In Matthew 5, Jesus taught about the greater righteousness. Jesus said that unless our righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees, we cannot enter the kingdom. Jesus then interpreted the Law to show the true will of God. We live out this righteousness by obedience to God’s will. The goal is perfection—complete conformity to the character of God.
Now in Matt. 6, Jesus teaches about practicing righteousness—the wrong way and the right way. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). The word, “beware” (prosecho) means, “pay attention to.” (Gingrich). Jesus attacks, first, the method of doing righteous acts—“before other people.” Then he attacks the motive of doing righteous acts—“to be seen by them.” The infinitive, “to be seen,” is an infinitive of purpose. Jesus is attacking, not the righteous act, but the unrighteous motive behind the righteous act. Beware of practicing your righteousness for one purpose—to be seen by other people, to be praised by them. That is what we should beware and avoid.
We’ve seen politicians giving food to the people of Tacloban on TV. Some politicians give food to the poor in front of TV, to be seen by all. That is the way of the kingdom of this world. But in the kingdom of God, Jesus says, don’t do acts of righteousness for the purpose of posturing, pomposity, and pretense.
Jesus then used three examples to illustrate his point—almsgiving (vv. 2-4), prayer (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18). In each of these examples, Jesus applies the following standard statements—(1) “truly I say to you, they have received their reward” in vv. 2, 5, and 16; and (2) “in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” in vv. 4, 5, and 18.
Today, we tackle the first example—almsgiving or giving to the poor.