Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18
It’s not too difficult to see the pattern here. Verse one gives the general principle (don’t do your acts of righteousness before men), while the other verses in today’s passage lists three “acts of righteousness” which are easy to fake for the world.
The first is charity, or giving to those in need. Notice that the Savior assumed that his followers will give to those in need: “When you give. . .” Unfortunately, a lot of believers aren't even making it to the first step of giving to people, much less giving it to them secretly! But once we realize that the Lord's been so good to us and we need to give back to him by giving to others, then we need to be careful to do it “in secret,” not for the applause of men.
The second is prayer, and again he assumed that we'll be praying people. How can you be a Christian and not have regular communication with your Father? Now, does this command forbid all public prayer? Of course not, since Jesus himself frequently prayed in public. But as we get more mature in our faith, how precious are those moments when we commune with him, and bask in his presence, without all the distractions!
The third “act of righteousness” is fasting, and again Jesus assumed that we’ll participate in it. Now, let’s be clear: There's no command in the New Testament about how often we fast, so it seems that every believer should fast as they're led by the Spirit. And I don’t think it necessarily has to be food. You might fast from TV for a week, or something else that distracts you from serving the Lord. The point is to refocus yourself on him, and retune your ears to hear his instructions.
Now notice the two phrases which are repeated in all three sections, and remember, repetition is one major way that Scripture emphasizes something very important. Jesus warned against doing your acts of righteousness in front of people in order to impress them. Why? Because they “have received their reward in full,” and because “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
I promise you: If you haven’t been tempted by this, then you will be. I thoroughly believe that every believer is tempted to “put on a show,” especially as they’ve become well-known as a Christian for some time. If you’ve been called as leader in his church, you need to be extra careful about this. Jesus was serious, and the Father's always watching.
Father, you're the One who searches out hearts and minds. I'm so tempted to put on a show sometimes. I’m so concerned about my reputation. Please, let me do whatever I do for an audience of One.