March 28, 2012: The Thirty-First Day of Lent

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 6.1 ~

Matthew 6 continues with more of Christ’s teaching. After challenging his audience to be perfect, Christ turns around and begins to again outline how a life of righteousness should be lived in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the following sections, we will hear of religious actions that formed central parts of the Jewish religious life. The Jewish people considered prayer, almsgiving, and fasting to be common activities that demonstrated their faith. Again, Christ does not re-invent the wheel; he encourages his audience to continue on with these activities. However, such acts of faith must be done with the proper heart.

Because of the culture of the time, many of these acts took place in public. A life of faith then did not have the emphasis on individuality and privacy that it does today. It would have been common to see people praying, fasting, and almsgiving in full view of others.

But Christ knows the human heart. Living out faith before the eyes of others can produce a self-centered, feel-good rush: “I’m being so faithful.” And, after all, since Christ’s disciples are to be the light of the world, shouldn’t good works be done in full view of the world?

A full reading of Matthew 5.16 challenges this assumption: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” Yes, good works should be a witness. However, they should only be a witness to the Father. The temptation lies in the desire to be seen doing these things so that the world thinks better of the one doing them.

Christ says that good works performed with this attitude cause the doer to miss out on the heavenly reward. Such self-centered pride has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. With the proper heart motivation, the doer experiences the benefit of living in the realities of the Kingdom.

This issue takes on a greater significance during Lent; in this season, more Christians are praying, fasting, and performing acts of service than normal. It has nearly become commonplace to parade our Lent observances before others, hoping that people will see. Christ’s words challenge us. Rather, we should take our observances and display them to our Heavenly Father, the one who deeply and truly knows our heart.

Lord Christ, thank you for these timely words. During this season, please remind me of what I am doing and who I am striving to please. Let all my actions be to your glory, Lord. Amen. 

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