the prayer is or even whether we stand or kneel as we pray. It is what the motive of the prayer is. Are we praying for people to hear us and tell us what a magnificent prayer it was or are we praying to God from our heart without regard to what anyone might say or think? Motives matter. Pray from the heart between you and God. Think of many of the recorded prayers that Paul prayed for the churches he wrote to such as in Ephesians one and the last verses of chapter three. They are powerful moving prayers for the whole church to see and read, but they weren’t prayed for people to praise Paul but to move the hand of God on their behalf.
Finally, his third illustration was in verses 16-18. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Can’t you imagine these religious leaders going out in town with their hair all in a mess and their faces dirty, looking like they just lost their best friend? They longed for someone to ask them what was wrong so they could tell them how long they had been fasting in their devotion to God. Jesus said, they received their whole reward when people noticed them. Is it wrong for anyone to know you are fasting? No, the early church had called fast for different reasons, such as sending out missionaries in Acts 13 or when elders were set apart in Acts 14. It is wrong to fast or anything else in our spiritual lives for the admiration of people. We are to play to an audience of one all the time. If I preach so that others can come out and tell me how well I did, God won’t bless me or the preaching. I’m thankful when anyone says they have been benefitted by a sermon, but I must always remember that whether anyone liked it or not is insignificant compared to whether it was pleasing to God.
Our lives are seen by others. Our faith and devotion shows. We are to let our lights so shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven. But there is the key. Do our good deeds bring glory to us or to the Lord? God help us everyday to live in a way that brings glory to You, Father in a world ruled by Satan.