Righteousness, Reward, and Hypocrisy

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March 31st, 2019

Main Idea: Jesus warns that our motivation for righteousness and reward should come from our Father in Heaven and not others


Jesus warns not to “practice your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.” How does this fit with what he has already said in 5:16 (that others are to see our good deeds as we live as the light of the world)?

Jesus is getting down to the level of the motivations and the intentions of our hearts. Do we have a desire for God and his glory to be esteemed or for my own glory to be lifted up?

“If we are honest, our hearts are desperate for the praise of people. We desire to be insiders. We work hard to construct and maintain an image that we believe will impress others, earn their approval, and give us a sense of significance. We want to escape shame and shine with glory… this hunger for the glory that comes from man is so insidious that it makes its way into even the most sacred of activities, and taints the motivations of nearly every action… Jesus knows that our temptation is to see life as a stage and the watching world as our audience. Even the most religious acts can be done with one eye on God and the other eye on people, hoping they see that one eye on God and admire us for it.” ~ J.R. Vassar

“We are to show when tempted to hide and hide when tempted to show” ~ A.B. Bruce.

Jesus warns that what might seem commendable and honorable from a human vantage point may be worthy of disapproval from a divine perspective. And what might seem insignificant from a human vantage point might be honorable and worthy of reward from a divine perspective.


To be a “hypocrite” in the 1st century meant to be an actor performing in a play. The “hypocrite” would lay aside their true identity for a false one while they are acting and performing. Jesus says this is the religious posture of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Isaiah 29:13: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

What they are craving is to be “praised by others” (lit. “glorified”). But, at the end of the day, this praise is not really about other people; it’s about themselves.

“The ultimate choice is always the choice between pleasing self and pleasing God… ultimately our only reason for pleasing men around us is that we may please ourselves. Our real desire is not to please others as such; we want to please them because we know that, if we do, they will think better of us. In other words, we are pleasing ourselves and are merely concerned about self-gratification… it comes to this: man by nature desires the praise of man more than the praise of God. In desiring the praise of man, what he is really concerned about is his good opinion of himself.”  ~ D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Jesus says there are 3 different ways to give:

  1. You can give in order to be seen and praised by others (6:2)

  2. You can give in secret while being filled with self-congratulations (6:3)

  3. You can give to please our Father in Heaven (6:4)

The only way we can give in this 3rd way (the only truly righteous way) is if we understand the gospel and that our reward is the riches of eternity spent with our Father in heaven because of grace.


Matthew 23:5-7: They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Instead of this public spectacle, Jesus says we are to go into a room where we can’t be seen and to pray in private. This is how Jesus himself prayed, constantly retreating from the masses to commune with his Father.

Our Father sees us in secret when no one else does. And our reward is communion and friendship with him; we get the ear of the creator and sustainer of the universe. When we twist this, we lose the only reward that really matters.

But: how do we actually have the power to actually live in the way Jesus commends? W must know deeply that we have a “Father in heaven.” We don’t need the approval and praise of others because we have the approval of God the Father on the basis of Jesus Christ.

“If you are persuaded in your own soul that what you believe and what you do are acceptable to God, whether they are acceptable to man or not is of very small consequence. You are not man's servant, you do not look to man for your reward, and, therefore, you need not care what man's opinion may be in this matter. Be just and fear not. Tread in the footsteps of Christ, follow what may. Live not on the breath of men. Let not their applause make you feel great, for perhaps then their silence will make you faint. Let no man in this respect domineer over you, but let Christ be your Master, and look to his smile.” ~ Charles Spurgeon