Where does your reward come from? – Matthew 6:1

Pastor Scott L. Harris
August 23, 1992

Where Does Your Reward Come From?
Matthew 6:1


This morning we begin a new section within the Sermon on the Mount, but its theme is the same as we have been studying since we entered into this wonderful section of Scripture. What is the nature of true righteousness – the righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees? In the Beatitudes we saw the characteristics that will mark the person who is righteous in heart: poor in Spirit, mournful over sin, meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and a peacemaker, with the result that the unrighteous will persecute them. None of these characteristics can be produced by man’s own effort, they are the product of a man who is regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

We saw in the next section of the sermon that Jesus did not come to annul the law, but instead he taught that even the smallest part of it would not pass away until all was accomplished.  (See: Fulfilling the Law). Jesus restored the meaning and spirit of the law which the Scribes and Pharisees had distorted. He gave six specific illustrations of this contrasting the spirit of the law with the teaching of the self-righteous religious leaders. True righteousness keeps the spirit of the law from the heart, not just the letter of the law by outward actions. Murder is sinful, but so is unrighteous anger. Adultery is sinful, but so is lustfully looking on someone other than your spouse. Divorce is not commanded and results in increased adultery except for one specific cause. The righteous do not lie and they keep their promises. In addition, when the righteous are unfairly treated, they rely upon God and do not seek revenge. In fact they go on to even love their enemies.  (See: Loving Your Neighbor)

The General Principle

Now we enter into a new section. Jesus’ theme is still the same, but instead of contrasting the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees, he will now contrast their religious practices in three specific areas: giving alms, prayer and fasting. In each of these areas they had turned what was supposed to be an act of worship to God into a display of self-righteousness. After Jesus deals with these three areas He gives three prohibitions. He commands to not do certain general things found in the lives of these self-righteous religious leaders. The person who is truly righteous will desire to do all for the glory of God instead of glory for themselves.

The section is introduced in Matthew 6:1. This verse continues the theme of the sermon and marks off the main thought that runs through each of the illustrations and prohibitions that follow later: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Before we go further let me correct something that sometimes causes confusion. Some translations properly use the word “righteousness” in verse 1 and another term in verse 2 while others use the same word. The (KJV) uses “alms” and (NKJV) uses “charitable deeds” in both verse 1 and verse 2. Verse 1 is the general case and verse 2 begins a specific illustration of it. If your Bible does not distinguish this, then write “practicing your righteousness” in the margin and draw a line where is says “alms” or “charitable giving” in verse 1. That will help you to remember that verse 1 is the introduction to the whole section, not just to the illustration that starts in verse 2.

Look now carefully again at this verse. Beware of (take heed that you do not) practice your righteousness (doing good things) before (in front of) men to be noticed by them (in such a way as to attract their attention, so as they can observe you, to be seen/looked/gazed upon). Otherwise (if you do) you will have no reward with your Father who is heaven. If you do what good things you do in order to impress men, then the only reward you will get is the praise of men. Jesus is dealing with the motives that are in the heart of a man. Once again we see that true righteousness is a matter of the heart and not just outward behavior.

There are some that have used this verse and the following passages that illustrate its principle to teach that we are to do everything in secret and that if someone sees you, then you have lost your heavenly reward. Again we find that this error in interpretation is like all the others we have noted while going through this text. Men are very quick to look for verses to back up what they already think. This is called proof-texting. If you use verses and phrases without careful consideration of their context, you can pretty much make the Bible say anything you want. The passage may not really teach what they say it does. Whenever Biblical interpretation is done without careful consideration of the context, then error can easily jump into the interpretation.

Jesus says in verse 3 & 4 that your right hand should not know what the left is doing so that your alms may be in secret. In verse 6 Jesus says to “pray to your Father in secret.” In verse 17 & 18 He says to not let people see that you are fasting. Is Jesus actually teaching that we should be careful that no one ever sees us giving money to someone else, or putting it in the Faith Box at the back of the church? Is Jesus really saying that all prayer should be in private and that public prayer is without reward? Is Jesus saying that if someone finds out you’re fasting, then your reward for skipping all those meals is gone? NO! If He did then we had better set up a system by which you can give to the church by depositing cash (checks are traceable) into a night security box here at the church so that no one will see you do it. And we had better cancel our prayer meetings and cut out all the prayers in our service. And as far as fasting, most of us could get a great benefit out of that even if it wasn’t spiritual in nature.

Look back at Matthew 5:16. Jesus says there to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Is Jesus now contradicting this in chapter 6? Of course not. Remember the context is the nature of true righteousness verses self righteousness. Jesus is contrasting the practice of the Scribes and Pharisees with true righteousness. The issue through this whole section is your motivation. Why do you do what you do? Is it to bring glory to God as stated in Matthew 5:16, or is it to gain glory from men as described here in Matthew 6:1.

Scripture records over and over that the motivation for the Scribes and Pharisees was to gain glory from men. Luke 16:13-15 says, “‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’ Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, ‘ You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” You may be able to fool people about the nature of your heart, but you cannot fool God. He knows your heart, what you esteem and what you do not. He knows whether you love Him or just yourself.

Over in John 5 we find that the very reason the religious leaders would not receive Jesus was this same issue. They loved themselves and gaining glory from one another instead of God. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:44-47). In a nut shell you can see that this is what Jesus has been telling them in the Sermon on the Mount. They say they are following Moses, but as Jesus explains, the spirit of the law Moses demonstrates their false practice of what Moses said. We find that they are in fact condemned by the very law of Moses they claimed to follow so well.

The demonstration of their true concern is seen very clearly in John 12:43 which says that there were even those among the rulers that believed in Jesus but they would not confess Him because they were mindful of the Pharisees. They “loved the approval of men more than the approval of God.” Do we fall into the same mind set?

Dealing with Our Motivations

This is a very difficult thing to deal with. What is my motive for so many of the things I do – or do not do? Are they really done for God’s glory or for my own? Is it God’s approval I want or the approval of men? Even things we would think would certainly be for God’s glory can be done with the wrong motivation and there will be no reward.

How about preaching? Wouldn’t that be something done for God’s glory? In Philippians 1:15-17 Paul mentions that some that were preaching the Gospel were not doing so for the purpose of glorifying God, but because of envy, strife, selfish ambition and a desire to cause Paul distress in his imprisonment. What about me up here right now in this pulpit? Is my motive to glorify God or impress you? Do I say what I say because I am compelled to be faithful to speak the Word of God, or do I tailor what I say so as tickle your ears with what I think you want me to say or not say? I would like to say that of course it is only for the glory of God, but I know how deceitful even my own heart can be. It is not hard to bend what I say or do not say in order to please you. I do not like to have people upset with me because of what I say in the pulpit. I want people to like me the same way all of you want people to like you. I must fight against myself at times to preach the whole counsel of God as accurately as I possibly can regardless of the reaction I could get. I pray and ask you to continue to pray for me that I might accurately divide the Word of truth and do all for God’s glory.

What about you? Why are you here today? Is it because you genuinely wanted to come and gather with other believers and praise God corporately? Do you listen to the sermon because you want to understand God and His Word better and live according to it? Or do you come for some other reason. Does someone make you come against your will? Do you come because it keeps you out of trouble? Are you trying to impress someone else, or perhaps even yourself, with how spiritual you are? Do you see how subtle this can be?

The Scribes and Pharisees were really no different than were are even as fundamental Christians. They thought what they were doing was pleasing to God. They thought they were doing all that God asked them to do. It was not until Jesus exposed their hearts that their true motivation for what they did came out for all to see.

Now I am not trying to get us to the point where we are second guessing everything we do and driving ourselves crazy with extreme introspection. But we do need to examine ourselves and see why we do what we do. If Paul would issue a warning to the Corinthians to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5). If we should test ourselves concerning our very salvation, then certainly we should examine the motivations of our hearts and correct them. In fact, in very practical terms, you cannot truly live the Christian life Jesus has called us to if your motivation is anything other than wanting to please God and bring Him glory.

You may be able to fake things for awhile just because you want other Christians to approve of you, but eventually your heart will come out. We are to be poor in spirit. We are to come to God as beggars who have and can offer nothing, but can only plead for God’s grace and mercy. A person can fake a self despising attitude for awhile, but eventually pride will arise even over the ability to be so self abasing. True humility of heart only comes when a person sees and believes himself to be unworthy of God, for only then will there be true gratitude toward Him and a desire to please Him. (See: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit)

A person can also fake being sorry over sin for awhile, but that kind of sorrow never leads to repentance which is the evidence of true godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9,10). And only those that have the godly sorrow that brings repentance are comforted.  (See: Blessed are Those Who Mourn). Meekness belongs only to those that have their full trust in God. Otherwise there will always be a limit on what your are willing to do for and suffer on account of serving the Lord.  (See: Blessed are the Meek).

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is also only true of those that want God’s approval over that of man. Everyone else will always end up defining righteousness according to someone’s list of do’s and don’ts. A strong evidence of this is what those people do when they run into someone that does not follow their particular list of rules.  (See: Hungering for Righteousness). Are they humble? Do they mourn over that person’s “sin.” Are they merciful? Or do they look down on that person considering themselves to be superior? Self righteousness eventually demonstrates itself by what it demands of others in order to give approval.

Mercy comes from those that have received it. Those that seek the Lord’s approval seek to be like Him and give mercy to others the same way they have received it. Those who want the approval of men will give mercy only when it is to their advantage.  (See: Blessed are the Merciful). And purity of heart simply cannot belong to someone that values the approval of men over the approval of God.  (See: Blessed are the Pure in Heart).

A person who wants to please men will define peace as the absence of conflict, and if compromise must be made to do that, then so be it. A Biblical peacemaker wants true reconciliation and restoration and that can only take place when there is truth and justice, so peace is pursued through the conflict. Only a person who places the same value on truth and justice as God does will persevere through the conflict in order to achieve true peace. (See: Blessed are the Peacemakers)

And of course a person’s reaction to persecution reveals his heart. Only a person consumed with the glory of God can rejoice in the midst of persecution and love those enemies, praying for them. There are some cults that thrive on being persecuted under the belief that means they are approved by God. But they fail the test of not seeking revenge, going the extra mile, and loving and praying for their enemies.  (See: Blessed are The Persecuted)

Only people consumed with their relationship with God will be concerned about attitudes as well as actions. They will be just as concerned with unrighteous anger that occurs in their hearts as they would be if they murdered someone. They seek to put to death the desires of the flesh and not just avoid carrying them out. In a bad marriage they do not seek an easy way out but strive to be a Hosea that continually demonstrates the love of God to a wayward spouse. They keep their promises. Their word can be trusted because they know that God holds them accountable for every word they speak.

True righteousness is of the heart and it comes out in the motivation behind what we do, say and think. That is important because it is not enough for us to do good and nice things. Even those with no claim to know Jesus can be good and nice. The Cheyenne Indians exhibited moderation, dignity, generosity, and manifested an almost unbelievable degree of self-control. Parents loved their children and gave them lots of affection without spoiling them. They also taught them ethical values at an early age so that they were dedicated, self-sacrificing, and well-behaved. Yet these good and nice people were not Christians. The same can be said for many of the cults. In fact one of the things that usually attracts people into the cults is the sense of love they are given. It is not enough to be nice outwardly, to have a nice, moral religion. There must be a change inwardly. The heart must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

How It Affects Our Outreach

I have given a lot of thought to how our church can reach this community for Christ. I have toyed with ideas of different programs. I have thought about different methods of getting the attention of those around us. And I am still not sure how we can best do that, but one thing I do know without question. We will never make a dent in the community around us that is lost without Christ and destined for Hell unless there is something radically different about us. We will never attract the non-Christian to Christ by displays of outward religious morality such as “I don’t drink, I don’t go to movies, I don’t smoke, I don’t have sex outside of marriage, I boycott stores that sell pornography, I boycott businesses that support abortion, I write to the political figures that represent me and tell them what they need to do about the moral slide in our community and nation, etc.” Those things do not attract people to Christ. If anything, the non-Christian looks at those things and thinks we are right wing zealots that are trying to limit their freedoms.

What will attract people to Christ, what will have an effect on our community, what will cause people to recognize their own sin and cry out for God’s mercy is when the people who profess to know God actually do and live accordingly. If we as a church are going to have an effect on this community for the cause of Christ, then each of us as individuals will have to live lives that demonstrate without any doubt that we know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. One thought must control everything we do, what will bring glory to Jesus? He is the one I want to please – not myself and not other people. I want my reward to come from Him. I want to hear Him say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

I fear that at times we sing the hymn, ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer‘, yet are content with 5-10 minutes a day with God. We sing, ‘Onward Christian Soldiers,’ but have to be drafted to do anything. Do you realize there are a thousand and one ways to serve Christ? And if you are a Christian then He has already equipped to serve. Are you serving? We sing ‘ for a Thousand tongues to Sing,’ yet we are hesitant to use our own to praise the Lord. We sing ‘Blest be the Tie that Binds,’ yet we let the least little offense sever it. We sing, ‘I Love to Tell the Story,’ yet tell no one. I think you get the idea. Do we live according to our profession of faith? Do we really love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, or are we so busy trying to do all the things we think people want us to do that we neglect the more important things like personal prayer and Bible Study and being quiet before Him? Are we so afraid of what people might think about us that we fail to live the radical life Jesus has called us to? Do we back off living for Christ out of fear of being called a fool or a fanatic?

I mentioned last week that if we are to live the way that Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount then we must die to self and live for Him alone. Paul said it so well in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” If I am crucified with Christ and He lives in me, then my greatest concern in all that I do are: “What does Jesus think about this?“What does He want me to do,” and not “what do I think” or “what do other people think?” Have you been crucified with Christ? Are you putting to death the deeds of the flesh and laying aside your sin? Does your reward come from your heavenly Father – or from men?

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Grace Bible Church Home Page |  Sermon Archives

For comments, please e-mail  Church office