In Matthew 5, Jesus demands that the righteousness of His people must go beyond religious or legalistic righteousness to the true righteousness that stems from the heart. Jesus ends chapter 5, the first part of the Sermon, with a command to His followers to be “perfect”.

The Greek word for perfect is “teleios,” which has the idea of attainment of maturity and fulfilment of destiny, even as their heavenly Father is perfect. Immediately after saying, “Be perfect!” in the last verse of chapter 5, Jesus says, “Be careful!” in chapter 6 verse 1.

Why Exercise Caution?

Why be careful? Because, according to Jesus, there are two basic dangers/obstacles that come in the way of true righteousness and lead to false righteousness. The first is the danger of seeking the approval of people; the second is the danger of seeking the accumulation of wealth.

Consider, first, the danger of seeking the approval of people. We find this in verses 2 to 18 of chapter 6. Jesus knows that our desire for true righteousness can be easily traded for false righteousness. The one word for false righteousness is – hypocrisy. He then gives illustrations of what hypocrisy looks like in three activities: giving, praying, and fasting.

What You Seek is What You Get!

Jesus says that when we give to needy people, we should not advertise our giving as hypocrites do. Jesus says that when hypocrites help the needy and destitute, they do so in the public gaze so that they might be seen and praised by others. Jesus’ point is this: if we perform our righteous activities so that we will be seen and admired by others, we will get exactly what we want and are looking for – the praise and admiration of others. Nothing more.

Certainly, not the blessing and favour of God. But if we want the blessing of God, then we must avoid hypocrisy, and seek to please Him. What you seek is what you get.

Avoid PDF? (Public Display of Faith)

Jesus makes a similar point with prayer: he says that hypocrites love to pray in public so that they might be seen and praised by others. He says that they have received their reward in full. Jesus’ points out that, when we do our religious activities so that others might see us and praise us, we will get exactly what we are looking for: the praise and admiration of others – but not God’s.

Prayer is, by definition, an activity that is Godward not manward, and so must essentially be performed under the gaze of God, not humans.

Feasting on the Word of God

So also with fasting. With the hypocrites, their fasting is also performed publicly and conspicuously before people. They look sombre and gloomy so that it will be obvious to others that they are fasting. Again, the reward that these hypocrites seek is the praise of people – and he says that they have their reward in full – they are praised by those who see them in their religiosity.

For his followers, Jesus says that when they fast, they must wash well and oil well; that is to say, they must groom themselves well – almost as if they are going to a party. Perhaps, Jesus is here obliquely indicating that true fasting is a form of feasting – feasting on the word of God; feasting with God; feasting on God.

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Dr Kethoser is an evangelist, apologist, and Bible teacher based in Dimapur, Nagaland.