“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1 New Living Translation
As Jesus moves to the next major section of His Sermon on the Mount, He focuses on how the heart is involved in acts of religious piety. He looks specifically at three acts of piety: charity to those in need, prayer, and fasting. The specific challenge given in each situation points to where a person focuses their attention when practicing these acts of piety. Is the person focussed on gaining the approval of other humans? Or are they most concerned with gaining the attention of God? The person who is seeking the attention of humanity will receive their reward in the praise of people as they make a show of their acts of piety. The person who is focused on the approval of God will not be concerned with the response of other people regardless of the location or method used to carry out acts of piety. The focus here is not so much a legalistic formula to follow in order to gain God’s approval as much as it is a prescription for radical treatment to cure us of the addiction to human praise. If your heart motive in your piety is completely driven by human praise, then go to great lengths to hide your personal piety from the view of others.
The narrative of the Gospels shows that this was a common issue in the days of Jesus. Certain religious sects were known for making a show of their acts of devotion. These people would place themselves in the most visible places and use instruments to gain attention while they were giving an offering or saying a prayer. They had the appearance of piety but Jesus makes clear that God could see through their facade and knew what was actually in their hearts. If their motive was to seek the praise of people that is all they would receive. The person who focused on bringing honor to God would receive honor in return from Him. In other places, Jesus even affirmed being seen by others in carrying out good deeds in order to bring honor to the Father. The key was having a heart that focused on glorifying God and not ourselves.
We see the same thing happening in our day. The advent of social media makes it even easier to draw attention to oneself in carrying out acts of charity. We face the same temptation and dilemma today that the people of Jesus’s day face. If our goal is to receive likes and shares on our Facebook page, then we may need to look at our motives. At the same time, though, sometimes social media is a way to motivate others to get involved in a cause that is important to us and God. So, sharing our passion for the things that God values can have a positive impact on our world. For the person whose heart is focused on the glory and Kingdom of God, there will always be a pause when sharing about something important to us. This is a good thing because it gives us time to check our motives. If our hope is to be seen and praised by our friends, then it is best to leave something unshared. If our heart is focused on motivating others to glorify our Heavenly Father and get involved in His Kingdom’s work, then we should feel free to share.
God help us to keep our motives pure in how we live out our acts of devotion to You. Help us to remember that your approval is more important than the approval of people.