In this sermon, Jesus is trying to impress on his listeners what it really meant to be followers of God. It is more than following stoic rights and rituals – there is a certain attitude and state of mind God’s followers should have. So far, we’ve studied characteristics of true disciples: being poor in spirit, peacemakers, selfless individuals. God’s followers are lights to be seen in their attitudes and their actions. Additionally, Jesus talks about righteousness, and the standards of true righteousness, but now He speaks about hypocrisy and the dangers of such conduct.
Jesus speaks of three areas in which we should avoid hypocrisy in our lives. The examples we set can turn others away from Christ because of contradictions demonstrated.
Charity. In Matthew 6:1 warns us of doing goodness merely to impress others. He specifically uses alms (charity) as an example in verse 2. He even goes on to illustrate this by saying that our one hand should not know the other is contributing. This is contrasted to calling attention to ourselves when we do something good for others. “Don’t blow your own horn” is a modern way of expressing these thoughts. I Corinthians 13:3 tells us there is no gain in selflessness with incorrect motivation, and Acts 5 serves as a clear illustration of how God views insincere charity.
Prayers. Beginning in 6:5, Jesus addresses prayer, and He warns us about our motivation once more. He is not condemning public prayer, but He is asking us to examine ourselves when we do so. Are we praying for God or for others to see us? What are we saying, and how are we saying it? Jesus encourages us to pray modestly, and He demonstrates a model prayer that includes reverence for God and His kingdom, thanksgiving, and forgiveness. Luke 18:10-14 is an example of contrasting prayers – one sincere, the other superficial.
Fasting. This is not something we practice as much any more, but the purpose of fasting is to humble one’s self before God. Contrast the fasting of the Old Testament with what many of us consider to be fasting today. (“I’m giving up chocolate for lent!”) Verses 16-18 covers the hypocritical fast, and Jesus says that no one should know that you are fasting except for God.
In a more general application, Jesus is telling us not to make a big deal when we feel inconvenienced when doing the work we should be doing. God sees our heart, and He knows what we are going through. What kind of heart do we demonstrate when we portray reluctance or annoyance with doing God’s service? What is our heart when we go out of our way to make sure everyone knows just how much we have sacrificed.
The Right Attitude
In 6:19, Jesus begins by warning us against placing too much value in the things of this world. He contrasts this world and the temporary nature of all within it with the eternal nature of spiritual things. Verse 21 says that our heart will be focused on that which we value, and Jesus goes on to say that we can’t be devoted to this world and to God at the same time. We are either worldly, or we are God’s.
He wraps up in verses 25-34, discussing anxiety over providing for ourselves. God says He will look out for His people. We may go through difficult times; we may never be wealthy; but He has promised to never forsake us. We are not in this world to see who can obtain the most. Rather, our main priority is seeking God and His kingdom. In so doing, God will care for us, and we have to have faith if we are going to de-prioritize our worldly ambitions and place God first in our lives.
What comes first in my life and in yours? Do we seek after possessions? Do we value the opinions of others? We have to have the proper motivations, and our priorities should be on God above all else.
lesson by Tim Smelser