Matthew 6: outward Appearance or inward Holiness

A shorter version can be read here.

Today we will take a closer look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 6. We will look at these words in another, more systematic order. Let us start by reading verses 1 to 5 and verses 16 to 18:

“1 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites [SV: geveinsden = fakers] do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

5 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. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

(…)

16 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. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.

17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,

18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”[1]

Do you see a pattern here? All these words of Jesus were spoken against outward appearance: don’t do your good works to be seen and honoured by men; don’t be like the Pharisees: they seem to be doing their good works for God but they actually do them for themselves; for their own glory and honour; to be seen and honoured by men.

According to John Chrysostom, Jesus does not focus here on the outward action but on the intention; wanting to be seen by men.[2] You see, Jesus had nothing against people doing good deeds, or the fact that some Pharisees tried to perfectly please God with their deeds, which is sometimes wrongly called “legalism” in Christian churches. No! Jesus was not against those trying to please God! Jesus was against the fact that many Pharisees were religious hypocrites (i.e. actors) who, in the end, did their good deeds for themselves, not for God. They used God and the Jewish religion to get attention and esteem. They were very religious “Christians” but they actually did it for themselves. Their hearts hadn’t changed a bit. They seemed to have God as their Father but they lived for themselves.

Please do not misunderstand me. The outward is okay. Being a pastor, translator, etc. is okay and good works are okay and they’re even useful: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” Yes, but the ultimate goal should be that the people “glorify your Father in heaven”. In other words: the ultimate goal of your good works should be that people give glory to God your Father in heaven. The ultimate goal should not be outward appearance or esteem. It’s about God. It’s about His esteem and honour. If I preach for my own honour, than it is worthless. So if the point is your outward esteem, then your focus is wrong. You should not focus on yourself and all the things you have already accomplished: “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:3-4): God sees everything you do in secret for people, for the poor, for prisoners, etc. and he will reward you in the future! Wat you did publicly has already been rewarded by people:

“5 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. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” Or as Chromatius of Aquileia put it: “For as long as they seek the glory of this age, they lose the reward of the future promise.”[3]

Matthew 6:6-13:

“6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

7 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.

9 In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.

10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.

13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

“But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:6). So it is clear from this passage that God sees the inside of your heart. He desires of us that we put Him as our number one in life. How do we do this? How do we put God on the first place of our lives? We put God first place in our inner room.[4] A Roman Catholic, for example, always prays a morning prayer and an evening prayer. Contained in the morning prayer is the Our Lord’s Prayer. This he prays, if he does it correctly, purposefully to restore the order; the triangle. This is, therefore, not a stupid idea at all. It is consciously putting some time aside to put God on the first place and only then comes all the rest: “Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:9b-10a); God and His honour, kingdom and will on the first place. Or, as the Great Catechism of the Puritan Westminster Confession puts it: “Question: What is the chief and highest end of man? Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.”[5] So, what is the goal of all human beings? Their goal is to glorify God. Putting God deliberately on number one in your inner room is, therefore, not a bad idea; “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory” (Matthew 6:13b): I am not the King; the Kingdom, the power and the glory do not belong to me. When I think of the word power, I think of the Holy Spirit: we are the flame, He is the oil. Without the oil, we cannot burn so thanks to the oil, we are allowed to burn. All glory to Him. We are connected to Christ, the true Vine. The Holy Spirit is the sap that gives us the supernatural energy so that we can powerfully and abundantly bear fruit. All glory to Christ. Glory: the glory is due to God, not ourselves. All glory to the Father. For, as the Great Catechism puts it: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God.” Giving God glory and honour is therefore our most important goal. Remember also the triangle: we deliberately put God on top. He is priority number one.

So we should not put the ministry, the show, or even the church community first. If you do that, you’ve got it completely wrong and then you can get severely disappointed in other human beings. In order for you to confirm this, you only have to take a quick look at all those abuse scandals in Roman Catholic and Protestant circles. Of course there are many excellent Roman Catholic priests and Protestant pastors who still have their triangles or lines in proper order.

You first choose your triangle or line, your order, at your baptism. Baptism is external but starts with an internal decision: choosing the way of eventually getting crucified. Therefore, this is first giving yourself completely by means of an internal decision, then showing this publicly by means of baptism and then returning to the inward life (not the show, nor the spotlights but the desert) and then humbly living this inner life in the public sphere by full and continuous submission to your Father in heaven. Press on in this internal life by praying and fasting. Do not live for the Mammon, nor for yourself; for your own prestige, image or glory:

19-21:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where is your treasure? In heaven or on earth?

Who is your treasure? God or yourself?

Who do you put first place in your life? God or yourself?

22-23:

22 The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good [KJV: single], your whole body will be full of light.

23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Make God your greatest Treasure, your only Treasure and live fully for Him! One hundred percent! Without any ulterior motives!

24:

24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Choose! “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (…). But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15a,b).

On the rest of Matthew 6; the famous part on anxiety, I would like to only say this: do not worry about this life, do not return to the pagan way of living for that which is outward. Go for the deepest desire of the Holy Spirit: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). This means: putting God first and serving Him everywhere, fully, one hundred percent, no matter what it may cost you in the world or in the Church!

Romans 12:1-2:

“1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

So change your way of thinking, always put God first place, seek His perfect will and carry it out!

May the Lord always be with you if you fully live for Him and His pleasure and not for your own prestige, image, esteem or glory! To Him be all honour and glory! Amen!


[1] Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 19.2.

[3] Chromatius of Aquileia, Tractate on Matthew 26.4.2.

[4] cf. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon on the Mount, 2.3.11.

[5] The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 1.

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