16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:16–18, NKJV).
After elaborating on prayer’s motive, method, and manner in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus returns to the motives of personal piety in today’s passage. Fasting often accompanied prayer. Like prayer, hypocrites used fasting as their chance to be praised by others for their voluntary deprivation and affliction of the soul. While not commanded under the new covenant, fasting was (is) a period of intense spiritual devotion. It was associated with recognizing one’s sin with godly sorrow and repentance (Nineveh, Jonah 3:5-10; Luke 11:32; Saul, Acts 9:9-11). The broader principle Jesus taught applies to every action of self-sacrifice. Instead of bragging and displaying religious practices to be praised by others, we aim to please the eyes of our heavenly Father. The reward of human praise momentarily feeds pride and fades quickly. But attentive, faithful service to the Lord will be evident and eternally rewarded. When we love the praise of men more than the praise of God, we confess ourselves, not Christ (John 12:42-43). So, go about your daily service to the Lord without regard for whether others see you. The Father sees you, and that is enough.
1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1–4, NKJV).
Acts of charity ought to be driven by compassion, not by seeking the accolades of men. Jesus addressed the motive of helping the needy by contrasting the public displays of the hypocrites with acts of kindness that escape the attention of others. If our motive for helping others is to be seen and honored, that is the only reward we will have. On the other hand, we will not seek attention when compassion moves us to help the needy. We will not go around telling people what we did; We just do it. People may not see our acts of compassion, and that’s okay. The Father in heaven does, and He will reward us. The good Samaritan, who unhesitatingly helped a stranger, sets the example for us (Luke 10:29-37). Moved with compassion, he was a neighbor to the man in need, caring for him immediately and arranging for his ongoing needs. Compassion for those in distress moves citizens of the kingdom to act, not for men’s praise, but to relieve suffering and honor God.
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” 12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:10–14, NKJV)
The truth of the gospel offends certain people. Not because it is a harmful message, but because they do not approve of it. Gospel truth exposes sin, and we don’t like to look at ourselves the way God sees us. The Pharisees were spiritual hypocrites, and Jesus called them out, exposing their sin against the commandments of God (Matt. 15:1-10). The disciples reacted to the confrontational nature of truth by trying to moderate Jesus and His message. But, Jesus would have none of that. He explained there are “plants” (like the Pharisees and their teachings) that are 1) Not from the Father, 2) Blind guides of the blind, and 3) Headed for the ditch. When the truth offends us, we are the ones who need correction (not the truth). Like the multitude Jesus taught, we must “hear and understand” that sin’s defilement starts in the heart. That is what we must change first (Matt. 15:15-20).
“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33, NKJV)
Christ’s words were scalding as He exposed the sins of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. “Woe to you…hypocrites!” “Blind guides!” “Fools and blind!” “Serpents, brood of vipers!” May disciples of Jesus follow His example of exposing, rebuking, and even pronouncing God’s condemnation of those who teach error and, by it, lead others into sin? Some say, “No, this was Jesus! He knew men’s hearts, but we don’t. We are not Jesus; we cannot do this.” Yet, here and elsewhere, Jesus addressed both the sinful conduct and the motives of heart that produced their error and sin. Both teachings and behavior, whether good or evil, come from the heart (Matt. 12:35). When He warned against false prophets, Jesus said: “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16). Since we can know false proclaimers of God’s word from the fruit of their teachings, surely we are to warn others of the danger their error poses (Paul did this, 1 Tim. 4:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Couple this with the undeniable truth that disciples follow their Master’s example, and we have ample right and reason to carefully identify and denounce sin and error (Lk. 6:40). Perhaps we should ask, did Jesus sin by using such harsh denunciations? No. Was His heart pure when He did? Yes. And, our hearts can be pure and our conduct without sin when we follow His example of warning against error and identifying those who promote it. Indeed, our hearts must be pure as we examine and expose error, lest we fall under the same condemnation (Rom. 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:16). God’s truth is our guiding light to expose sin and to advance righteousness (Jno. 3:19-21).
5 And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matthew 6:5–6, NKJV)
Just as with alms, our motive for prayer is crucial. Jesus stresses the “why” of our prayers. We have denied the power of prayer and elevated ourselves instead of God when we turn prayer into an opportunity to be seen and praised by others (Luke 18:9-12). We are hypocrites to think God accepts us when we pray with motives of self-importance. Public praise is not the reason to worship God. When that is our motive, that is the only praise we will receive. Jesus is not indicting public prayer given in reverent worship (see 1 Corinthians 14:15-16). It is needed instruction that helps us examine why we pray. When we pray to be seen by God, He will reward us generously and obviously. Let us check why we pray so our Father in heaven will hear us and answer us.
1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (Matthew 6:1–2, NKJV)
Giving to those in need is nullified before our heavenly Father if our motive for giving is impure. Charity given from a desire to be seen and praised by others will not be rewarded by God. When recognition from men is one’s motive for giving, that is the only reward the giver will receive. The trumpet of the hypocrite is sometimes heard on social media, where it has become rather routine to “share” the charitable deeds one does. The trumpet is heard in boastful announcements of what one has done or how much one has given to a worthy cause (see the contrast in Matthew 6:3-4). We must have pure motives when we give, for even “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor,” if I “have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Pride warps our motives for doing good. Yes, it is possible to pretend righteous motives when we give, but God knows our hearts and He will reward or withhold His blessing accordingly. Let us purify our hearts and do good to others so they will be blessed and so God will bless us, too.