How are you at keeping secrets? The word usually brings to mind deception – a desire to hide something or deceive others. But there are times when secrets are good things. Take today’s scripture, Matthew 6.
This chapter is the “centerpiece” of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded by Matthew. The other gospel writers share different parts of the wisdom Jesus was sharing with the crowds, but God inspired Matthew to write down His teaching in detail. Jesus began with a description of salvation, its benefits, and responsibilities (the Beatitudes; being salt and light). He then moved to personal relationships as guided by the Old Testament law, elevating obedience from simply duty to the letter of the law to matters of the heart (anger vs. murder, lust vs. adultery, etc.).
Now Jesus is addressing our inner attitudes as they affect our fellowship with and worship of God. He gives two ways of living as a believer. We can pray, give, and fast with the desire for approval from men. This will naturally lead to focusing on earthly things – building up wealth and comfort and being anxious about the future. Or we can “practice our righteousness” in secret for an audience of One – our heavenly Father, with an eternal perspective that trusts Him to provide all that we need.
Jesus says if we are honored by men for the “good” things we do for God, we have our reward in full. That word “reward” is misthos, a noun meaning primarily wages, hire. When translated as “reward” it refers to the fruit naturally resulting from toils and endeavors, i.e. the reward given immediately, in this life. There’s a danger in this. We’ve all observed men and women who were once faithful to God start to compromise on scriptural issues as their visibility and popularity grows, and their “paycheck” is dependent on staying popular with the crowd.
In contrast, the person who is solely focused on pleasing God ignores public opinion. They know the real treasure, the real reward, will be given by the Father when this life is over. I don’t believe Jesus is saying that we should never pray in public or that no one should ever know if we make a donation, or that it’s a sin if people find out you are fasting. In fact, He just told us that we ought to let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). He’s teaching us about our attitude toward these things. Do we do them to be noticed, or are they simply an overflow of an intimate relationship with Jesus? In our heart of hearts, do we want God to be honored and glorified, or us?
I find it so interesting that Jesus follows this teaching with what my Bible titles “The Cure For Anxiety.” Jesus transitions to these last ten verses with the statement, “For this reason.” What reason? The last thing He said was that we cannot serve God and wealth. If we want to live free of anxiety, in complete trust and dependence on God for our every need, then we have to decide who we’re serving.
I encourage you to read Matthew 6:25-34. The world has spent the last two years worrying about life, going to extreme measures to avoid the perceived threat of death. And yes, many people have suffered greatly, and many lost their battle with Covid. Yet, who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27). Worry can’t help us add days; it only steals the days we have.
It’s at the end of this chapter we find the familiar verses that all true Christ-followers strive to live by. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, shelter, life itself] will be added to you (6:33). How do we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first? By living only for the Father’s approval. We turn our backs on the temporary accolades from those who approve of us and ignore the criticism of those who don’t. Our hearts are focused on heaven, where the real treasures are.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7 – For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.