People like to be seen. We style our hair, exercise our bodies, and purchase our outfits so that others will pay attention to us. Our world rewards with fame, those who can put together the best appearance. To see and to be seen seem to be the most important things in life.
Yet Jesus tells us that when it comes to the life of faith, being seen is not only not the most important thing, it is a dangerous desire. Those who practice righteous acts simply for the positive publicity it brings them are living a lie and stand under God’s curse rather than his blessing.
Acts of righteousness, like giving to those in need, prayer and fasting, are designed to be viewed by an audience of One! Our hearts desire should be to show our love and commitment to God alone. God may then reveal our righteousness to others, if it is his desire. But even if no one other than God ever knows of our righteousness, we should be pleased to have been seen by God. By whom do you seek to be seen?
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18)
Everyone likes to look good in the eyes of other people. This prompts us to bathe, to clean our clothes and our houses, and to practice personal hygiene. However, this desire can also lead us to value style more than substance and appearances more than reality. The desire to look good is especially dangerous when people use religious practices for personal gain. Jesus warns us about misusing spiritual disciplines to enhance our appearance.
· Beware of your motives! If you are doing good deeds to be seen my people you forfeit your reward from God.
· Practice your spiritual disciplines for an “audience of one.” Only by giving, praying or fasting in secret can we be sure that we are doing these things in the service of God, not self.
· Stand in obvious contrast to the hypocrites, who offend God and people. Nothing is more disgusting than religious shows designed to glorify people rather than God. These displays deny everything religion is supposed to be about.
· Seek the applause of God rather than the applause of people. Jesus makes it plain that if we seek the applause of people we will never please God. If, however, we seek to please God, he will approve of our actions and will reward them in ways that are appropriate. Ironically, those who seek first to please God often find that people applaud their faithful service.
· Secret giving benefits the recipient and reveals our gratitude for God’s gifts to us.
· Secret praying acknowledges our dependence on God and expresses our desire for intimacy with Him.
· Secret fasting indicates our trust in God to sustain us and our desire to surrender our appetites to him.
By seeking to be seen by others, we surrender all the value of spiritual disciplines.
By seeking to be seen by God alone, we purify our hearts and empower our faith.