In today’s Bible reading* Jesus warns His listeners to beware practicing your righteousness before people. In three sections, Jesus says that His followers should seek God’s approval for their good works, rather than the approval of people here and now.
He says when you give… when you pray… and when you fast… don’t do like unbelievers do. They publicize their giving, praying, and fasting so that they will be recognized by their peers.
Jesus says that if you want recognition here and now, here and now is the only recognition you will ever receive.
However, if you want the applause of heaven, you have to practice your righteousness in secret, where your Father will see. And He will reward you.
It’s natural to want to be recognized for our good deeds. Depending on how large your charitable donations are, you can get a sizeable deduction on your income taxes. It feels good to have people give you a pat on the back. It feels good to be encouraged for doing the right thing.
But Jesus warns us to be very careful where we place our priorities. Do we want recognition here and now, or would we rather have God’s acclaim?
Practicing spiritual disciplines — such as giving, praying, and fasting — are very important in our spiritual growth. But they aren’t ends within themselves.
The reason for practicing spiritual disciplines is to grow us into a deeper love relationship with God, to develop a deeper intimacy with God, and to develop a better ear for hearing God’s voice. All of these are so that we will be more like Jesus. This is what it means to be a Disciple.
You can be recognized by your peers here and now for your acts of righteousness. Or you can be recognized by your Father when you practice your acts of righteousness in secret.
You can’t have it both ways.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: