Summary: The rewards of serving God are a righteous life with him. God rewards prayer, giving, and seeking him (fasting). Seeking rewards without seeking God misses God's best.
Getting Life Right: RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS ITS REWARDS—Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
***In a commercial for a credit card, a young man and woman are sitting at a table in a restaurant. The man is handing his credit card to the server, who looks soberly at the young lady, saying, “You know, he’s using you. He gets reward points for paying.” Of course, if the man is paying the bill to get reward points he is losing money. More importantly, if he is using the young lady to get reward points, he is losing the possibility of an enduring relationship. Rewards miss the point.**
WHAT REWARDS DO WE HOPE TO GET FROM RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY?
SOME RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY IS DONE TO IMPRESS PEOPLE.
Matthew 6:1, “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.”
Acts of righteousness could be going to church, feeding the hungry, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or even serving your family. All good things!
Yet Jesus pointed out that these deeds might be a performance for others. (Literally, the Greek word is related to “theatrics.”). That takes some of the shine off.
Jesus gives three examples of how righteous things might be done to IMPRESS PEOPLE.
Matthew 6:2-4 “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 your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Most likely the trumpet announcements are hyperbole (obvious exaggeration); Jesus had a subtle sense of humor and a colorful way of speaking. The point is not too far from the truth, however.
***A new inner-city church was moving into a beautiful building that was being vacated by an aged-out congregation. Everywhere I looked in the building, I saw small memorial plaques in honor of the donors. There was even a plaque on the heating system! I found it ironic that the names meant nothing to the new congregation.**
When we give, do we need recognition, or at least something to show for it? The trend today is that people give freely to special projects, but not so much to keep the church doors open and essential ministry alive.
If we serve people, do we expect them to profusely thank us, and tell everyone about the wonderful things we have done for them? Are we part of mutual admiration society, where we all tell each other what wonderful things we have done?
Matthew 6:5-8, “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 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
In today’s world, babbling can take a different twist. You might see requests for prayer on Facebook or a prayer wall, with the goal being how many people will post and pray. If a thousand people post, and 100 pray, is God more inclined to give the answer that is sought? Who is the audience of that kind of behavior?
I don’t think Jesus is telling us not pray in public. Jesus prayed in public, and the early church also did so. Public prayer can be good, especially for those learning to pray. In fact, in the next section of his teaching, Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, giving them The Lord’s Prayer.
The danger of public prayer is that we might be more focused on impressing other people than talking honestly with God. We might want people to think we are more spiritual than we are, or even more spiritual than they are.
Long prayers pose a particular danger, as the person who can rattle off many prayer requests gains points with those who want to hear their favorite requests mentioned publicly. Praying specifically is good, but running through names and requests does not impress God as much as it impresses other people.
Matthew 6:16-18, “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.”