Matthew 6 • Practicing Our Righteousness


In Matthew chapter 5, the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches what it means to truly fulfill God’s law, that it’s not just making sure God’s regulations are kept but that the heart and mind must submit as well. We might never actually commit the physical act of murder, for instance, but our heart and thoughts are so set against someone that for all intents and purposes we want them as dead as if we had actually killed them. We might never actually commit the physical act of adultery but we have thought and dreamed and fantasized it so much that for all intents and purposes it has produced the same results inside us as though we had. Christ teaches that God’s true followers fulfill His law not just physically but from the mind and heart, which results in changing their behavior and actions so that they obtain what God’s law intended – a holy (separated unto Him) and righteous (doing things His way) relationship.

Now in chapter 6, Jesus takes this thought deeper still from the issues of behavior attached to fulfilling/obeying God’s Word to bringing into submission the behaviors most associated by non-Christians as witness of Christ in us: “…practicing your righteousness…” (v.6:1)

Read 5:48

Q: This is the key thought that transitions between Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 that we are to bring our heart and mind into complete submission to God, and His teaching in Matthew 6 that we are to submit our Christian walk as well. Isn’t it impossible to be “perfect”, much less as perfect as God? What does this mean?

A: Another way of interpreting this word “perfect” is “complete”. In the context of Christ’s teaching in chapter 5, He provides a series of “you have heard it said” questions illustrating external obedience to the Law, followed up with “but I tell you” explanations of the spirit of the Law and how it is supposed to be followed from the heart. Our heavenly Father is “perfect” – or “complete” – in that His heart and mind are in accord (and therefore all His actions) with His Word. WE are to be complete, obeying from within, adhering to His Word from our heart and mind and soul as well as externally, not just on the surface.

Application: We are to be complete in that our heart and mind are in accord with God’s Word.

Read 6:1

Q: What does it mean “practicing your righteousness”?

A: This is our Christian walk, the things that we do in the course of our daily life which indicates to those around us that our life is dedicated to something greater than our self, specifically to Christ and His kingdom.

Q: Should we NEVER allow our righteousness to be seen by others?

A: No, the point here is the attitude from which we start: Are we intent on glorifying God or bringing glory to our self?

Q: What might “before men to be noticed by them” indicate?

A: Often times we have a choice as to when and where and how our actions are going to take place. Under such conditions, we are not to take the attitude “we’ll show them how it’s done” and choose the public venue over the private.

Point: Part of the true description of God’s love acting through us is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 as, “ does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, it does not seek its own..."

Application: Are we intent on glorifying God or bringing glory to our self?

Read verses 2-4

Q: How is the “wrong” behavior contrasted with the “right”?

A: The wrong behavior is illustrated by those who give to the poor in very loud, public events with the goal of being honored by people versus those that do it quietly with the goal of giving honor to God.

Q: BOTH are obeying the law to feed the poor. But what is the term used here to describe the one with the wrong motive and why?

A: Hypocrite. It’s the person who does things in the name of the church or God or Christ but in reality is doing it only for their self.

Q: How could this possibly make a difference? Isn’t the important thing that poor people’s needs are being addressed? Don’t the ends justify the means?

A: Put yourself in the shoes of the person in need; which is more likely to lead them to God: A giver who demands respect and honor for what he’s doing for you, or one whose attitude and actions reflect God’s love personally?

Application: In all things we are to be a visible witness for Christ, not ourselves.

Read verses 5-6

Q: BOTH are praying to the same God, right? What difference is there?

A: As in the example of caring for the poor, it’s a matter of motive: Is this for self or God?

Q: Whereas the example of caring for the poor covers our external behavior and actions, what is being addressed here?

A: Our internal behavior and actions. Giving almost always involves some level of contact with other people, but prayer does not. It’s an extension of Christ’s teaching in chapter 5 that one’s heart and thoughts must be brought into submission to God in order to actually fulfill God’s Word that we might become perfect – or complete.

Application: In all things we are to be a witness for Christ from the heart.

Read verses 7-13

Q: What is the significance of Jesus’ use of “hypocrites” in the above example and “Gentiles” in this instance? What is He comparing?

A: “Hypocrites” are those who claim to know God or Christ, yet do not believe from the heart. “Gentiles” are unbelievers who know God exists but try every way but the right way to reach God properly. In both cases, the results are the same – no rewards. Both ways are equally futile.

Q: There have been entire books and theses written on the Lord’s Prayer. What are the basic points that show whether or not we have the right attitude of the heart?

Application: Righteousness is reflected in the quality of one’s prayer when it seeks God’s will above one’s own desires.

    1. Proper prayer acknowledges God’s sovereignty and authority. (v.9)
    2. Proper prayer seeks to build God’s kingdom on earth, not our own. (v.10)
    3. Proper prayer seeks God’s will, not our own. (v.10)
    4. Proper prayer seeks what we need, not what we want. (v.11)
    5. Proper prayer seeks forgiveness not just of sin within us, but against us. (v.12)
    6. Proper prayer seeks to avoid the opportunity for sin. (v.13)

Read verses 14-15

Q: Why does Jesus single out forgiveness from the list?

A: It’s the most important thing for us personally, that we are secure in the knowledge that our sin will not result in separation from God.

Application: Biblical righteousness is closely associated with forgiveness.

Read verses 16-18

Q: What is being highlighted concerning fasting that is very different from giving or praying?

A: Giving and praying are activities which, if done publicly, are recognized by everyone passing by as such. No one passing by would normally be able to detect fasting.

Point: Jesus is showing how to discern a hypocrite, because they so want the glory of men for their self that they’ll go to great lengths to make sure you notice every little thing they do in the name of God, church, etc.

Application: Biblical righteousness begins on the most personal level before it becomes visibly, externally evident.

Read verses 19-21

Q: Up to this point, what has Jesus identified as the 3 main activities associated with “practicing your righteousness”?

A: Ministering to the poor, prayer, fasting. (Interesting this is also the focus of the Old Testament Law.)

Q: To what is He equating the end result of how we engage in these activities?

A: Whether we’re obtaining temporary, earthly treasure or eternal, heavenly treasure.

Q: How is this tied in with each of the above examples?

Q: When are we guaranteed reward?

A: In eternity. But He will also act in kindness to us in this life based on what He sees in our private, devoted life.

Q: More importantly, what does all of this state about our spiritual character in Christ? How does it fit with Jesus’ instruction to be as perfect/complete as the Father?

A: “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v.21) If our actions and decisions are made in the knowledge of the shadow of eternity, we will be obedient from the heart and therefore “complete”.

Application: Biblical righteousness is characterized by a fixation not on this life but the one to come.

Read verses 22-23

Q: How does this teaching fit within the context of what’s been taught and about to be taught?

A: Our “eye” – both physically and spiritually – is the device that focuses our attention. We can be focused on the wrong, earthly things – such as the praise of men for our actions – or focused on the right, heavenly things. One leads to obtaining temporary, earthly treasure and the other to eternal, heavenly treasure.

Application: Biblical righteousness is focused on the right, heavenly things rather than temporal, earthly things.

Read verses 24-30

Q: Why the lecture on material possessions?

A: Jesus has just made the distinction between a hypocrite and a true follower by what they value most. He is further elaborating for the sake of Believers that all of their material needs in this life will be taken care of by the Father and that the path to hypocrisy begins by focusing on the wrong things.

Q: What was the example from the Lord’s prayer in this regard?

A: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (v.11)

Q: What is the application for us personally in this passage?

A: [Many answers, but here’s just one.] The world we live in has focused it’s eye and heart on itself, on the concern for making this life better while ignoring the need to prepare for the next life. Most of the people we’re around are concerned with this life, yet we are to concentrate on the next.

Application: Biblical righteousness exercises faith in God for all earthly matters.

Read verses 31-33

Q: To whom are we compared when we become overly concerned about earthly needs at the expense of our spiritual walk?

A: “Gentiles”, or unbelievers. It’s equal to not having faith in God nor a relationship with Him.

Q: Verse 33 is one of the most famous and memorized by just about every Believer in the entire history of the Church. But what is its meaning in the context of Christ’s entire message to this point?

The biblically righteous are visibly discernible from worldly people.