“What’s Your Motive?”

Matthew 6:1-8

We may be in a new chapter of Matthew, but we are still reading through the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was Jesus’ longest sermon and it lasted for days. The crowd was camping out to listen to Him because they believed He was the Messiah, promised to them by the prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus began His sermon affirming those who had been listening with blessings. For the first time in their lives they were told they didn’t have to be wealthy and powerful to receive blessings from God. Blessings in God’s kingdom weren’t given to those who performed according to the laws of the scribes and Pharisees, instead blessings in God’s Kingdom were given to the meek, the peacemakers and those who desired righteousness. Truly an upside down view from those who were currently in charge. 

Jesus continues with this upside down view in today’s Scripture as He explains exactly how to practice the righteousness He has been teaching. Verse 1,

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

It makes sense that Jesus would quickly step in with the humble card. We have been reading for the past few weeks how Jesus has been teaching these disciples the need to fulfill the law, not just follow the law. The very opposite teaching of the religious leaders. Jesus was addressing the danger of expressing an image of righteousness. It’s as though Jesus can read their minds and anticipates their thinking how great it would be and how impressed people would be once they see their changes. Jesus steps in with this call to seek righteousness but not announce that we have it. 

I think Jesus had a point. It’s not easy to serve God, and act in a righteous manner in front of others, without wondering if those around you are thinking better or worse of you as you do it. 

The next phrase seems rather harsh. 

“If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Doesn’t God want us to be righteous? Wouldn’t He reward my positive behavior? 

The point Jesus was making was that there would be no reward from your Father in heaven, because when you do righteous deeds for those around you to notice, and they do, then you have received the attention and applause deserved. Yet, in the big picture, Jesus was telling them it was much better to receive their reward from their Father in heaven. 

Jesus makes a point to get to the heart of the deed that was done. The deed done does not stand alone, the motive behind the doing is what really matters. 

Jesus then proceeds to address the three spiritual disciplines that make up the most prominent practical requirements for personal piety in mainstream Judaism:


Prayer, and 


Interestingly, these three activities, together with the Hajj and recitation of the creed, make up the Five Pillars of Islam.

Let’s begin with what Jesus had to say about giving to the needy. First, it’s important to recognize, we are expected to give to the needy. Jesus said when you do, not to announce it with trumpets. 

It is not understood exactly what Jesus meant by blowing a trumpet as there are no good examples in ancient literature of people doing this, except during feast times. Which would have given an ample opportunity for putting on a show.  It is well documented that doing a charitable deed, known as giving alms and charity was deeply established in the Jewish culture. It was believed that the giving of alms would gain merit in the sight of God. They had even gone so far as to say it could win atonement and forgiveness for past sins. Which leads us into why Jesus would say the next line, 

“..as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” 

It’s as though again, Jesus could hear what the people could have been thinking. 

“Not telling others when we give seems counter intuitive?” 

“Don’t we want the religious leaders to know we are giving? That way they will be able to see that we are righteous and they will allow us into the synagogue as that will be our proof we are holy.” 

“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be done? That’s the way the religious leaders do it.” 

Which was exactly Jesus’ point. 

The religious leaders were giving to show each other, not God. The Greek word hypocrite in this sentence means to be an actor, for those who play roles and see the world as their stage. The hearts of the religious leaders were centered on 

how good they looked, 

not on how much good they did. 

According to Jesus, they were not without reward. The applause they received from others was their reward. Done. They gave for an earthly reward, and they received an earthly reward. The Greek word used in this phrase apechein translates as “payment in full.”

Then Jesus throws in some advice, verse 3,

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 

It’s as though we are to keep our giving hidden even from ourselves. We are to keep the focus on the need, not on our giving. This way we keep the focus off any self indulgent congratulation. If we remember that God is always present, then we have enough of an audience. 

The next phrase, 

 so that your giving may be in secret.

This may sound like, if someone finds out, we have lost a reward. Again, Jesus makes the issue more of a matter of motive, than reward. 

The facts are, 

if our motive is to give for our own glory, 

it doesn’t matter whether no one finds out, 

we still have no reward from God. 

But if our motive is to give for God’s glory, 

it doesn’t matter who finds out, 

the reward remains, 

because the giving was for the right motive. 

Here is the part we often forget, 

Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The bottom line is, God sees everything. The things done for everyone to see, and the things done in secret. 

God also sees the motive. 

Jesus also points out that God will reward. 

In the big scheme of things, God gives rewards much more generously and much more openly than humans do.  The difficult thing is often we don’t feel like this happens. We need to take Jesus at His word and trust when we follow His plan, the reward is ours.

The issue of hypocrites becomes an excellent seque for Jesus’ next topic, prayer. Not only should His disciples not give like those who say they were praying to God, when they were really praying to show off. During the time of Jesus there were two main places where a Jew might pray in a hypocritical manner. 

One was at the synagogue at the time of public prayer 

or on the street at the appointed times of prayer: 

9am, noon and 3pm. 

At the synagogue, during worship, someone from the congregation would often be asked to stand before the ark and pray publicly. You can imagine the prestige that one would assume were they to be asked. You can also imagine the poor people or women who were never asked. Although it was not considered a practice to pray on the street corners, it did not stop those who wanted to be seen as pious to deliberately schedule their day so they managed to be in the most public place at the appropriate time. This common fault remains today when people pray to impress or teach rather than to genuinely pour out their hearts before God. When you think about it, what an insult to God. By doing so, God is being used as a tool to impress others. When others are impressed, they have received what they sought, not necessarily for what they prayed. 

Jesus instructs His disciples to meet God for prayer in their room, or “closet.” 

The ancient Greek word used here for room was a storeroom used to keep treasures. The idea was to find a private place to be alone with God and make our prayer time a matter of the heart. Not that we shouldn’t pray publicly, but that prayer should be directed toward God, not towards humans. 

Not only does Jesus teach His disciples where to pray from the heart, He also teaches the right way to pray, verse 6. 

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 

The translation of the Greek word, battalogeo, babbling, is quite accurate. You have heard this when watching “Peanuts” and the voice of an adult is used, either the teacher or parent, “Wah, Wah, Wa, Wah.” 

I am sure many of you have sat in the pew while someone has prayed and so many words were being said, that you started thinking about what you would be having for lunch or how you were going to get the next task done when you go home from church. Jewish Rabbis were notorious for creating such prayers. One famous Jewish prayer began like this: “Blessed, praised and glorified , exalted, and honored, magnified and lauded be the name of the Holy One.” That was just the beginning!

Such prayers are mostly words, no meaning and certainly  missing the matters of the heart. 

There is also the type of prayer that may not be the repetition of words, but seems to go on and on and on and never stop. Again, there goes the purpose for prayer. Jesus informs His disciples, and us, that God isn’t impressed by the length or eloquence of our prayers. God wants to hear what is on our hearts, not our tongue. 

Solomon had been given the opportunity of a lifetime when He became King. God told Him he could ask for anything, and he asked for wisdom. One of the wise sayings Solomon wrote was, Ecclesiastes 5:2

Do not be quick with your mouth,

    do not be hasty in your heart

    to utter anything before God.

God is in heaven

    and you are on earth,

    so let your words be few.

Jesus then gives the reason for keeping our prayers short and sweet, verse 8,

“..for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Our prayers are not meant to inform God of anything. 

The concept of prayer is meant for us to recognize the state we are in, to have a humble heart, to draw us closer to God, to increase our faith, to connect to the Kingdom of God and give us hope. Our prayers should bring us into a personal relationship with our Creator where we can share and appeal to a loving God, who wants us to bring every joy, need and worry before His throne. If you are a parent who loves their child, you understand this concept. You cherish such a relationship that your child desires to tell you what joys and hurts are on their heart and seeks a smile, comfort and support. 

We don’t pray to tell God things, He already knows. He also knows our motives. We can’t hide things from God or act our way in or out of His graces. 

Can you begin to understand how freeing this must have been for those listening for the first time what Jesus was saying? 

God wanted to hear what was on their heart. God wanted them to share with Him in secret, one could be honest and real because no one else was listening and judging. Again, upside down from what the religious leaders were saying and teaching. 

Talk about amazing grace!

Following Easter, we will return to Matthew and take a look at the model Jesus presented when it comes to prayer, we know it as “The Lord’s Prayer.” Although we recite it weekly, Jesus presented this prayer to model a prayer that presented a close relationship, reverence, submission, trust and dependence. 

The very things that should represent our motives for wanting to have a talk with God. 

Let’s pray.