How to Test Your Motives

This lesson is all about our motivation in ministry. Why do we do the things we do for God? Do we serve him because of what we get out of it? Or because he deserves it and it is the right thing to do?

How to Test your Ministry Motives: (Matthew 6:1-18)

What is a Motive? According to Webster, it is something that prompts a person to act in a certain way or that demonstrates volition; the goal or the object of one’s action; inner hunger that promotes a person to action.

As you read the Bible you notice that God is always concerns about our motives. (Proverbs 16:2, 20:27, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Psalm 26:2, 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 1 Corinthians 15:32, Philippians 1:15-18).

  • The Competition Test (James 2:4)
  • The Promotion Test (1 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 2:17)

God stresses that every leader to regularly ask the WHY question; this addresses the leader’s heart and motives. Our passage today answers three WHY questions… why do we practice spiritual disciplines, why do we share resources, why do we serve others?

1. The Alertness Test (Matthew 6:1) BEWARE, be on your guard against the possibility.

2. The Oscar Test (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16, Luke 12:1-3) HYPOCRITES, actors wear a mask an pretend to be something different.

3. The Secret Test (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18)

  • GIVING (Matthew 6:4) – Jesus affirms the importance of anonymous giving. Historically, synagogues had an out of the way room where people would leave their offering in a secret box, called the “secret chamber of silence.” Anyone could leave a gift to help needy people. This embarrassed neither the giver nor the receiver, but the Pharisees didn’t use it because they wanted to be noticed.
  • PRAYING (Matthew 6:6) – Prayer is not to be made into a big public deal with fancy formulas, archaic words, and lofty thoughts.
  • FASTING (Matthew 6:16-18) – God doesn’t require attention-getting actions. When you go into training inwardly, act normally outwardly.

4. The Left-handed Test (Matthew 6:3) DO NOT LET the left know what the right is doing.

5. The Applause Test (Matthew 6:1, 2, 5, 16, 23:5) NOTICED and HONORED and SEEN by men, then God won’t be applauding. You might become a small town celebrity, but God is not impressed. You’ll get rewards here and now but not in heaven. The Pharisees knew that Jesus was attacking them (phylacteries and tassels) for their hypocritical and sinful motives.

Do you lose your reward if people notice what you do? Nope (Matthew 5:16). The goal is God getting the glory, the issue for today is your motivation. Only a fool would grab the rewards of time and let the rewards of eternity go free.

Consider This:

Does the success in others motivate you? If so, Why? Is it that you want God to use you like that? Or is it out of envy or jealousy of their accomplishments?

Are your the same person when no one is looking? Most of the time, part of the time, not much at all?

How do you handle doing work or ministry in the church and no one notices?


1. What are hypocrites? (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) Here, “hypocrites” likely refers to the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus criticizes the hypocrites for intentionally drawing attention to their giving. Those who follow Christ should not mimic the scribes and Pharisees; instead, they should give discreetly. This phrase also occurs in Matthew 6:2, 5, 16. The hypocrites, who have received their reward in the form of praise from others, will only receive condemnation from God.

Matthew is fond of the term “hypocrite” (he uses it thirteen times to Luke’s three and Mark’s one), which is derived from the theater and means “play-actor.” To be a hypocrite is to pretend to be someone you are not. It is easier to pose as a righteous person than to actually be one. One second-century rabbi declared that nine-tenths of all the hypocrisy in the world was to be found in Jerusalem.

2. Are you a different person in public than you are in private?

3. What will happen to hypocrites? (Matthew 24:51, Job 15:34a)

4. How does Isaiah describe the root problem behind Israel’s hypocrisy? (Mark 7:6-7, Isaiah 29:13)

5. Why does Jesus say, “Beware of hypocrisy?” (Matthew 6:1, 2, 5, 16, Luke 12:1)

6. Name three spiritual disciplines that reveal spiritual hypocrisy. (Matthew 6:2-6, 16-18)

7. What motivates a hypocrite? (Matthew 6:1, 2, 5, 16, Mark 12:40)

8. Are you motivated to practice righteousness when someone else is watching?

9. To what degree is your desire to live righteously dependent upon receiving recognition by those around you? Would you still live for God if people stopped stroking you?

10. What is almsgiving? (Matthew 6:2-4)

11. What word implies that giving to the poor is an assumed fact if you are a Christian? (Matthew 6:2, 1 John 3:17, James 2:15-17)

12. Why was it so important to give, according to the OT? (Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 19:17, 21:13, 29:7)

13. What command did Jesus give to safeguard against hypocritical giving? (Matthew 6:3) This is a symbolic saying that captures the extreme measures that should be taken to avoid public acclaim for generosity.

14. Is it hypocritical to practice a spiritual discipline even when you don’t feel like it?

15. Why did Jesus use a different word for “streets” in Matthew 6:5 and Matthew 6:2?

16. What commands did Jesus give for those who wanted to properly practice the spiritual discipline of prayer? (Matthew 6:6)

17. Is it wrong to pray in public? (Matthew 6:5, 1 Timothy 2:8)

18. List several reasons for fasting. (Ezra 8:21-23, Nehemiah 1:3-4, Jonah 3:5-10, Acts 13:2, Isaiah 58:6-8, Mark 2:18-20)

19. What commands must be observed if our fasting is to be without hypocrisy? (Matthew 6:16-17)

20. What is the result of practicing our spiritual disciplines in secret? (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18)

Believer’s Bible Commentary:

Give with Sincerity (Matthew 6:1–4)

Matthew 6:1 In the first half of this chapter, Jesus deals with three specific areas of practical righteousness in an individual’s life: charitable deeds (Matthew 6:1–4), prayer (Matthew 6:5–15), and fasting (Matthew 6:16–18). The name Father is found ten times in these eighteen verses and is the key to understanding them. Practical deeds of righteousness should be done for His approval, not for people’s.

He begins this portion of His sermon with a warning against the temptation to parade our piety by performing charitable deeds for the purpose of being seen by others. It is not the deed that He condemns, but the motive. If public notice is the motivating factor then it is the only reward, for God will not reward hypocrisy.

Matthew 6:2 It seems incredible that hypocrites would noisily attract attention to themselves as they gave offerings in the synagogues or handouts to beggars in the streets. The Lord dismissed their conduct with the terse comment: “They have their reward” (i.e., their only reward is the reputation they gain while on earth).

Matthew 6:3, 4 When a follower of Christ does a charitable deed, it is to be done in secret. It should be so secret that Jesus told His disciples: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Jesus uses this graphic figure of speech to show that our charitable deeds should be for the Father, and not to gain notoriety for the giver.

This passage should not be pressed to prohibit any gift that might be seen by others, since it is virtually impossible to make all one’s contributions strictly anonymous. It simply condemns the blatant display of giving.

Pray with Sincerity (Matthew 6:5–8)

Matthew 6:5 Next Jesus warns His disciples against hypocrisy when they pray. They should not purposely position themselves in public areas so that others will see them praying and be impressed by their piety. If the love for prominence is the only motive in prayer, then, Jesus declares, the prominence gained is the only reward.

Matthew 6:6 In Matthew 6:5, 7, the Greek pronoun translated “you” is plural. But in Matthew 6:6, in order to emphasize private communion with God, you switches to singular. The key to answered prayer is to do it in secret (i.e., go into your room and shut your door). If our real motive is to get through to God, He will hear and answer.

It is reading too much into the passage to use it to prohibit public prayer. The early church met together for collective prayer (Acts 2:42; 12:12; 13:3; 14:23; 20:36). The point is not where we pray. At issue here is, why we pray—to be seen by people or to be heard by God.

Matthew 6:7 Prayer should not consist of vain repetitions, i.e., stock sentences or empty phrases. Unsaved people pray like that, but God is not impressed by the mere multiplication of many words. He wants to hear the sincere expressions of the heart.

Matthew 6:8 Since our Father knows the things we have need of, even before we ask Him, then it is reasonable to ask, “Why pray at all?” The reason is that, in prayer, we acknowledge our need and dependence on Him. It is the basis of our communicating with God. Also God does things in answer to prayer that He would not have done otherwise (James 4:2).

Jesus Teaches the Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9–15)

6:9 In Matthew 6:9–13 we have what is generally called “The Lord’s Prayer.” In using this title we should remember that Jesus never prayed it Himself. It was given to His disciples as a model after which they could pattern their prayers. It was not given as the exact words they were to use (Matthew 6:7 seems to rule this out), because many words repeated by rote memory can become empty phrases.

Our Father in heaven. Prayer should be addressed to God the Father in acknowledgment of His sovereignty over the universe. (Matthew 6:9)

Hallowed be Your name. We should begin our prayers with worship, ascribing praise and honor to Him who is so worthy of it.

Your kingdom come. After worship, we should pray for the advancement of God’s cause, putting His interests first. Specifically, we should pray for the day when our Savior-God, the Lord Jesus Christ, will set up His kingdom on earth and reign in righteousness. (Matthew 6:10)

Your will be done. In this petition we acknowledge that God knows what is best and that we surrender our will to His. It also expresses a longing to see His will acknowledged throughout the world.

On earth as it is in heaven. This phrase modifies all three preceding petitions. The worship of God, the sovereign rule by God, and the performance of His will are all a reality of heaven. The prayer is that these conditions might exist on earth as they do in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. After putting God’s interests first, we are permitted to present our own needs. This petition acknowledges our dependence on God for daily food, both spiritual and physical. (Matthew 6:11)

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. This does not refer to judicial forgiveness from the penalty of sin (that forgiveness is obtained by faith in the Son of God). Rather this refers to the parental forgiveness that is necessary if fellowship with our Father is to be maintained. If believers are unwilling to forgive those who wrong them, how can they expect to be in fellowship with their Father who has freely forgiven them for their wrongdoings? (Matthew 6:12)

And do not lead us into temptation. This request may appear to contradict James 1:13, which states that God would never tempt anyone. However, God does allow His people to be tested and tried. This petition expresses a healthy distrust of one’s own ability to resist temptations or to stand up under trial. It acknowledges complete dependence on the Lord for preservation. (Matthew 6:13)

But deliver us from the evil one. This is the prayer of all who desperately desire to be kept from sin by the power of God. It is the heart’s cry for daily salvation from the power of sin and Satan in one’s life.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. The last sentence of the prayer is omitted in the Roman Catholic and most modern Protestant Bibles since it is lacking in many ancient manuscripts. However, such a doxology is the perfect ending to the prayer and is in the majority of manuscripts. 8 It should, as John Calvin writes, “not only warm our hearts to press toward the glory of God … but also to tell us that all our prayers … have no other foundation than God alone.”

Matthew 6:14-15 This serves as an explanatory footnote to Matthew 6:12. It is not part of the prayer, but added to emphasize that the parental forgiveness mentioned in Matthew 6:12 is conditional.

Jesus Teaches How to Fast (Matthew 6:16–18)

Matthew 6:16 The third form of religious hypocrisy that Jesus denounced was the deliberate attempt to create an appearance of fasting. The hypocrites disfigured their faces when they fasted in order to look gaunt, haggard, and doleful. But Jesus says it is ridiculous to attempt to appear holy.

Matthew 6:17, 18 True believers should fast in secret, giving no outward appearance of it. To anoint your head and wash your face was a means of appearing in one’s normal manner. It is enough that the Father knows; His reward will be better than people’s approval.

MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.) (1223–1225). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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