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.
Having opened and studied the text, let us proceed to make several applications.
FIRSTLY, Consider that we do not lose by having our deeds go undetected by others. It is easy to suppose that we have wasted our time and efforts if what we have done is not noticed by others. However, we must remember that one who is much important than any human sees all that we do. A sixteenth century pastor once said, “Those things, which appear to be buried in darkness, are open to his view.”
People forget what we do, but God sees all that we do as vividly many years later as when it was first done. All we receive is perhaps a good thought from people; however, with regard to God, we get a good thought from a most exalted King. Therefore, let us not be kept from doing good because we suppose it will go unnoticed.
SECONDLY, Consider that genuine religion is measured by the good we do in private, not by the good we do in public. This will allow us to know whether we are sincere believers or counterfeit ones. Sincere believers love holiness and obey God freely in private and in public. Counterfeit believers, however, appear holy in public because it serves to their advantage somehow. This is not pleasing to God though.
Let us suppose a man beat his wife at home, but made it seem as if he loved her when in public. Can this man be said to love his wife? The same applies to us spiritually. An unbeliever does not love God and therefore requires other motives to be holy, such as a desire to be honored by others and so on.
THIRDLY, Let us pray to God that He heals our spiritual blindness. This is the root of the problem that we have been discussing. It is our blindness and foolish enchantment with lesser things that leads us to seek to be noticed by insignificant beings.
FOURTHLY, Let us constantly meditate on the greatness of God. If we truly understood how infinitely glorious our God is, we would blush at our shameful foolishness in seeking the approval of other humans. Let us not forget to consider His royal supremacy and radiant holiness.
Consider His sovereignty over all things. In Scripture, He is called the Lord of Hosts. This title literally means “the Lord of Armies.” It is angelic armies that is referred to here. Consider the frightening power of these beings.
In Revelation 18:1 we read of an angel descending from heaven shining with glory. So bright was his glory that we read of the earth being made bright. Imagine the earth, the great giant ball, reflecting the light that shone from this gigantic being. And what is this angel but a servant of God and what is his glory but a mere reflection of the glory of God?
Also, in 2 Kings 19:35, we read of one single angel killing nearly two hundred thousand soldiers. That is about a third of the population of Sacramento. And what is this angel but a servant of God as well?
Not only does He command an army of mighty angels, He also governs the world that we live in. There once lived a great king who carved out a mighty empire for himself. His name brought terror into the hearts of all nations. He was like a mighty bear shredding kingdoms of cardboard. None could stop him and none dared oppose him.
One day he grew proud and so God cast him into insanity. He had long, overgrown hair and nails and ate grass like a cow. Upon this, he repented of his pride and prayed the following words,
34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
Then, traveling forward into Jesus’ day, we see Him standing before Pilate, saying the following words,
9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ 11 Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’”
Here was Pilate, an arrogant Roman official, standing before whom he thought to be a mere Jewish peasant. However, before him stood one to whom even the Roman emperor was subject to.
There are many more instances from Scripture that can be discussed; however, I believe this is sufficient to stir up reverence in our hearts. Having considered His sovereignty and rule, how foolish would it be not to seek to please Him.
FIFTHLY, Let us constantly meditate on the foolishness and uselessness of seeking the approval of others. Who is man that we should seek to please him? Will he judge us at the last day? Does he have power over our immortal souls? Does he have power to cast us into hell? What good comes from his approval? It is temporary and will most definitely not save us. It is God alone whom we should seek to please.
SIXTHLY, Let us stir our hearts with a love for holiness. The reason why people seek to be righteous in public but not in private is because they do not love holiness. They love the rewards of holiness, but not holiness itself. Let us love holiness for no other reason than because we see it as lovely.
Consider the darkness and blackness of sin. See how it has turned mankind into a race of monsters. It fills the heart with wicked selfishness; it poisons our minds with horrible delusions; and it corrupts and darkens all of our actions.
Consider holiness. See how beautiful and lovely it is. It fills the heart with peace, love, and kindness. It redeems this race of monsters and makes a lineage of dignified nobles.