In Matthew 6:1, Jesus issues a warning about outward appearances and drawing attention to oneself in matters of faith. Many translations use the words “be careful” to translate the Greek prosechete. This word is in the present tense, and it’s emphatic. Jesus is literally telling us “Pay attention to what I’m about to say”, and make sure you’re doing it! What is Jesus warning us to do, or in this case, not to do? Focus on making the practice of your faith merely an outward show, for that kind of faith only garners public attention. Jesus says it’s more important to practice one’s faith “in secret” because a reward from your Heavenly Father is far greater than the highest praise from man.
Jesus uses four examples to demonstrate this principle throughout the remainder of the chapter: giving to the poor (vv. 1-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), fasting (vv. 16-18) and earthly treasures (vv. 19-21). With each example Jesus includes a contrast between what it looks like when you do it for public recognition and praise, and what your Heavenly Father desires which in essence is something you do when no one is looking. All in all, what Jesus relates is that when you give, pray, fast or accumulate wealth for the recognition of your fellow human beings, that’s all you get. You are no different from our fictional movie star with the empty mansion. Giving so others can see how generous you are is not rewarded by God because that should not motivate your giving. Praying loudly or saying the same thing over and over again, does not impress God if it’s not heartfelt. Making a big to-do over a religious practice such as fasting does not garner any interest from the Lord, but others will certainly take note of it. And earthly treasures are transient. It’s true they can be enjoyed for the time we have them but eventually our concern over whether or not we can keep them will consume us if we’re not careful, and sometimes the desire to have more consumes us as well. It’s better to be satisfied with what you already have which is what the Lord has given you in the first place.
So, what are we to do? What should our priority be? Jesus says to first, seek God’s kingdom, and secondly God’s righteousness. This kind of seeking is more than just a casual search. It’s a concentrated effort to gain what is sought after and it takes top priority over anything else we might do. The item in question is not an earthly kingdom but a matter of the heart and the endeavor to replicate God’s standard of what’s right within it. Jesus says the when this is the focus of our life, God will not only grant us what we seek, but He will bestow it above and beyond what we expect. In other words, “Look after God’s standards in His commands as being the top priority in your life, and those things will be added to you in abundance.” In summary, if all we do is based on whether or not we’ll be seen doing it that is all we will get from what we do. But if we are not concerned with what others think and what we do springs from a heart that desires to please God, we will receive more than we could ever imagine or think from our Heavenly Father, who both sees and rewards “in secret”. Where do you want to start your seeking today?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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