Why Do Good?

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Today’s message seems to be about helping those who are needy, helping the poor with their needs. Jesus does speak to that here. But helping the needy, I think in this passage, is secondary to this issue of practicing righteousness in general and our motivations behind practicing righteousness. The helping the needy, while being very important, is an illustration of a much broader issue of the matter of what motivates our behaviors.

We may all give to the needy occasionally, or at least I hope we all do; and this passage assumes that we do when Jesus says “when” you give… and not “if” you give. So we all should participate in benevolent giving and I hope we all do. But this greater issue of motivation is one that is relevant every moment of every day. It is even an issue at this moment as you sit there and as I stand here. Why do we do what we do?

There are reasons why we do what we do and I am convinced that we, much of the time, don’t really consciously think about and evaluate this in our lives. You can ask your kids, your spouse, your friend, “Why did you do that?” And a typical answer is, “I don’t know, I just did.” Or maybe, “I just wanted to.”

This morning I am going to ask you to really think through some things with me. If you are tired or preoccupied with something then I want to ask you to focus with me anyway and let’s see if we can learn some things about ourselves today that will help us to live the way that God created us to live.

Let’s start by looking a verse 1 of chapter 6, here is what Jesus said:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus gives a warning here with the word “beware” then He sort of goes to the most inner part of man which motivates the heart.

“Beware” is from a Greek word that is sometimes translated “be careful.” So it could read, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness before other people.” This means that “beware” or “be careful” means to be constantly vigilant. There is a reason for this command to be constantly vigilant and that is because our flesh, our inner desires of the flesh, will also be constantly vigilant to lead us to the opposite of what Jesus will command here. So we are to be constantly vigilant to not practice our righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.

Now, let me say that Jesus is not primarily concerned with the location at which we do good deeds. He is primary concerned with the motives behind them. I can say this, in part, because of what Jesus said back in Matthew 5:14-16:

Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Here Jesus is saying, let your righteousness be seen, let your light shine before others and ends with so that the Father will be glorified. So Jesus in chapter 6 is not condemning outward righteousness that can be seen by others but is instead concerned with what is motivating those acts of righteousness.

These two passages, Matthew 5:14-16 and Matthew 6:1, contrast two very different motivations for good works. One is a desire to give glory to God and the other to gain glory for oneself. So back to the question…why do you do what you do?

Followers of Christ who perform acts of righteousness to be seen by other people may be seeking human applause or human recognition rather than the glory of God. When this happens, their actions and motives imply that they are responsible for their personal acts of righteousness and deserve all the credit for them. This behavior is a very direct denial that their actions are a divine grace from God who is their Father.

So (and this is very important) their behavior, our behavior, then points to our own selfishness and also perhaps to our ignorance of the source of our righteousness as Christians, our righteousness which comes from God.

Jesus does not merely command His followers to do the right thing, He commands them to do the right thing for the right reason. And action is not truly righteous unless it has the proper motivation. The motivation for every truly righteous act is a desire to glorify God and to please Him. Jesus is urging us to resist the strong drive to glorify ourselves, to resist the desire to make ourselves look good and to resist the desire to crave the positive attention from others. He is urging us to resist the desire to do things to even just please ourselves and to resist the desire to even just approve of ourselves, you know just approve and think good about ourselves and about our good works.

Each of these motivations are self-centered and denying God’s righteous work in us. Life can become all about me instead of all about God and God in me. We just have this in us to want people to think we are special and to convince ourselves that we are special. We often times do what we do in order to impress others or ourselves. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you!

Now we may want to argue this point. Maybe we think our motives are generally to please and glorify God and I hope they are. But let’s at least consider that this is not always or is even rarely the case.

There are ways to test ourselves. You do something nice for another person. You spend a lot of time maybe making a meal for them. Maybe you spend most of the day working on a meal for another person. You get it to them and they complain about some aspect of it. Maybe it is cold when it should have been hot or it had onions in it and they don’t like onions—whatever, just some remark that you take as critical. How do you handle that?

You wash the dishes and there is one spot on one pan that didn’t get clean and someone points out that one spot without acknowledging all the clean dishes you worked hard on.

You work a 60-hour week to provide for the family and your daughter complains that she has to help with dinner.

How do we react to these things? Do we get upset, do we feel badly, do we lash out at the person who responded in these ways? If so, what does this tell us about ourselves? Were we wanting affirmation from others, were we wanting praise, or were we upset because someone didn’t recognize some good in us?

If we did any of these things, cooked a meal, did the dishes, worked a long week, and if we did all of these things with a motive to honor and glorify God, then other people’s responses wouldn’t get us all upset, angry or sad.

Or even if we think we failed in some way and another person points it out, we may not really care what they think but we may get down because we can’t approve of ourselves and our own perceived good works.

Why do we do what we do? Let your reaction to the opinions of others help you understand your motives. Jesus said:

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Don’t do good things in order to get the praise of other people. That is the implied point. If you do it for the praise of other people then that is your reward and you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If your desire is fulfilled by the praise of others, if that is what you were after, then your deed is not pleasing to your heavenly Father. It was instead a selfish deed done for your own glory.

Let me go with you a step further. We talk a lot here about loving others. The reason we do is because we see this command over and over again in the Bible. But even here we have to be very careful.

You may do a good thing for another and you may state and believe that the reason you did that good thing was because you love the other person and you want to be kind to them. But even in that we must ask why? Because if loving others is the final and deepest motive of our heart then we have again missed the mark. Even a non-believer can have compassion on others and do good things for them.

Loving others cannot be what drives us primarily, it must be loving and glorifying God. If taking a meal is only about loving or doing a loving thing for another person then where is God in that? In fact, we may be seen as the most loving and kind person ever, but if your ultimate desire is not to please and glorify God then we are simply seeking our own glory. It matters what motivates our hearts.

We are here to glorify God, to make Him known and to lift Him up in they eyes of man—that is why we are here. We are not here primarily to be seen as nice people and to do things that seem nice. We are here to glorify God.

Jesus is reminding us that God and humans sometimes have two different perspectives on human actions. What may be praiseworthy from a human perspective may be despicable in God’s eyes. We see this in places like Amos where people are coming to the temple to seemingly worship God and God says in Amos 5:

Amos 5:21 I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Or also, Isaiah:

Isaiah 29:13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…

God was not impressed and even hated their outward acts of righteousness—why? Because they did them for the wrong reasons. They were trying to appease God by there adherence to rituals but their hearts were far from Him. They looked good to their neighbors but God saw their hearts. Either we do things for God’s glory or we do them for our own glory. Why do you do what you do?

Now, I do want to get to the rest of this passage. What is this about a reward from God? Well it is a heavenly reward not an earthly, temporal one, “…for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” The “will have” is an eschatological future. Reward means to receive in full what is due, it was a technical term meaning paid in full. It is like the account is then closed and there is no more to be received—it’s applause from men or a future reward in heaven. So it’s a reward now—looking good to others and taking credit for yourself—or a reward in the future given by God. Now for the illustration that Jesus gives:

Matthew 6:2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Some things, some righteous deeds, can be done in secret and they need not be publicly displayed. And if we don’t want to do those that can be done in secret then again, that may be a key to look at our motives.

The reference here to a sounding of a trumpet is interesting. It may be completely metaphorical. Trumpets were sounded to call attention to things. Maybe Jesus is simply saying don’t call attention to your deeds. I think this is the most likely meaning. However, the chests that were in the temple that were used to collect offerings had a trumpet shaped mouth on top of it where people would toss their coins. So Jesus could be referring to loudly tossing coins into this opening so that others could hear it. In any event, the point is not to draw special attention to their giving to the poor. Don’t blow your trumpet, don’t make a show of your good deeds, that is the point.

And what we can see is that (and we are good at this) what is intended to be a humble selfless act of helping others could easily be perverted and become a completely selfish act. Jesus calls this hypocritical. Being a hypocrite is pretending. It is pretending to be righteous, not really being righteous.

To not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing is figurative and prohibits a person from pridefully celebrating his own personal acts of righteousness. It prohibits us sitting back and thinking things like, “Wow, I am so good,” I mean just thinking it to ourselves, “I am such a good person, look what good I think I have done.” We can do all this without anyone else being involved, just well proud of ourselves, and patting ourselves on the back even if we don’t tell others about it—just feeling good about who we are. This is self approval. But again, this is looking to ourselves instead of giving God the glory and doing it for Him.

So what is our place? Our place is to humbly give, to be motivated primarily to please God, and secondly to love others.

I want to really encourage you to stop and think about your actions this week. Think about the good that you do and really ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Why am I giving to the needy? Why am I helping my family? Why am I spending my time this way? Why am I spending my money on this? Why am I reading my bible? And you can go on and on trying to figure out what is primarily driving your behavior. You may be surprised by what you discover.

Here is what we want to get to: Such a deep love for God, such gratefulness for Him in our lives, that we do what we do because we love Him dearly and we want to serve Him and make Him known. If you are not there, then don’t beat yourself up, just ask that He will help you cultivate a deeper walk with Him and a deeper love for Him. Spend time learning and on meditation on His divine nature, of His love for you, of His work for you and in you, and of all that awaits you with Him in heaven. Take time, consider who He is and what He has done for you, and let those thoughts begin to drive what you do and why you do what you do.

We are here for His glory, to live for Him. How are we doing with that? So whether you eat or you drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God!

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.