A major difference between the rich perfume of genuine praise by another and cheap insincere flattery is motive. A chief distinction between actual righteousness and its hideous charade—self-righteousness—is motive. A primary discrepancy between acceptable worship and vain worship is motive.
It is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason. And, if Jesus’ sobering words in Matthew 6:1 are taken to heart, this probably happens more often than we realize. “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.”
Ruminate slowly and thoughtfully on His concise counsel:
- “Take heed”. The use of the present active imperative form of this verb indicates the essentiality of an ongoing vigilance which takes every possible precaution to guard against unrighteous motives. Such care and concern are crucial; they must be continuous. Implicit in this command is the recognition that righteous motives for doing right can become corrupted.
- “Your charitable deeds”. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is essential to righteous living. Whenever the opportunity and ability to help arise, you have found a neighbor. Doing good to others, performing acts of mercy and compassion, visiting the orphans and widows in their distress are good works God prepared beforehand for those created in Christ Jesus to do (Ephesians 2:10). Doing these right things must come from righteous motives.
- “Before men”. From this Greek word—theaomai—comes our English word “theater”. In being the light of the world, others may see your good works (Matthew 5:16), but this does not mean it has to be the motivation for your actions. In fact, it cannot be, if your desire is to have righteous motives for doing right.
- “No reward from your Father in heaven”. You cannot withdrawal money from a bank at which you do not have an account. In like manner, if your good deeds are not done for God’s glory, God has no obligation to reward it. And He doesn’t.
Bestowing all your goods to feed the poor and giving your body to be burned profits you nothing if not done in love (1 Corinthians 13:3). The same is true when you do the right thing without righteous motives.