Matthewby Mike Raiter
A few years ago, I met a teenage daughter of an acquaintance and asked how her dad was. I will never forget her reply. She simply said, ″He's evil, you know.″ In other words, she saw the man behind the mask. Jesus saves His most vehement attacks for the hypocrites; those who appear religiously impressive but hide the reality.
Jesus has been describing the character of true righteousness (Matthew 5:1-16). It is about motive as well as action (Matthew 5:17-48). Now He describes another feature of the truly righteous life. It is ″secret″ or ″inner″ righteousness (vv. 1-18).
For the Pharisees, righteousness was all about outward appearances. The true righteousness that Jesus called for is an inner righteousness of the heart. His disciples are to be people of integrity. That is, there must be consistency between the desires of the heart, the words of the mouth, and the deeds of the life. What you observe of me and what I really am should be one and the same.
Jesus summarises this teaching in verse 1. First, the warning: ″Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them″. Then the consequence: ″If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven″. The rest of the section gives three practices that all pious Jews would have observed. Jesus speaks of giving (vv. 2-4), praying (vv. 5-8), and fasting (vv. 16-18) (and we could add: running the children's programme at church, mowing the church lawn, preaching, and singing in the worship team). Do not do these things for the praise of people.
Of course, all these activities are good things to do, but the issue here is not what you do but why you do it, and for whom. In short, discipleship is a life lived before an audience of One (vv. 4, 6, 18). God sees the deed and the intention. On the day of rewarding, it will be revealed whether we lived for the praise of God or the praise of others.
These are actually liberating truths because we are freed from the burden of seeking the approval of other people. In the end, others' estimation of us is not what really matters. All that matters is the praise of God.
In an earlier passage, Jesus said that we should do our good deeds so people can see them and praise our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Here He tells us not to perform our deeds before people. What is the one truth Jesus is teaching us through these two statements?
Is Jesus saying that we shouldn't pray out loud? What does it really mean to pray ″in secret″ (v. 6)?