I become like a circus juggler when I try to keep everyone's opinions of me high in the air. One person thinks I should be like this; another scrutinizes me for something else. Do you get it too? Before long, all the expectations of other people come crashing down around our feet. Playing to the demands of others runs in opposition to authenticity.
Jesus lived with that kind of pressure. In His Sermon on the Mount, He focused primarily on the Pharisees, the Bible-thumpers of His day. On the positive side, the Pharisees took the Bible very seriously. They confronted error, they separated themselves from the world, they were hypersensitive to the application of God's Word. So what's wrong with that? Nothing--that's all fine. But Jesus identified their acute internal problem in Matthew 15:8, "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Ouch! Furthermore, Jesus was simply quoting His Father, recorded back in Isaiah centuries before, when He gave the same spiritual diagnosis to the people of his time.
The Pharisees put on a good show, but Jesus saw right through it. They wanted to look like they had it all together with God, but hadn't privately done the heart business with Him. Looking the part was all they cared about. As Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them . . ." When Jesus used the term righteousness here, He was talking about practical righteousness, the things you do as a believer to outwardly express your heart before God read your Bible, pray, share your faith, be in a small group, work for the Lord, give to the poor. Don't do these to impress others, He warns. Pay attention, be on guard, He cautions. Play to an audience of One.
Notice He didn't say you should hide your spiritual disciplines from people or enter a monastery. Some people have misunderstood His point. The issue isn't location, it's motive. People are going to see you live your life; that's not the problem. You don't have to keep secret the fact that you go to church, raise your hands in worship, and get on your knees to pray. You don't have to shield your Bible when you open it because you have written personal notes all through it. But when you do all those things so that people will see you--that's the problem. Doing spiritual things so other people notice goes right to motive. If you're acting godly with the desire to get attention, affirmation, or strokes from folks--you just got all the reward you deserve and lost God's approval in the process. When you get that pat on the back from your neighbor, then God is like, If that's what you were going for, man, you got it! There's your reward, buddy.
We are called to be living for a higher reward--a reward from the Lord Himself.
Taken from James McDonald's Weekly Devotion