Summary: Jesus deals with the motivation in which one carries out their religious devotion.
“A Question of Motive.”
Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
Jesus has just finished describing the incredibly high standards of behavior required of those who would be His disciples. In verse twenty of the previous chapter Jesus had told His disciples that their right-eousness must exceed that of the Pharisee and teachers of the law. Then beginning in verse twenty-one through verse forty-eight Jesus gave six examples of how the teachers of the law had changed the law to suit themselves.
Jesus now moves to dealing with the motivation in which one carries out their religious devotion. Jesus declares that even right things can be done for the wrong motives. Why people do good things may not be as obvious as we think. “I read a story about vandals who cut down 6 huge royal palms along a major Miami Blvd. The city wasn’t sure if they could pay to replace palms that large. But then someone donated 6 more…even bigger ones. They had them planted even. The old ones were 15 ft. high and were a nice fore-ground to a billboard which said, ‘Fly Delta’. The new ones were 35 ft…completely hiding the sign. The new donor: Eastern Airlines! [Jerry Shirley. “A Super Secret Message.” Matthew 6:1-18. www.sermoncentral.com]
To make His point about motivation Jesus uses as examples the three most important demonstrations of religious devotion in Jewish religious practice; giving, prayer and fasting. The question of motive still comes into play in our religious lives today, especially when in our day there are some who teach that material prosperity is a demonstration of the favor of God. God wants us to give, to pray and to fast, but he wants us to do it for the right reasons. Those who would be disciples of Jesus are to practice their religion from the heart and not for the notice and reward of men.
Jesus introduces the subject in verse one saying, "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
The principle is; “Beware of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.” The fundamental principle is found in that the word translated “take heed” or “beware” (NASB, ESV) is not only an impera-tive but it in the present tense denoting that the disciples must continually guard against doing good deeds for the wrong reason.
‘‘In normal, everyday conversations most of us have learned to use the absolute words such as always and every sparingly. We know that statements such as ‘You always leave the dishes on the table’ or ‘Every time I want to talk to you, you’re watching television’ or ‘You always want to be in control’ can get us in hot water… But Jesus’ words here are absolute. Jesus is saying, ‘Anyone who does a good deed so as to be seen and appreciated by others will lose his or her reward, no matter how ‘good’ and beneficial the deed is. Absolutely no exceptions!” [R. Kent Hughes. “The Sermon on The Mount” (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 2001) p. 146]
The question that we must each ask ourselves is: “Do I want the approval of God or the approval of others?” The truth is that it is almost impossible to have both. What Jesus deals with in these verses is the human tendency in each of us that desires the apprec-iation of others. This is shown when in verse one the word translated “to be seen” (theathenai) is from the same root word that we get the word “theater” from. It has in mind a spectacle to be gazed at.