Jesus, in Matthew 6:1-4, in His Sermon on the Mount, said…
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
2 “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
This is a subject that, I think, is most problematic for Christians—how to live a righteous life before the world. It is problematic because our sinful pride seems to always creep in so that we want to be noticed by others in order that they will think well of us.
Here are four supporting principles of the theme of this passage:
1. Knowing the balance between Matthew 5:16 and Matthew 6:1. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus tells us that we are to let our light shine before men. But then in 6:1 He tells us, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them. So, at first glance it seems to be a contradiction. But really it is not if we are careful to look at all the details. It is clear in the first passage that we are to let our light shine before the world. But the motive is clearly that God would be glorified. And this is made clearer in 6:1, but stated differently. Hence, we are not to practice our works before men “to be noticed by them.” That is, that they would think well of us. We must shine before them in such a way that they will see Christ in us. And that attitude of the Christian is most important—because, if we do not have this attitude, we will lose our reward; and the non-Christian is also misled.
2. We are always to do our righteousness to please God not self. And we will always end up doing one or the other. In the flesh we will do to please self, and in the Spirit, we will do to please God. Now the question before us is this: Do we do things for others so that they will please us back? Or do we do things for others so that they will see us as a Christian and move closer to God.
3. Do we live the righteous life for a closer relationship with Him? In all our righteous acts, we should be seeking to be closer to Him and to please Him. And if we do this, we will be constantly realizing that He is always present with us.
4. It is always good to desire to see Him and be rewarded by Him. Do not seek to be pleased by others or that they will think well of us. But it is always good to seek His rewards; and we should know that He sees everything we do, and He plans to reward us for every good deed.
Also, do not take pride in your unselfishness. Some people keep a journal and they record all the good things they do each day. Don’t do that! Forget about them. God keeps a record of it and He will reward you. Think instead about what God has done for you and how thankful you are.
Source: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones