Two Different Motivations
As the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, there are two very critical opposing forces present within the entirety of our Lord’s teaching. One is the exposure of the hypocritical religious leadership of His day, the other is the sincere devotion to God to which we as Christians are called. Christ exposes the false righteousness of the Pharisees saying:
“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 5:20
The Pharisees were known for placing their traditions on top of the teaching of Scripture adding to God’s Holy Law (Matthew 15:1-9). They would impose burdens on others they themselves were not willing to bear (Matthew 23:4). At the end of the day their religion was about an outward show and not internal transformation. It had nothing to do with a passion for the name of the Lord, but was driven by a desire to see themselves made much of over the course of their lives. We see this plainly in their interactions toward others:
“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. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” -Matthew 6:1-2
The hypocritical individuals of Christ’s day would give toward others, but they would do so in order to be seen by them. It was their hearts desire to be seen. A love for God emboldening a selfless love for others was not in their soul, rather, they simply wanted to have the praise of men. Such was also the case when considering their prayers toward God:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” -Matthew 6:5
Whether we are talking about their relationships toward others or toward God, the hypocritical figures of Christ’s day were driven by the same point, self-exaltation by other individuals. It was a love for self-glory which drove everything that they did. Yet, in the teaching of Christ, we see the call to a very different motivation.
A Biblical Focus
The Lord warns us to steer clear of hypocrisy and selfish pride over the course of this sermon because these are rebellious sins before the holy God. Contrastingly, we are to be “poor in spirit” realizing our utter bankruptcy before the Lord (Matthew 5:3). It is the call of Christ to “mourn” over sin and “thirst for righteousness” that alone can be found through the grace of the Lord (Matthew 5:4, 6). Disciples of Christ are to be so driven by the glory of their God that they are eager to give in secret without any other soul knowing, because the reward of their Father is their soul’s desire (Matthew 6:4). The same is true in prayer, the Christian lives in light of the “hallowed” name of God seeking His will and His kingdom during their time on earth (Matthew 6:9-10). Christ calls the believer to empty themselves, find their worth in Him alone, and live dead to the fleetingness of human applause seeking only the pleasure of their Master!
God’s work in the life of the Christian not only radically changes their hearts and relationship toward Him, but even their relationship with others. Now, the Christian seeks to bless, love, and pray for those who are persecuting them (Matthew 5:43-45). They do not use others for their own pleasure through sinful lusts, but love from the heart guarding the purity of even their deepest thoughts (Matthew 5:27-30). Because they have been forgiven, they now forgive because of their glorious Lord (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). They even seek to do unto others as they would have them do to themselves (Matthew 7:12). A Christian has been changed by the work of Christ Jesus from a dead sinner into a new creation. The freedom of the Lord empowers them through His Spirit to serve God and others with a heart of sincere love.
A Resounding Testimony
In Christ’s plan, the powerful paradox of the faith is that those Christians who care nothing about acclaim by the world impact the world most for the testimony of the faith. The Pharisees are rebuked for their performances merely to be seen by others, yet Christ says of His followers acting faithfully:
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
A soul committed to the glory of God, guided by the Word of God, transformed by the Spirit of God through the Gospel of Christ, will live as such a light of powerful love that souls will be changed by God’s work to glorify Him. Such a one will proclaim the Gospel and declare the full counsel of God’s Word even as they seek to live it out in every aspect of life to the praise of Christ. This will give them strength to stand in adversity, gentleness to counsel tenderly, patience to love enduringly, and joy that remains eternally. They are a blessed follower of Christ who is empowered to be a blessing to others for the glory of God.
It is indeed the souls driven by God’s glory which have pointed others to Christ powerfully. The account of Bonhoeffer’s stand against Hitler still moves souls to this day. Eric Liddell’s sacrifice as a missionary stirs up others to seek God’s glory in the crevices of their life. Jim Elliot’s laying down of his life has stirred up souls to go to the mission field and Spurgeon’s bold preaching strengthens many pastors to this day. In a quieter, yet equally as powerful way, many a father and mother living out the faith day by day is equipping a new generation. Older couples in the church who faithfully attend are passing on wisdom to the young. Pastors whom you and I will never know are empowered by Christ to preach His Word as their congregations spiritually grow. It is the life lived for the glory of the Lord that is the most blessed, joyful, and impactful life in the grand scheme of eternity. For the one living it cares not about fame or worldly success, but to hear the words “well done” when they see their Lord face to face!