Practicing Your Righteousness


One of our deepest yearnings from our earliest years is the desire for approval, for praise, and for reward when we do well. This is not wrong; it is the way God made us. But in a fallen world, we often seek to fill that longing with approval, praise, and reward that can never completely fill it. To be specific, we seek to fill our need for God’s approval, praise, and reward with that of men. Not that it is wrong to seek the good opinion of others, but it is wrong, as well as futile, to seek to replace God’s good opinion with man’s. Moreover, in this fallen world, man’s approval and reward are fickle, fleeting, and often just plain off. Thus man’s approval makes a very poor compass for life and proves to be very unfulfilling. God’s approval and reward, on the other hand, are consistent, lasting, and always true, which makes them a true compass for life as well as eternally fulfilling. You may wonder why I am saying all this in regard to a passage which Jesus opens with the words, “Take heed that you do not practice your righteousness before men, to be seen by them.” (Mat 6.1.) The reason is because our deep-seated, God-given need for his approval, praise, and reward is what Jesus is really addressing in this passage. His follow up to “do not practice your righteousness to be seen by men” is, “otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” In other words, approval, praise, and reward from our Father in heaven is the whole point (Mat 6.4, 6, 18). Jesus’ problem with the hypocrites was not that they were being rewarded but that they weren’t being rewarded enough. Nor were they being rewarded by the One whom Jesus wanted his disciples to be rewarded by – namely the Father in heaven. Jesus had no problem with a faith that is public – in fact he insisted on it (Mat 5.14-16). But he also insisted that living out the faith actually be motivated by faith, not by a pandering, manipulative desire for the cheap approval of others (John 5.44). The problem with the hypocrites, as Jesus makes clear, was not that they played to the audience, but that they forgot who the primary audience is – God himself. He is the one who is always there, who sees in secret, and who will reward his children openly (Mat 6.4, 6, 18). I hope this sermon will help you to remember who your most important audience is, to live out the faith accordingly, and to receive the Father’s open, lasting, and fulfilling reward as a result. After all, this is what God made you for. I hope you enjoy the sermon. Thanks for listening. –Alan Burrow

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