“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 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 men. I tell you the truth, 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. 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 men. I tell you the truth, 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” (Matthew 6:1-6).                                               

Jesus now returns to the theme of Kingdom character. He has already spoken of our righteousness, our purity, our commitment, and our influence earlier in this great polemic. He now speaks to the importance of genuineness and the absence of hypocrisy. Having addressed our internal and spiritual morality Jesus turns to the nature of our religious exercises. His call is clear – they must be real and authentic without show or self-promotion. In other words, this passage exhorts us to purity in both the public and private spheres of our practicing faith. Jesus states unequivocally that going through the motions to look good or for personal gain and glory is not what Kingdom living is about. Essentially, ostentatious religion is unacceptable. 

Jesus mentions three traditional and prominent practices of most all religions – giving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-6), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In and of themselves, these are all good and commended practices. But if our motives in doing them are wrong they can be meaningless and empty actions without spiritual substance or eternal reward. The issue at hand is whether we do these types of things to be seen of men or to glorify God. This is the same symptom of sinfulness and lack of true subservience to Christ identified when Paul says to the church at Galatia, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). An honest inward journey reveals to all of us this tendency – to seek approval in the tangible here and now as opposed to the spiritual and eternal. In other words, we often view man’s opinion as more important than God’s omniscient knowledge of who we truly are. 

This outward show versus inward, heartfelt motivation and our program to impress men more than to be genuine before God is the essence of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not failing to live up to God’s standards (for we all do that) but portraying ourselves to be something that we are not. It is acting (hypokrites in the Greek) and not really being selflessly faithful to our King at the very core of our being. Hypocrisy is outward activity devoid of inward reality. It is, again, a lack of heart-righteousness that is replaced with empty practices. It may look good on the outside to men (Jesus referred to the Pharisees as cups that were “clean on the outside but dirty on the inside” and “whitewashed tombs that were filled with dead men’s bones”) but not to Him. However, according to Jesus, deeds done with a sincere desire to honor God and not exalt man are never really anonymous – the worthy God that we serve sees and rewards. 

The desire to be recognized in this world is typically driven by pride – a major issue with the Pharisees – which is a critical barrier between God and man. It is fuelled by man-centeredness as opposed to an orientation toward God and His perception of who we really are. We do not experience God with such an attitude as Jesus demonstrates in His parable of the two prayers – one of the Pharisee and other the prayer of the tax collector -found in Luke 18:9-14. It was the broken “sinner”, contrite and transparent is his pleadings before God that Jesus said “went home justified before God” (verse 14a). Why? Jesus answers, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (verse 14b). 

So what is our reward; the one distributed for our secret but sincere service (Matthew 6:6)? Recognition from God. He knows – so it is not necessary for man to know. For man can not recognize and reward in the same manner that our King does. His Kingdom is filled with authentically faithful servants doing His work in secret knowing that He will reveal and eternally reward their good deeds. As Paul explains it, “[our] work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward” (1 Corinthians 3:13-14). Our works will survive and be rewarded if they are done for His glory and not our own, if we are promoting His beauty and not ourselves.