Who are you when no one’s looking? (Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18)

One of the strongest pulls in my life is to care more about what people think of me than what God thinks of me.  When I fall into this, I become a hallow person with a hypocritical faith.  Jesus knew knew people like this in his day, and had strong words for them (and us), found in Matthew 6:1-8 and 6:16-18. My notes from the sermon I gave on Sunday on the same text (podcast here) are after the jump.

Who are you when no one’s looking? (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18)

–          Parable of a husband at Valentine’s Day who is romantic for the consumption of others, rather than for his wife.

1. Public displays of spirituality that are for the purpose of impressing other people, rather than God, create an empty faith

  1. The danger of living a public faith

–          Wait, 5:16 says that we’re supposed to be public in our faith “Let your light shine before men, that they may glorify your father who is in heaven.”

–          Plus, much of the things we’re commanded to do as disciples of Jesus (worshiping God, learning the Word, caring for our brothers and sisters, proclaiming the gospel, helping the poor) are communal, public acts.  Are we supposed to put on a Batman mask while evangelizing or something?

–          Notice closely v. 1 – in order to be seen

What is the purpose of your “acts of righteousness” (or, to paraphrase, why do you do good things for people?)

–          If you think, “I always, completely am living my Christian faith for God alone, never for what other people think of me,” well, would you raise your hand?  Oh, I was trying to catch someone bragging…

  • We all do this, if different ways and for different reasons.

How can you tell if you’re falling into this trap?

–          How would you roommates or family describe your walk with God?

Illustration: Freshman and sophomore year accountability partner to junior year roommate.

Why would someone fall into this temptation?

It’s been said that the economic collapse of the past decade was caused by us buying things we didn’t want, with money we didn’t have, to impress people we didn’t like.

–          We look at a distance, with the benefit of hindsight, and say, “Why would I care so much about what other people think of me that I would lie by misrepresenting my faithfulness, or generosity, or patience, or joy?”

–          V. 2 gives the reason – We want to be praise by other people

  • The praise of people is intoxicating
  • The Pharisees were not always the punching bag of Jesus.  Do you know how the Pharisees came to be?  They were a revivalist movement with Israel. At a time when it seemed that Israel’s law, culture, language, and religion were going to be overwhelmed by the Greeks, it was the forerunners of the Pharisees who stood up and said, “We’re going to be faithful to God, no matter what happens to us.”
  • That’s what led to the Maccabbean Revolt, and the establishment of Hannakuh.
  • The enduring lesson the Pharisees took from that experience was, “If we can just convince the people to keep the law, including fasting, prayer, and giving, God will deliver us.”
  • Do you think the first Pharisees were genuinely devout?  I think so.  So what happened?  How did (at least many of them) become “hypocrites” to use Jesus’ term? They cared more about whether people praised them than whether God rewarded them.
  • Who are you when no one is looking?

(Transition: Why would someone fall into the temptation to want to be praised by people? They undervalue the possibility of a greater reward)

2. The rewards of God are of greater value than the rewards of people. (v. 1, v. 4, v. 6, v. 18)

What are the rewards of God?

–          Matthew mentions “rewards” 11 times in his gospel, but he never says what they are.

Better question than, “What is God going to give me?”

–          Who do I want to reward me?

–          Christmas gift exchange – Who do I want to give me a gift?

How do rewards interact with the concept of grace?

–          God will never be cheap with you.

–          Grace is God doing for you what you cannot do for yourself

–          Illustration of the tooth fairy – Have the kids really earned anything? No, but you reward them for the effort that they made, because you delight in them.

3. The cure to an empty faith is confidential spirituality

Confidential Giving (v. 3)

–          You could say “confidential giving” is redundant, because confidentiality is necessary for it to be a gift.  Otherwise, we’re not really giving anything, we’re just buying recognition.

–          The act of giving to another humanizes the person, because you are two peers.  If you are publicizing the act of giving, it dehumanizes the person, makes them simply an object that you get recognition from.

–          When you give, are you giving freely or are you buying recognition?

Confidential Prayer (v. 6)

–          This week, when you prayed, who were you speaking to?

  • I’ve spoken to a variety of people when I’ve prayed:
    • The teaching prayer
    • The rebuking prayer
    • The please-don’t-judge-me prayer
    • The ceremony prayer
    • The mindless prayer

–          When you pray, are you praying as if God is real, and really matters?

Confidential Fasting (v. 17-18)

–          Pun – The are unrecognizable in order to be recognized

–          Pharisees fasted Monday and Thursday every week in order to catalyze Israel to revival.

  • But it became a status symbol, and many of the Pharisees looked down on the ha’am h’aretz who didn’t fast.


Being a disciple of Jesus means being a person who is singularly concerned with God’s opinion of himself or herself, rather than winning the approval and praise of other people.

When we are able to rest in the identity that we have received from God, that of loved sons and daughters, we are free to receive praise or scorn from people without it defining us.

Prayer Project

How important to you is having your spirituality seen by others?  When are you especially prone to fall into this?

How compelling are the “rewards of God” to you?  Why?

Where can you practice confidential spirituality this week?

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