Have you ever met someone who loved to receive attention? Loved to be in the spotlight? Loved to receive accolades for work that had been done? Loved for everyone to notice him, especially if he was doing something noteworthy or commendable? Do you know anyone like that?
Jesus knew a whole host of individuals who met that description and had many “run-ins” with them. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that was truly “full of themselves.” They were “so full,” that they lacked room for the actual law of God or for God Himself. They were only interested in following their own traditions and making sure that others saw how “holy” they were in following their own traditions.
Notice how Jesus not only saw the external deeds that they were doing but how He also saw the heart that was behind the deeds. “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men” (Matthew 6:2). Why did they give to the needy?
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:5). Why did they pray?
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting” (Matthew 6:16). Why did they fast?
To summarize their deeds, Jesus later said, “But all their works they do to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:5).
All of these activities (in and of themselves) were good, proper, righteous deeds: giving to the needy, praying, fasting. But when those deeds were accompanied by a trumpet, or by standing in a crowded place, or by noticeably altering one’s appearance, the good deeds left the station of “good, proper and righteous” and set out to gain the spotlight of, “Me, me, look at me!”
There is much for us to learn from Jesus’ denunciations of these “religious folks” and much we need to apply. First question: Are you engaging in righteous deeds? Second question: If so, what’s your motivation? Third question: If no one ever witnessed or ever became aware of a certain righteous deed, would that fact cause you to hesitate at all in carrying it out anyway?
Consider these two final thoughts: First, Scripture expressly says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). Nothing! Second, Jesus affirmed with each act of vainglory, “They have their reward” (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16). The reward of man’s spotlight and man’s praise was theirs. But not God’s spotlight and praise. Which one do you want?
Instead of living for self, live for the One who can truly save. His Word teaches that if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, repent of sin, and are baptized, His blood will then wash us clean (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5).