Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Having spoken of the duties of everyday social life, our Lord now passes on to deal with specifically religious actions - almsgiving, prayer, fasting. One thing he condemns in regard to all of these actions, viz. ostentation. His great requirement is sincerity, and, with this, simplicity and humility.
I. THE CHARACTER OF OSTENTATIOUS RELIGION. It is a theatrical performance, carried through before the eyes of men and in order to secure their admiration. In so far as it is ostentatious it does not aim at the service of God at all Attention is not given to his will and approval. The lower sphere is all that is thought of.
1. Ostentatious charity. This was largely practised in the days of Christ, so that the very word "righteousness" came to be narrowed down to the meaning of almsgiving. But it is still prevalent. A person gives not to help the needy or to honour God, but to gain a reputation for generosity. His name must figure in the subscription list. If he were to have no public acknowledgment of his charity, he would withdraw his contributions. Why is it that some people will give more when they "subscribe" than when they put an offering in a "collection" for the very same object?
2. Ostentatious payer. We do not observe the Oriental practice of praying out in the streets. But great attention to public services with neglect of private devotion is of the same character. Or if when at church there is the utmost decorum of behaviour with bent knee and bowed head, while the mind is not in the worship but wandering after idle fancies, this is a show and a sham.
3. Ostentatious self-denial. There are numerous opportunities for self-denial in ways invisible to man. It, therefore, a person passes these by and studies his own comfort in private, while he makes a show of fasting in public, he proclaims himself an "actor;" he is but playing a part. His self-denial is self display, for his own glory, and therefore no real self-denial at all.
II. THE FAILURE OF OSTENTATIOUS RELIGION.
1. Its inutility. It has its reward in the admiration of beholders. The hypocrite is praised - till he is found out. Nevertheless, he really fails. For if religion means anything, it means the soul's relations with God. But if in all this foolish display the thought of God is lost, the supposed worshipper is not worshipping. Praying so as to be seen of men, he forgets the one Being whom it is his supreme duty to please.
2. Its positive wickedness. The conduct of the ostentatious worshipper is odious in the sight of God.
(1) It is false. Pretending to be what it is not, claiming admiration for a charity, a piety, and a self-denial that do not really exist.
(2) It is selfish. Worship should be the surrender of self to God.:But this show of worship is all for the sake of self.
(3) It is worldly. The admiration of men is cultivated, but there is no thought of a higher Witness. A purely temporal, earthly gain is all that such a religion can contemplate.
(4) It is an insult to God. What can be more awfully impious than to prostitute the soul's great privilege of communion with God so as to make it a mere decoration of personal vanity? This is rank hypocrisy, of all things the most hateful in the sight of God. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.