Today I want to start to take a look at Matthew 6. I want to look at what it meant in context, and to carry that truth in a direction that I think is really important today.
Matthew 6 is in the middle of what is known as the sermon on the mount. I want to be clear to state that it is always a little risky to pull parts of a sermon out. There is an actual rhythm and order to this sermon from Jesus. And this is in the middle. However, there are also truths that we can pull out from the parts.
Chapter 6 starts out with a main statement in verse 1 and then gives three examples to explain it in the following verses. Here is the overall point:
Don’t perform righteous deeds for other people to see them, if you do you will have no reward from God.
That’s the opening line in my language. Feel fee to check your version.
Jesus then gives three examples. He talks first about giving money. He says when you give to the needy don’t announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do. (Here by hypocrites He probably is mainly calling out the Pharisees but I’m sure they weren’t alone.) If you do it to be seen, then you have received your reward. But if you do it in secret God will reward you.
The second example is prayer. Jesus says when you pray don’t be like the hypocrites and who love to pray standing in the synagogue or on the street to be seen praying by others. They have received their reward. They got what they wanted, recognition. Instead go into your room, shut the door, and pray to God who is unseen. God will see it and reward you.
His third example is fasting. He says don’t disfigure yourself to show others how they are fasting. They have received their reward – recognition by others. Instead dress extra well, so that it will not be obvious to anyone else that you are fasting. God will reward you.
The main truth here is very simple and very clear. It’s the first statement. Don’t do good things to be seen. Don’t do good things for the approval of others. Don’t do good things even for your own sake in the community. Don’t do it to be seen.
Jesus by the way is not saying that praying in a small group out loud prayer is bad. He’s not saying you have to give to your church or a cause anonymously. That’s not the point at all. What he is saying is don’t do it for yourself, approval of others or to be elevated in the community.
What might this mean for us today. What does it look like to follow this idea now. As you might imagine I’ve got some thoughts.
We live in a culture where social media is dominating a lot of our time, thoughts and values. In fairness it’s really tough to navigate. As a believer we need to engage the world. But we need to not be of the world. I think social media makes that tough. What does it mean to engage the world in that environment? How do we best engage?
What I see is a whole lot of posturing. I see a lot of virtue signaling. It’s like somehow we think that posting the right thing makes us righteous. We feel this need to make sure the world knows that we are on the “right” side of things. I think some of this is out of a good heart. We want people to know where we stand and where Jesus stands to some degree. But I also think that our posts to prayer ratios and posts to action ratios are severely lacking.
There’s a lot of look at me posting. Even worse we get to call out other Christians who are not as righteous as we are. It’s like praying on the street corner. “I’m against inequality!” “I’m against treating people poorly!”. “I’m against poverty!” “I’m against racism!” Christians post and think we did something. And of course anyone not posting or tweeting it is obviously pro racism, being mean, for inequality or at least doesn’t care about it. Look at me . . . I did something . . . I shared an article.**
That’s not engaging the culture, that’s being seen by it. We’ve received our reward and probably didn’t help anybody.
We need less posting and more praying. We need less posting about “they” and more work on our own sin. We need less self righteous and shaming of others and more humility and loving others. We need less online statements and more conversations. We need less trying to convince the internet and more having an actual conversation with our physical neighbor, or person at the store, or bar, or from the neighborhood we don’t live in.
What if we didn’t feel the need to react and comment on everything in public. What if we led towards Jesus by our lives, without fanfare. What if we stopped trying to defend or explain Jesus online and started actually trying to lead people we encounter to Jesus. What if we were known as the people who engaged the actual people instead of just the people online. What if we loved some people in person without the world knowing about it. God would know about it. We’d be rewarded. And we’d make a difference.
** You are of course always welcome to share my articles. HA! I get the irony.