Matthew 6:1-4 (NIV) “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.”
Some read these words and take them to mean that no good that we do should ever be seen by others. But that would directly contradict Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV, emphasis added): “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Instead, like just about everything else in this teaching, Jesus is taking aim at the heart of His followers, ensuring that they have as their goal a heart of God’s kingdom.
The key idea in verse 1 is doing good deeds “to be seen by (men),” as opposed to allowing men to see our good deeds so that they will “praise your Father in heaven.” In other words, Jesus is not condemning publicly done good, but is condemning good done publicly in order to be seen and admired by others.
As His first example of three, Jesus chose giving alms to the needy. Some of the Pharisees would make it a practice to draw attention to themselves just before they gave to the poor, whether in the synagogue, or in public, so that their piety and generosity would be seen and admired by those who were watching. And people did admire them, and want to be as pious and generous as them.
Jesus pointed out that if my motive in giving to the poor is to be admired by other people, then when I receive their admiration, that is all the reward I will receive. Since I was not more anxious for God’s praise and approval, it won’t be given.
As Jesus taught, if seeking the praise and admiration of other is a temptation for me, it would be much better for me to help meet the needs of others anonymously, so that even the recipient of my generosity won’t know it was me who provided for their needs. In that way, they won’t be able to feed my ego by thanking and praising me, and will instead turn their thanks and praise to God Himself, to whom it is actually due. And, even though my ego won’t be fed by the admiration of others if I do things this way, my soul will be rewarded with the rich food of God’s blessing and approval, which only comes to those who seek to please Him above all else.
Father, the praise of others can be really seductive. Help us, as Your people to resist that seduction, no matter how subtle, and to do all that we do, not for the approval and praise of men, but to please You, to honor You, and to bring glory to Your name. Amen.