*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eighteen – The Rewards of Selfless Service

“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).

Throughout Matthew 5 Jesus spoke on righteousness and the importance of a believer’s purity, devotion, and influence. As a new chapter opens, Christ encourages genuineness and the absence of hypocrisy, further expanding listeners’ understanding of kingdom character. He turns first to the nature of religious exercises, calling people to serve God authentically and insisting that they do so without show or self-promotion. Kingdom living requires that we stop going through the motions of giving, serving, and worshipping. Ostentatious religion proves unacceptable: the Lord desires that we live in sincerity, carefully honoring Him instead of elevating ourselves.

To understand the context of this passage, consider Luke 18:9-14. With a gloating attitude of self-righteousness, a Pharisee stood and prayed about himself! Bragging on his piety, moral superiority, and “good works,” he likely filled the temple with his voice, drowning out the soft but sincere cries of those—like the despised tax collector—who sought God’s attention and not the spotlight. This parable illustrates the dichotomy between those seeking to serve God out of a pure heart and those doing so for personal gain. One is accepted (justified) by God, and the other has received all the reward they will ever get; the praise of men.

In the first verses of Matthew 6, Jesus mentions three traditional and prominent practices commonly held by many religions: giving (Matthew 6:2-4), praying (Matthew 6:5-6), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). In general, all are good and commended. If, however, the motives behind them are wrong, they morph into meaningless and empty activities void of spiritual substance or eternal reward. Why? Because when we do these things for attention or to make ourselves feel spiritual, we fail to glorify God.

To the church at Galatia, Paul posed this question: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” (Galatians 1:10). Within this query he acknowledged the natural tendency all believers face. We generally seek approval in the tangible here and now as opposed to the spiritual and eternal. Should we succumb to temptation, we’ll soon exalt man’s opinion and our self-image over God.

I recall a painful lesson I learned during my early ministry. Soon after seminary I pastored a fairly large church that provided a deceptive ego boost for a young preacher in his twenties. With my appointment came the insidious growth of spiritual pride. I quickly began to operate as more of a professional pastor than a servant leader: I soaked up and began to believe the adulation and prestige that came with my new position. Thinking I’d arrived, I began to trust in my own abilities and education instead of depending on God to do His work through me. The church grew numerically, but my intimacy with God gradually declined. It didn’t take long before my arrogant house of cards toppled; “my” church was gone. God shook me out of my pretense, humbled me, and reminded me that “a haughty spirit goes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

Outward religious show versus God-centeredness defines the essence of hypocrisy. Even the most dedicated believer will sometimes fail to live up to God’s standards, but when we portray ourselves as something untrue, we deserve the label “hypocrite.” The term comes from the Greek word, hypokrites, and refers to acting. When we begin to replace heart-righteousness with empty practices, we fail to love the Lord. While our outward displays of piety—tossing an envelope of pocket change in the offering plate, singing in the choir after a night of arguing with family members, or serving on the hospitality committee though we complain about it for hours afterward— may look good to observers, God stands unimpressed. Jesus, addressing this tendency, referred to the Pharisees as cups “clean on the outside but dirty on the inside” (Luke 11:39). He saw them as “white-washed tombs filled with dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). Should we perform deeds meant to exalt ourselves and not to honor God, we’ll earn the same harsh comparisons.

Attitude and focus count! Only deeds done out of a sincere desire to honor God prove worthy of reward. Anything we do to gain points with onlookers will fail to honor Him. The Lord wants us to let go of our pride, that critical barrier between God and man. Since humanity disobeyed in the garden, we’ve struggled against self-centeredness, often opposing God and ignoring His perception of who we really are. But believers must remember Christ’s lesson in Luke 18: Only the broken “sinner,” who felt contrite and transparent in his pleadings before God “went home justified before God” (v. 14). Why? Jesus answers, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v.14).

In First Corinthians 3:13-14 Paul explained, “[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.” One day each believer will stand before God. Those who’ve served with authentic faith and a desire to honor Him will receive the ultimate honor. From His mouth we’ll hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23).

Apply It.

Read and mediate on First Timothy 6:18-19. List your good deeds and assess your motives. Are they selfless and propelled by your love of God and others? Do you think they deserve God’s “well done”? Pray that God would compel you to live in a way that seeks His eternal rewards and not earthly ones.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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