Examining Our Motives (Matthew 6:1-4)
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus taught the mountain audience their “righteousness” must “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” This may have sounded like a tough task since the “scribes and Pharisees” were known for their religiosity. Yet, despite their outward impressions there were problems Jesus saw with their hearts. One of those problems was their desire to perform outward religious acts for the applause of men, rather than being motivated by a truly gracious and giving heart. Jesus says,
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4, NKJV).
Over and again, Jesus exposes the hypocritical mindset of the Pharisees (see also Matthew 6:2, 5, 16; 23:5). He exposes their outward impression of piety when disjointed from inner purity. He calls upon true disciples to do better. He wants us to give quietly. This means giving to “the needy” but without virtue signaling as we give. Give because it is the right thing to do and not because of the attention or recognition we may gain from our generosity. After all, the only “reward” that truly matters is the one God gives rather than the applause of men.
The “pride of life” is a very real source of temptation. “Pride” is what makes us want to brag, to be recognized, to be honored. Yet, humility recognizes despite the good deeds we may do we are but poor imitators of a perfect God from whom comes “every good and every perfect gift...with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God deserves the glory, not us. We would not know about selfless giving if it were not for the selfless God. So, whether there is earthly recognition or not we must still be eager to give to worthy needs as the opportunity arises without thought of self-promotion.
If we only give when for public recognition, we are violating this principle. If we only give accompanied by a social media selfie looking for compliments, we are violating this principle. If we only give to tell stories of our generosity, we are violating this principle. If we only give as an earthly tool to gain in some way here on earth (business marketing, hopes of a return favor, improve community reputation), then we are violating this principle of Jesus. May our hearts be willing to give to those in need because we love God and we love our fellow man, more than we love the attention of others. Examine your motives. Give God the glory and getting the glory will no longer be our motivation.