“Watch out to not practice your righteousness before others, so that you will be seen by them.” Matthew 6:1a
These four verses introduce a number of important topics in Jesus’s sermon that he wants us to pay attention to. One important theme in chapter six is what is laid out right in verse one: watch out about doing your good works so that others will see them. You might think, well wait a second, back in chapter five wasn’t I supposed to do things visibly so people would see and glorify God? And therein lies the difference: who is meant to be getting the glory.
We begin this chapter in the same spirit that we left chapter five: seeking not to advance ourselves, but trust in God. It is natural for us to want to get credit for when we go out of our way to help others—just as it is natural for us to roll our eyes at people who are showy with their service. We sense intuitively that wanting to be seen as particularly generous is smarmy, and yet we feel the same pull to gather up that recognition with both hands.
This is why Jesus here also introduces the topic of heavenly rewards, which will lace all of chapter six. More will be said about these rewards in subsequent entries: for now, notice that heavenly rewards are even a category. Many of us believe that something can only be truly good if we do it for absolutely no personal gain. In contrast, you’ll notice that Jesus wants us to be motivated by reward! God made us to be pursuers of pleasure and goodness, but he wants to redefine for us what true benefit to ourselves really is.
Finally, we would be remiss to leave these verses and not observe that Jesus here is assuming that people connected to him will be giving to the poor. Perhaps with your tuition and lack of a real job, you think of yourself as the one who should be given to! However, if you honestly take stock of your situation, you’ll find people in categories less fortunate than yourself.
The giving here isn’t totally specified. It was probably money, but generosity can also come in the form of other gifts, or time spent. The right heart behind generosity isn’t duty or obligation, but again recognition that before God, we have nothing—everything we have is a gift from him. To participate in blessing others allows us to practice not gripping too tightly onto our possessions, and to reflect God’s generosity to those around us.
Spend some time praying about your own giving. What have been your motivations in the past, if you’ve had a pattern of giving? If you haven’t been giving, what fears or obstacles have blocked you? Take these things to God in prayer and ask him to purify your motivations, and to transform your attitude toward giving through the practice of giving. If you wait to start until you “have enough” or have a perfect heart, you’ll never in fact begin!