Be Careful (Matthew 6.1)




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If we want to follow Jesus Christ, we must practice a righteousness that “surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Matt. 5.20). Such righteousness is not a legalistic obedience to the letter of the law; it is a wholehearted desire to live out the spirit of the law (5.21–48). It also entails practicing an authentic spirituality. As Jesus says, “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” (6.1).

How do we practice our spirituality authentically? By giving generously to the poor (6.2–4), praying to our Heavenly Father (6.5–15), fasting (6.16–18), and using our material possessions wisely (6.19­–34), among other actions. But authentic spirituality also involves performing these actions with the right motivation: to be rewarded by God rather than to be praised by men.

As I read Jesus’ words, I find myself asking two questions: Do I practice the spiritual disciplines of generosity, prayer, fasting, and stewardship? If so, why—what is my motivation?

First, “Do I practice the disciplines?” Generosity, prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines are habits we must develop to become the kind of people God wants us to be. Prayer and fasting remind us of our overriding need for God, for his tangible and spiritual blessings. Generosity to the poor reminds us that there is a greater purpose to wealth than mere acquisition—namely, meeting others’ needs and making the world a better place. Without disciplines such as generosity, prayer, and fasting, we cannot love God with all our being; nor can we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22.37, 39).

Second, “Why do I practice the disciplines? What is my motivation?” Jesus offers two possible answers: to be seen by men or to be seen by God. People who practice the disciplines to be seen by men are looking for a temporary spiritual reputation. But people who practice them to be seen by God are looking for an eternal spiritual relationship. According to Jesus, both groups will get what they want (Matt. 6.2, 5, 15), but only the latter group will receive what all of us truly need—the reward of heaven (6.4, 6, 18).

So, do you practice the spiritual disciplines? Why? Your answers to these questions are important if you want to follow Jesus Christ.

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