"How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God ?" John 5:44
See Matthew 6:1-18 – Key verse: "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." How does the inner "heart righteousness" (Matthew 5:20) that Jesus has been speaking of in Matthew 5 work itself out in our public religious life in the areas of giving (our relationship with others) praying (our relationship with God) and fasting (our relationship with our self, i.e., self-examination)?
Jesus always sought to please God not men. To become like Christ we must seek the praise of God more than the praise of people. (John 5:44)
"Secular" work becomes spiritual when it is done to please God, and "religious" work becomes secular when it is done to impress people.
Giving: In giving to those in need (alms) or giving in general we are not to "toot our own horn" ("announce with trumpets") by telling others about our giving. If we do we will receive no reward from God but only from man.
We are not even to congratulate ourselves -"don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."
Self-consciousness can lead to self-righteousness.
Losing God’s reward means we lose His affirmation now and eternal rewards in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:13-15) for hypocritical acts of righteousness. A "hypocrite" does right things for the wrong reason. God judges our motives not just our actions. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Praying: Jews prayed publicly at set times and there was no prohibition from Jesus (who also prayed publicly —Matthew 14:29) even as we pray publicly today in church or in Christian gatherings. But to pray publicly to be "seen by men" is the same hypocritical motive for telling others about our giving. Again the reward is the same — acclaim from man not from God.
True prayer focuses on intimacy/communion with God in one’s heart whether it happens in private or in public. Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray even in the midst of busy times of ministering to others. (Luke 5:16) It is through this intimate communion with our Lord that we "hear" his voice of love and acceptance and even correction that gives us the security and confidence to serve others. (See Psalm 31: 19-20 KJV) Yet when we pray with and for others (i.e., publicly) we need to pray to God but loud enough so others can hear our prayer and can agree and hopefully be encouraged by it. If you would like a brief teaching from Henri Nouwen on prayer (solitude —time alone with God) send me an e-mail regarding this.
Fasting: Jesus said "when" you fast not "if" you choose to fast. Fasting, which our Lord Himself practiced, is a needed spiritual discipline for all of us, especially prayer and fasting together. Fasting disconnects us from the material (food). Physiologically, it makes our mind more alert. And spiritually, it inspires our devotion and earnestness in prayer and intercession. It also helps us subject and silence the lies and deceptive voice of our flesh (which blinds us to our sin) to better discern the truth about ourselves. (Psalm 139:23-24) Yet once again we should not brag about our fasting or even tell anyone about it or it will have no merit with God.
These three spiritual disciplines, along with many other disciplines, enable us to receive God’s empowering grace. They assist us in learning to walk by faith instead of sight. We can begin to "see" the invisible and "hear" the still small voice of God rather than just seeing the deceptive and tempting sights of the world. And it is impossible to live the Christian life apart from God’s Spirit working in and through us.
Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
QUESTIONS FOR MATTHEW 6:1-18QUESTIONS FOR MATTHEW 6:1-18
How can seeking praise from man hinder our faith in God? (See John 5:44)
Do you believe that your "secular" job can please God just as much as going to church on Sunday? What makes the secular truly spiritual and how does this fit with the Great Commandment and Great Commission?
In which of the three areas above would you be most tempted to tell others and why?
How can your prayer life set you free from wanting the praise of man?
What is your experience with fasting?
What percentage of your time do you think you walk by faith versus sight? (See Hebrews 11:6)