“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men ..." (Matthew 6:1-4)

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-4)

Why does Jesus teach not to do righteous acts before men?

Jesus is speaking about public displays of religiosity, as well as acts of charity for the purpose of gaining the attention and admiration of others. This took place during Jesus' time among the temples. It also takes place among today's institutions.

For example, we find this occurs in assemblies where individuals will display their acts of devotion - whether it be prayer, speaking in tongues, crying out or tearfulness - for the purpose of appearing to others as spiritually advanced.

Today we also find many institutions organized in such a way that provides the means for people to rise up in the ranks and receive the attention and potentially, the admiration of others. For example, a person can start off just attending one of these institutions every Sunday, and gradually work their way up to deacon and maybe head deacon or otherwise leading the council of deacons.

Such positions can create positions of influence for which people aspire to in order to gain notoriety and attention from others.

Even without these hierarchical systems, we can go into a church and show all our neighbors and virtually everyone in our community that we are religious.

Does displaying our righteousness to others accomplish anything? According to Jesus, it has the opposite effect.

Seeking the attention and admiration of others is not a new thing. It is part of life in the physical world. Virtually everyone wants to be accepted by others, and even admired by others. Why?

Because each of us needs love. Love is our fuel. We seek love from others in order to fill the hole created by our lack of a loving relationship with God. Furthermore, according to Jesus, seeking love and attention from others further distances us from God.

What does Jesus mean by 'righteousness'?

The word "righteousness" is being translated from the Greek word δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosynē) which means, according to the lexicon, "in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God."

This means that the purpose of "righteousness" is to act in a way that is pleasing to the Supreme Being.

What does this have to do with showing off to others? Nothing.

The physical world is populated by those who are self-centered. It is all about me, myself and I. We can also include our family. And our dog. And our company or school or country.

But self-centeredness is the opposite of love.

Here Jesus presents his students with the tools for creating a foundation for loving service to God.

What does Jesus mean by receiving their reward in full?

Jesus is indicating that the reward they are seeking is the respect of others. So they pray in public or act religiously in front of others so others will honor them and give them respect. 

And because this is the reward they want from that activity, they indeed receive that reward by their public activity.

This is opposed to the reward that Jesus wants his students to have as a result of their dedication to the Supreme Being.

Jesus wants each of his students to re-establish their personal loving relationship with the Supreme Being.

Why should we do this in secret?

Jesus is suggesting that we express our love and devotion for the Supreme Being in secret. That we don't put it on display in order to gain the attention of others. Why?

Jesus wants us to fall in love with God. He wants each of us to have our own unique and personal relationship with God.

To love someone means to care more about them than we care about ourselves. This is true love. And pleasing the one we love is only natural.

This mood - of wanting to please God - is the opposite of trying to impress others with our religiousness. The two are mutually exclusive. They have nothing to do with each other.

We can't have it both ways. We can't try to impress others and exchange a loving relationship with the Supreme Being. It is one or the other, as Jesus states above.

Doing what is pleasing to God means having a personal relationship with Him. It means dedicating and sharing our personal lives with the Supreme Being.

It does not mean trying to use God to impress others with how great I am.

Just consider how this might play out among friendships of this world. Let's say that we have a popular friend and we decide to do something for them in front of everyone, showing everyone how tight we are with this friend. How will the friend feel about this?

He will feel used. He will feel insulted that we tried to use our friendship with him. And he will feel that the thing we did for him was not sincere. It was just an act.

Why should the Supreme Being feel any different about us showing off our religiousness among others? Surely He is big enough not to depend on our love. But God does enjoy sincere loving relationships.