It is amazing how important it is to us that we receive from others recognition or acknowledgment for the things we do. We don't always look for it but we secretly appreciate it when others see the good things we are doing or have done. Other times we want the whole world to recognize the fact that we are good at what we do. Award ceremonies are big things, whether it is the recognition of an athlete or a movie star, people want that recognition of a job well done. It is a shame that in our culture we place such value on entertainers compared to the humanitarians who sacrifice so much to make the world a better place, but that's another topic for another day. This attitude of recognition may be good for movie stars but it is counter productive in our relationship with Jesus and can actually cause us and others much harm.
As we continue with our reading of the gospel of Matthew, we see Jesus transition from the law to attitudes in relationship with God. To understand the need for good attitude or perspective we must first start with understanding our relationship and purpose. Although our relationship with Jesus has made us children of the Father, our purpose is to act like servants in this place, vessels of the Father's will. The light that we are to show is Jesus, not us. In Matthew 5 we read:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
The good deeds that we allow the world to see are compelled by the love of Jesus for the world. In the same way that Jesus' compassion compelled him to reach out to the suffering multitude, his compassion in us compels us into action. It is these acts that often allow the light to shine through us. Now here in Matthew 6 we read:
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
The big difference between good deeds and 'acts of righteousness' is self. The first leads people to praise God; the second leads people to praise you. In the first, Jesus is lifted up; in the second you are lifted up. There is also a difference here in what may be considered a good deed and what may be considered an act of righteousness. Perhaps helping a neighbour mow his lawn lends to our testimony of God's love, whereas bailing a neighbour out of a tough financial situation is considered the right thing to do, but no need to embarrass your neighbour in doing it.
Perhaps that could or should be our plumb line in the matter of what is a good deed and what is an act of righteousness; the effect it has on the other person. To lend a hand to a neighbour that helps him without demeaning him is a good thing. Helping him build his garage is something that would cause him and others to be thankful. Letting it be known that you had to lend him money would reveal his weakness and would embarrass him. To stop and help change a flat tire is a great thing and one that would be appreciate and told to others. To tell the tale of how you had to rescue someone because they ran out of gas would cause that person to be ridiculed because of their foolishness. The acts of kindness in embarrassing or awkward situations need to be kept private. Jesus pointed out:
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. (Matthew 6:2)
You see the motivation? In this case it was done to prompt honour from people. This is different than shining your light so that the Father would be praised. Jesus taught:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)
The difference here is the giving to the "needy". No one wants to walk around with a label. No one wants the world to know they are needy. So when we bless a person in their need no one other than the Father needs to know. It saves embarrassment.
Our motivation in what we do matters to our Father. If we are living in a way to prompt the praises of people for ourselves then we are not pleasing God. Our whole life is motivated by the desire to please our Father. We want to do things that will delight and honour him. Treating other people with dignity and honour reflects the love that our Father has for everyone. Trying to promote ourselves will never please our Father, never! It is a simple question to ask ourselves as we respond to the needs of the people around us; "Who will get the glory for this, me or the Father?" "Will this act of kindness bless or embarrass my neighbour?" How we treat our neighbour matters big time to our Father.