Summary: The deed is done before the all-seeing God. His approval is reward enough in itself.


(Not a Drama in Three Acts)

Matthew 6:1-6; Matthew 6:16-21

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare reminds us, “and all the men and women merely players.” “And one man,” continues the playwright, “in his time plays many parts…” (As You Like It, Act 2, scene 7).

Jesus’ teaching on almsgiving, prayer and fasting in the Sermon on the Mount is replete with the language of the stage. We are not to do our alms in order to be seen of men (Matthew 6:1): to do so is just theatre. To do things for mere appearance (Matthew 6:5) is just showy, ostentatious, pretentious display (Matthew 6:16).

Jesus calls the people who are motivated from such self-glory, “hypocrites” - actors! Hypocrites like to have their deeds of charity trumpeted abroad (Matthew 6:2); they publicise their private prayer (Matthew 6:5), and make a great show of their supposed self-denial (Matthew 6:16). They seek the praise of men in order to feel good about themselves!

We are told of a Pharisee who “prayed with himself” (Luke 18:11-12). This is well said, of course, because he certainly was not praying to God so long as he was only comparing himself with the despised publican. It was not the Pharisee who that day went down to his house justified before God.

The hypocrite seeks applause (Matthew 6:2). Never fully content to receive it, he may seek more and more applause. Encore; encore!

“They have their reward,” says Jesus (Matthew 6:2). They have the reward they want in this life (Matthew 6:5), and that is the only reward they are going to get (Matthew 6:16). They will find that, when the cheering has at last died down, they have nothing at all (Matthew 6:19).

Our almsgiving is to be with dexterity, metaphorically speaking, so that we eradicate sinister motives (Matthew 6:3). The deed is done before the all-seeing God. His approval is reward enough in itself (Matthew 6:4).

We have not entered God’s court when we court publicity, so we are challenged into the closet (Matthew 6:6), into the store room where the Father is already laying up our heavenly treasures (Matthew 6:20). Private prayer should be just that: you (singular), alone in the presence of the all-knowing God (1 Samuel 2:3). The reward on the day of reckoning will be public (Matthew 6:6).

True Christianity is not the dour, miserable affair which some of its play-actors portray (Matthew 6:16). So when we fast, we must wash-and-brush up in our usual manner (Matthew 6:17). The approval of God is far more to be desired than the applause of men (Matthew 6:18).

When we go about our pious duty without drawing attention to ourselves, we are laying up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20). The God who reads our hearts and motives better than we can read them ourselves (Matthew 6:21) will make an open show of His approval at the final curtain (Matthew 25:34-40). What greater plaudit can we possibly require?

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