Be careful not to perform your righteous acts before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
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.
not to be seen of men. How unlike our religion is this! When Burmans make offerings they make a great noise with drums and cymbals, that others may see how good they are.
Alms before men.I. THE DUTY TO WHICH OUR LORD REFERS. THE word in the first verse rendered "alms" is in some ancient copies rendered righteousness; in the second verse it means charitable gifts. Our duty to give of our goods. The gift of alms a deed of justice as well as of mercy; the poor have a just claim on the abundance of the rich.
II. THE EVILS TO BE AVOIDED IN ITS DISCHARGE,
1. We are to avoid the desire of human applause.
2. We are to avoid giving an ostentatious notoriety to deeds of beneficence. It is the empty vessel that cannot be touched without telling it.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH DEEDS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND CHARITY ARE TO BE PERFORMED.
2. With a cheerful respect to the Divine precepts.
3. We must aim at the advancement of the honour of God.
4. Act from Christian compassion and fellowship.
5. We must depend on Divine assistance, and ascribe the praise of all to Him who enables us to live to His glory.
IV. THE ARGUMENT STATED BY OUR LORD.
1. The futility of ostentatious displays of piety.
2. The promise annexed to their right performance.
3. How jealous should we be of the principle from which we act.
4. Never presume on eternal life from the works of the law.
(J. E. Good.)
(Anecdotes of the Aborigines.)
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