We are driven by many reasons to do the things that we do, including how and why we live the Christian life. Today, Pastor Pre Shunmugam takes us to Jesus' words which get us to the heart of the matter.
In the last couple of weeks, we have looked at the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus has been teaching his followers what the lives of those who follow Him would look like. Here at MBM, we have handbooks, of the expectations and character qualities of what it would look like to be a part of a ministry team.
A handbook on what it looks like to be on Jesus’ team, to be a citizen of heaven. In the chapter before this Jesus taught His followers that they should go above and beyond, to live a righteous life i.e. a life that is doing the right thing by God. And in the passage we’re looking at today, Jesus challenges us on the motivation behind why we do the things we do. He challenges us to think about what’s our motivation behind doing the right thing.
Have you ever thought about that? Why do you do the things you do? What motivates you to do what you do? Everything we do has some sort of motivation behind it.
Think about your job. What is it that motivates you to get out of bed each morning and go to work? There may be some of you who love your job. But I’m guessing for most it’s to get paid so you can pay your bills.
If you’re at school or in uni, what motivates you to study? Maybe it’s because you love whatever it is you’re studying but for some of you it’s just to get your marks and pass.
Behind everything we do, there’s some sort of motivation. It may be a little motivation or it may be a lot of motivation. But motivation is what often drives us to do things.
When I in was year 6, we had just moved to Australia and there was this girl that I was head over heels for. And whatever chance I would get, I’d try and hang out with her and she used to do gymnastics after school so guess what, I was pretty motivated to do gymnastics. Now, I had no desire or passion to do gymnastics, no way was I flexible! But I was motivated to do it because I wanted to get the girl!
The reason we do the things we do in life is that we’re all driven by some sort of motivation. Even logging on or coming to church today, what was the motivation for you turning up? Maybe some of you were dragged here, you did it to keep your spouse or your kids happy. Maybe some of you are here because you think it’s a sense of duty.
In this passage that we’re looking at today, Jesus wants us to question our motivation as to why we do what we do. Specifically in this context, He wants us to question, what’s our motivation behind our acts of righteousness. What drives you to worship God?
In this passage, Jesus does this by giving us a principle and then applies this principle in three practical examples. In each example, Jesus addresses our wrong motivation behind doing the right thing and points us towards what our motivation should be.
“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. ~Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
The principle Jesus is laying down is that if: “DO THE ‘RIGHT THING’ IN ORDER TO BE RECOGNISED BY OTHERS” If that’s our motivation, we have no recognition from God.
Now I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ words cut straight to my heart. One of the things about me is that I’m a people pleaser. I find it so hard to say “No” to people because I want their approval. I mean I did gymnastics in order to get that girl to like me! And as I was preparing for this talk, I believe that God was exposing the wrong motives in my heart of why I do some of the things I do.
When I started here at MBM, God taught me that I cared more about performing to please others rather than to serve Him. My role used to be overseeing our gatherings and getting feedback about how a service went etc. My motivation was to do the right thing, execute well, in order to get good feedback. I cared more about what Ray thought rather than purely serving to the glory of God.
Honestly, that’s why I think God has me preaching this sermon because I struggle with this first-hand! But I can’t be the only one… But I know I can’t be the only one! I’m sure many of you struggle with it too. The desire to please others, to get their approval. And I’ve been praying, that as we listen to what Jesus has to say that the Holy Spirit will reveal the areas of your life where you too may have the WRONG motivation behind why you do some of the things you do.
So, let’s have a look at how Jesus takes this principle and applies it in real-life situations. He applies it to three parts of what was common in Jewish worship. Giving to the poor, prayer and fasting.
Principle 1 - Giving
“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 honoured 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. (NIV)
God had commanded his people, in the Old Testament, to take care of the poor and needy, to show compassion to them. One of these ways was to give money to the poor, it was an important part of Jewish worship. But instead of this being an act of righteousness, instead of it being about caring for the needy, it became about the applauding of others. People would give and take care of the needy, in public places like synagogues and streets so that people could see what they were doing. That was their motive.
And the word Jesus uses to describe such a person is a hypocrite. The word hypocrite best translates to the word actor. In Greek plays a hypocrite i.e. the actor would wear a mask, pretending to be someone they’re not. In other words, they would put on a show and deceive others. They look one way on the outside but, there was something else on the inside. And the way ‘hypocrite’ is used here, could be hinting that not only does the hypocrite deceive others, but they also deceive themselves! Genuinely thinking they’re doing the right thing!
And just like an actor comes out at the end of a play and waits for the applause, likewise, the hypocrite waits for the applause of the audience. That’s what motivates them to do what they do. Their motivation behind their compassion is to receive glory for themselves. And Jesus says, Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. The reward for the hypocrite, those of us who are motivated to do the ‘right thing’ to be seen by others, is the applause of people, and nothing more. You get recognised by others, but you get no recognition from God.
But Jesus says, if you’re on my team, that shouldn’t be your motivation on why you take care of the needy, on why you ‘do the right thing’. You’re not to “sound the trumpet”, and draw attention to what you’re doing. As followers of Jesus, we’re not to post on social media and say, “Look at how generous I am!” “Look at how compassionate I’m being!” Instead, those of us who are followers of Jesus are to give secretly. So secretly, that our ‘left hand shouldn’t know what our right hand is doing’!
You see, our motivation, the Christian’s motivation, isn’t the applause of others. But is to please our heavenly Father, our reward is to know that he sees our generosity, sees our compassion. And it’s His approval that truly matters!
A friend of ours was going through a tough time at the start of COVID. Her husband had lost his job and she was only working part-time. They had kids to support and they had just moved into a new house. It was a stressful time and they were struggling financially. And then they received a large amount of money from an anonymous friend. The result of that was that this lady posted on Facebook, praising God for taking care of them. That’s what Jesus is talking about! She still doesn’t know till today, who gave them the money. But that generosity pointed this woman, her family and probably the hundreds of people who read that post, towards God. No one knows who that person is, but their Father in heaven knows what they’ve done.
Donations for Youth Camp, we are encouraged by the generosity of Launch donations. It is an expensive camp, and your generosity enables our youth to hear about Jesus and grow deeper in their relationship with him. Many people will never know who you are but your heavenly Father knows! That’s what counts! That’s the reward followers of Jesus look forward to.
But maybe you’re thinking, hmm, that doesn’t sound like much of a reward. Doesn’t he know everything anyway? That’s not much motivation. If that’s you, can I encourage you to ask yourself, Am I on Jesus’ team? Am I a citizen of heaven? You see Jesus gave his life, for hypocrites like you and I, people who constantly struggle with the wrong motives so that we can be a part of God’s family. Because of Jesus, we can call the God of this universe Father!
By rising again from the dead, and giving us the Holy Spirit, He has given us new hearts and a new understanding of what truly matters in life. What we value, what we see as a reward, is different to those who are outside the value. The reward that the hypocrite gets is only temporary, it doesn’t last forever. A thousand years from now, people aren’t going to know your name, who you are, what you did with your life, but a thousand years from now, God the Father will know what you did. And the only opinion that will matter is His.
You see, when you start seeing life through the perspective of Jesus, it changes EVERYTHING! What you see as a reward changes, the only approval that matters is your father in heaven.
Let me encourage you, if you don’t see being known by God as a reward then get in touch with us, come to Explaining Christianity. Hear of God’s love for you and find the joy of being known by Him through Jesus.
As a Christian, our motive isn’t the applause of others but the recognition of our Father in heaven.
Principle 2 – Prayer
“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. (Lord’s Prayer – 9-15) ~Matthew 6:5-8 (NIV)
Again, just like in the example of giving, Jesus says that if our motive behind prayer is to impress others, then we’ve received our reward in full. In Jewish culture, the synagogue was the centre of Jewish life. like the temple, synagogues were known as a house of prayer. Now often the ruler of the synagogue would call on individuals to pray. And the picture that Jesus is giving us is of someone who is ‘standing’ to pray, obviously to be noticed. Jesus isn’t condemning standing and praying but again, Jesus is getting at the motivation behind prayer. The hypocrite prays to be noticed by others. But Jesus encouragement to his disciples is to go into room, shut the door and pray to your Father who sees what is done in secret.
Now, what does Jesus mean that we need to pray in secret? In fact, for all three examples, giving, prayer and fasting, Jesus says that they need to be done in secret. Does that mean we should never do the ‘righteous’ things in public? I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. It would contradict what he said back in Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (NIV)
What Jesus is getting at is the motive behind why we pray, why we do the right thing. You see the right motivation is what Jesus describes in Chapter 5:16. It’s so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”
If we think that prayer is about impressing others, we miss the gift that prayer is. What Jesus is teaching us here, is that prayer is about a relationship with your Father in heaven. It’s not about impressing those who are listening. Look at verses 7-8, you don’t have to babble on and on and on as if somehow that would be more effective. Jesus says, that’s what the pagans do, but you see the pagans had no concept, of a God who is like a father who cares and responds to His people. Jesus shows us that to pray to God as our heavenly Father indicates a personal relationship. It’s intimate.
My daughter Isla, doesn’t have to come to me prepared with big words to try and get me to do something for her. She doesn’t even know how to talk to yet! But she knows she can come to me because I’m her dad and she knows she’ll find love and protection. Because of Jesus you’ve got the ear of God of this universe. You can relate with him like a child does with their Father, He cares for you and wants you to come to Him.
Jesus then goes on to give us an outline on how we should pray. That’s motivation we should have when coming to God in prayer. Like a child to a Father. Not to impress others. If that’s our motivation, we miss the gift of prayer.
Principle 3 – Fasting
Lastly, Jesus ends with the example of fasting.
“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. ~Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)
Now I’m not going to go into detail about fasting because it can take a whole sermon, you can look at that in your growth groups. But briefly, fasting is to deny yourself of something, most of the time food, to focus on God.
Fasting isn’t done, because we lack anything. We lack nothing in Jesus but rather the act of fasting says, “God you’re more important than food” “You’re more important than whatever I’m giving up.” In Jesus' day the religious leaders fasted twice a week. They didn’t have to do that, it was a law they added on. But Jesus shows us that their motivation wasn’t to focus on God, it was so others would notice them. When they fasted, they wouldn’t shave or bathe and they would have this ‘sombre’ aurora about them so that people would be like “Wow” look how religious they are. It’s all about the show.
But Jesus says to his disciples when you fast, he does expect them to fast, when you fast, don’t let anyone know the difference. Comb your hair, put some perfume on, fasting is between you and your Father no one else needs to know. There’s no need for a performance.
You see we live in a ‘hustle’ culture, we want people to know how busy we are, how much work we’re doing. I guarantee you; you’ll have a conversation this week where you’ll ask someone how they’re going and the response is, “Ah, I’m busy”. I’m working so hard. And they probably are, but they want people to know. But we can do the same thing as the church, we want people to know how much we do, we want them to know how ‘busy’ we are for the Lord.
You see this principle that Jesus applies to Fasting/Prayer/Giving isn’t limited to these three acts of righteousness. It APPLIES TO EVERYTHING we do in life. The next time you’re kind to someone, or donate money or help someone out or serve at church, ask yourself, “What’s my motivation to do this?”
You know the beautiful thing about it is, that there’s freedom that comes from doing the right thing for your Father in heaven alone. Being a people pleaser is hard! I know first-hand. It’s like this weight that you carry around all the time, it’s tiring always trying to please people.
But Jesus sets us free from that, because of Him we have the full approval of God. We don’t need to please anyone else. Imagine how that would change the way you approached being generous to someone and they didn’t say thanks. Your heavenly father knows what you did or the hours you put into serving here at church, but no one notices. Your heavenly father notices and at the end of the day, that’s what counts.