Matthew 6:1-8 Part 1

There’s a very strong, Satanic philosophy that is sweeping across our society right now, and it is manifesting itself in many different ways and including many different groups.  It is a religious movement – as all philosophy, or thought, is religious – one religion or another.  It is a frightening, pervasive malignancy.  It is threatening.  And it is bold and arrogant in its attempt to move the whole society away from its Biblical goal and direction!

It is not exclusive to these groups I am about to name, by any means; but it is inclusive of them – and others.  But it includes, at the forefront, the New Age movement (which is not new at all, but has its origins in Hindu eastern mysticism), the feminist movement, environmentalism, and universalism.

Now, as you begin to think about that, I know it might be difficult to coalesce these and the many others in your minds and find the unifying factor; but it will become easier to do so as time goes on.  There is even an insignia that is emerging as the identifier of similar thinking people and groups; and it is the same insignia that God gave us as His sign of the Covenant that He made with His Creation!  It is just beginning to show up on back windows and bumpers – in advertising – in conversation and written scenarios and on company logos.  It is the rainbow!

As I said, there are a number of different manifestations of this Satanic deception among us (and the numbers are growing at a startling rate), but the underlying and identifying motivation in them all seems to be the desperate search for self.  And we are beginning to hear it more and more – “I need to find myself – to get in touch with myself and find out who I am.”  “I have to find me – I must know me, and what my purpose is and how I fit into the universe.”

So, what do they do?  They go inside themselves to find themselves!  But, you see, in natural man’s deepest propensities, he is a liar and a deceiver.  So, by going inside one’s self to find one’s definition and purpose, the only thing that is found is deception!

And it does not matter which method one uses to get inside!  Some are just better than others at lying!  Psycho-analysts help people deceive themselves pretty good.  Hypnosis probably does better.  Hindu meditation is real good!  And union with all the other molecules of the universe – as with universal harmonic conversion (reincarnation) – is the best!  So says Shirley Maclain.  She preaches that all over the world – with evangelical zeal!  This is her new book.

If you want to find out how wide-spread this thing is, just go into a bookstore and look.  All of them have a new section now. It is called “new age.”  And the section is bigger than the section labeled “religion.”  Even though it is religion, book marketers have found this new and dynamic way to make money.  Separate “new age” from all the other religious works, and you will make a lot of money.  Music and videos are doing the same thing.

And the faster it grows the more deception; and the more people deceive themselves, the more social chaos occurs.  Depression, chemical dependency, rebellion, abortion, murder, rape, hopelessness and suicide.  Shirley Maclain’s happy, smiling face is the way to personal destruction.  Satan appears as an angel of light – but he is the father of lies.  And children have the appearance of their father – and, inside, there is only deception.  The father of lies and the children of lies.

But God says that there is only one way to know yourselves – and that is to know Me.  To be knowingly self-conscious, one must first know God.  So, to be perfectly frank about it, the only person who can truly know himself, and be in touch with himself, (that is, to be epistemologically self-conscious) is the one who, by the blood of Christ, has been reborn or washed clean and given a new heart!  The regenerate man is no longer deceived by himself, but sees his condition in relation to his Creator and Lord!

You see, God created us – and He gives us definition and purpose.  That is the only place it is found!  We are individuals only in respect to Him.  And we fill our purpose only in relation to Him!  We only have meaning, and purpose, and life – in Him!  Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega.  And all things hold together in Him.  And no man can come unto the Father except through Him.  He is the Way – and the Truth – and the Life.  Without Him there is only chaos and disintegration.  Outside of Him nothing was made that was made.

So, believers – and only believers – can know themselves.  And, ultimately, only believers are really anxious to know themselves!  The new age approach to self-knowledge is really an anxious approach to self-deception!  Because the child of Satan rushes to lie to himself.  If he doesn’t lie, he will see himself in union with the great deceiver – and on the way to personal destruction.  He must lie to himself!  He has to!

But a child of God, an adopted son and joint heir with Christ, is anxious to know himself and see himself in relation to his Father.  The unregenerate evades true self-examination, because, to truly know ones’ self is the most painful piece of knowledge that a man can ever acquire.  It produces mourning and poverty of spirit.

And I introduce chapter six in this manner, because it brings us face to face with ourselves and enables us to see ourselves exactly as we are.  But thank God for it.  Because it is only the one who has truly seen himself for what he is, who flees to Christ for His covering and redemption!  This happens to be one of the most uncomfortable chapters in the Bible.  And I say that in the sense that it is uncomfortable to read, it is uncomfortable to study, and it will be uncomfortable to hear it preached.

There is no section of God’s Word that is more calculated to promote knowledge of our true condition.  And when men see their own condition truly, that produces humbling and humiliation, which leads to repentance.  It is like putting up a mirror in front of ourselves which reveals the whole self – not just the outward appearance.

But, as I said before, only God’s sons are anxious to do that.  We are anxious to know ourselves and to know what is there in relation to God so that, in Christ, we can crush the sin and perversity which infects us and interferes with our purpose and our happiness in God our Father.

Now, by way of further introduction to chapter six, let me just say that Jesus is not finished yet with the Pharisees.  He has let us know what the true nature of His disciples is – in the beatitudes; He has called us “salt” and “light”.  He has said that our righteousness must exceed, in full measure, that of those religious leaders.  And we need to take note, again, that the perverted religion of the Pharisees is, without question, a window through which false religions can be seen throughout history.  All of them.

And the same is also true with regard to chapter six, because our Lord now begins to expose the Pharisees’ false piety – and thereby revealing and condemning all varieties of pietism and impiety.

So Jesus, after condemning distortions of His Law-Word, lays down a principle of personal righteousness – or piety, if you will.  Verse one: “Beware practicing your righteousness before men, with a purpose to be observed by them, for, indeed, you have no reward with your Father in the heavens.”

The Revised Standard Version, if you have one of those, is, in this case, a better translation than the King James.  So is the American Standard Version.  And my translation reflects the same difference.  The KJV says, “Take heed that you do not your alms before men....”  But the word is not alms, but righteousness – or piety.  This, as I said before, is the general principle Christ gives us for our personal piety. 

Then come three examples, or illustrations, of that principle, in the matters of almsgiving, prayer and fasting.  And, comprehensively, in those three illustrations, is the whole of one’s personal righteousness!  My mercy and compassion for my neighbor in need; my personal devotion to God in prayer and meditation; and the mortification of the lusts of the flesh which is signified by fasting.

But setting aside, for now, these three examples and their being illustrations of the whole of the Christian’s piety, we need to spend all of the remainder of this morning’s time on the general principle here in verse one.  And I hope that when we are through, you will see why I introduced this sermon the way I did.  For the perverse heart lies to its owner as to his own worth and purpose in the world.

“Beware practicing your righteousness before men, with a purpose to be observed by them, for, indeed, you have no reward with your Father in the heavens.”

Now, there are three or four very important things that we have to understand here.  And the first is this:  Jesus makes two “seemingly” contradictory remarks.  And I emphasize “seemingly”.  First He says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven....”  And here in verse one He seems to contradict that when He says, “Beware practicing your piety before men, with a purpose to be observed by them....”

It is true as we look at both statements in their own contexts, that the first one has to do with displaying the very nature and character of Christ in society – and that we are to practice mercy and have a pure heart and be peacemakers and refuse to retaliate when treated unjustly; all to be displayed before men; and it is true that the second statement has to do with personal piety.  That is all very true.  But that is not all.  Those divisions that we sometimes make between righteous living in society on the one hand, and personal piety on the other, are superficial divisions.  So much of the time they run together!  And we must be content with the fact that there is no contradiction in Jesus’ words!  We must live in visible righteousness before a curious world that wants us to fall; and we must “beware practicing our righteousness before men with a purpose to be observed by them....”

Now.  The clarification of that is the second thing we must see this morning.  “Beware practicing your righteousness before men, with a purpose to be observed by them, for, indeed, you have no reward with your Father in the heavens.”  And the ultimate question here, is either to please and glorify God, or to honor self.

That sounds so elementary, does it not?  But you might say, “But this first verse says, ‘beware practicing your righteousness before men, to be observed by them...!’  Not self!  The choice is between pleasing God and pleasing men!”

Ah, but that is where the subtlety comes in!  The lying and deceiving heart seeks to please SELF!  Ultimately, our only reason for pleasing the people around us is that we want them to observe us and admire us!  We want them to have a very high opinion of us because that feeds the SELF.  The depraved human condition is “self-gratification.”

That is why I translated the first verse the way I did.  Practicing piety before men “with a purpose” to be observed by them.  We are to let our light so shine before men that it brings honor and glory to our Father!  But we are not to do righteousness before men with a purpose to be observed by them!  In other words, with a purpose of bringing honor and glory to self!  Our piety is visible – highly visible – and it is for the glory of our Father.  But sin is insidious.  Man, by his very nature, desires the praise of men rather than the praise of God – because the praise of men raises his SELF-esteem.

And the good motive – and the properly motivated righteousness – many, through the praise of men, be turned!  And we may be stimulated to do more good works in order to be flattered some more!  And, then, it does not matter any more – the good deeds have no origin in righteousness!

And that brings us to the next point, here in verse one, which is our need to recognize our relationship to God.  Remember, right at the beginning of this sermon I said that striving for self-realization leads to destruction and chaos.  But that the true believer knows himself by knowing God and his relationship to God!

And when we know what that relationship is, then the supreme object in life comes to be glorifying Him and pleasing Him only, and always, and in everything!  Our Lord Jesus Christ set that example for us in His dedication to revealing the Father and not Himself.  He said, “I seek not My Own honor but the honor of Him Who has sent Me.”  And He put it negatively in this way, “How can you believe, who receive honor one of another and seek not the honor that comes from God only?”

What He really says, in effect, is this:  “Your trouble is that you are always so concerned about other people and how they see you!  If only you had the single eye to the glory and honor of God!  If only your hearts were undivided.

            You remember this past Wednesday evening we spoke at some length about the Sovereignty of God as a foundational presupposition to prayer that is pleasing and honoring to God.  If only we had this absolute, Sovereign God in the forefront of  our minds constantly – then we would beware practicing our righteousness before men with the purpose of glorifying self!

The Psalmist had it right when he said, “Where shall I flee from Your Presence!  I cannot get away from You.  You are there if I make my bed in Hades ... if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea ... I cannot get away.”

If we had this with us all the time, then we would not do pious things in order to be praised by men – because God knows and sees the secret intent of our hearts!

The last point about this first verse is about rewards.  Jesus says here that those who seek the praise of men in order to be self-gratified have no reward with your Father in the heavens.  I don’t know why so many reformed people see the Grace of God toward His people as being negative toward reward!  It is as if we should not be animated at all by the desire for eternal life and the fear of hell!  Both things are recompense from God!  And His justice and goodness requires recompense for every action and every thought of men!

Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Is “seeing God” not reward for having an undivided heart?  We are told about Moses – that he did what he did because he had his eye on the recompense!  And the writer to the Hebrews says this about our Lord Himself – “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”  Is that not recompense for obedience?  And the Scripture says – “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”  And victory is a reward!  And victory is ours in Christ!

So we ought to be interested in this matter of recompense!  And it doesn’t militate against the Biblical doctrine of Grace!  Because God gives us the blessing – He gives us the obedience – and He gives us the reward!  It is all of grace!  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with anticipating the recompense that God promises to His obedient people!

But the opposite is a terrifying prospect – and that is “no reward with your Father in the heavens.”  If you are seeking self-gratification by pleasing men, then you may get that – but that is all.  Why should God reward that?

Augustine, bishop of Hippo, said that the love of honor is the deadly bane of true piety.  Some, trying to avoid it, have locked themselves up in monasteries.  Others have received it and have been seduced by it and sought more.  But Jesus says that we should so affect the world that our good works cause others to give glory and honor to our Father.  That is the way to the rewards our God has promised.  Any other way is disintegration and destruction.