Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
[6:1] "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.  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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
 "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.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6 (ESV)
 "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,  that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:16-21 (ESV)
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.
It isn’t that you can’t let people see your righteousness. It is that you aren’t supposed to practice it in order for it to be seen by others. Fasting is a good tradition to keep during Lent. Christians have been doing it for hundreds even thousands of years now. Jesus recommends fasting. He doesn’t assign any days or seasons to do it in. But He himself fasted in conjunction with prayer. He links fasting and prayer as a way of exorcising demons. And here he tells you how to fast. He doesn’t make it a requirement. He also warns against a pitfall, practicing your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. That is in a hypocritical fashion.
I’ve seen this passage of scripture abused more than once. I have probably abused it in the past myself. I used to find it impossible to actually complete a fast during Lent, because someone inevitably offers you that very thing you gave up. Try it, I guarantee it will happen. Then you have to explain yourself. The person knows you love chocolate, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by rejecting their offer. So you are stuck. Do you lie? Or do you reveal your fast to them? And once they know you are fasting the idea goes, you are no longer really fasting. Someone knows.
But that isn’t necessarily so. Unless of course you gave up beer, chocolate, wine or whatever in order to show the other people how righteous you are. That is what you are to be avoiding. Some people think that they are better than others for all their piety, and all their praying, abstention from alcohol, smoking and so on.
We have all run into these types who have some uppity attitude towards everyone else and absolutely reek of the foul stench of self-righteousness. You get the impression they do it just to be seen. They never tire of chastising those around them. Always present themselves with a holier than thou attitude. They make grand displays of their righteousness, and look down on others because the others don’t quite feel that making a nuisance of themselves on a Saturday morning, by knocking on doors to tell people they will be going to hell for not believing in Christ the way you do, is really a useful way of doing evangelism. They criticize the way others spend their money, because they don’t support the Christian Children’s Fund or some other charity they feel strongly about. We have seen it.
I have even had these types criticize me for wearing robes in church, because Jesus mocks the scribes for wearing long robes and receiving greetings in the market place in Mark 12. This why they are self importantly dressed in a $600 suit, and insist on making their dinner prayers long enough that the waitress has to take their dinner and reheat it afterwards. Not that you can’t pray in a restaurant or have to be discreet about it. But don’t do it for show and so loud that people hear you in the kitchen. This is the kind of thing Jesus is warning about. But it is the difference between a show of self-righteousness, and your righteousness being seen. You are righteous. You have Christ. He is your righteousness.
“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30 (ESV)
And your righteousness will be seen and there is nothing wrong with that if your righteousness is Christ. It is an easy righteousness that doesn’t make huge displays of works, or trouble itself with sin. It is an easygoing righteousness that knows what ever you do whether you eat or drink you do to the glory of God, because you have been forgiven in Christ. It is a righteousness that reveals itself in forgiveness. It is a righteousness that isn’t afraid to spoil a fast by telling your friend no I gave chocolate up for Lent; offer it to me again on Sunday would you? Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, by giving up our fast. On that day I eat to the glory of God, but today I fast to the glory of God because all is forgiven in Christ who is my righteousness.
Yes true righteousness is not afraid to do good works because they might be seen because we don’t do them for us. We don’t earn anything thereby even if we do actually grow in our faith. If we have a bad motive, Christ forgives that too. We have no fear, because Christ has us. Therefore we are righteous whether seen or not seen.