“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Rom 10:1). Paul’s motives in all things were always pure.
It is possible to do the right thing with the wrong motive. In so doing one loses all spiritual efficacy with regard to his actions (cf 1 Cor 13:1-3).
In today’s text, we see three actions that in and of themselves are good and right, but when done with the wrong motive brings no spiritual good to the doer.
In verses 1-4 we observe the matter of charity or benevolence. No one would argue that benevolence is good and helpful. Benevolence may also be a spiritual blessing to the giver (cf 1 Tim 6:17-19). But when charity is done to draw attention to the giver rather than alleviate the need, the giver receives nothing from God.
In verses 5-8 we see the practice of prayer. We all understand the need and nature of prayer. However, when one prays to be seen and admired by his companions or some human audience, he has forgotten the true audience of prayer. In so doing he forfeits any Divine favor or intervention. His prayers are powerless.
Finally, in verses 16-18 we see the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting was utilized for a number of reasons. Often fasting was joined with prayer to demonstrate one’s seriousness and earnest desire for God to intervene in some matter (cf Ezra 8:21; Esther 4:16) or sorrow for sin (1 Sam 7:6).
In this text, it isn’t the act that brings attention to the practitioner. Rather, the actor (and I use that term literally and figuratively), must go out of his way to draw attention to himself in order to declare his own righteousness to the inquisitors. How pathetic!
As we close, we should also remember that it is possible to preach the gospel with impure motives (Phil 1:15-18). Let’s do right with the right motive!