Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6:1).

It’s likely that during Jesus’ day, just a few hours walk from where He gave His Sermon on the Mount, stood the great theatre of Sepphoris. The Governor of Galilee, Herod Antipas, had turned the hilltop town into a cosmopolitan centre full of markets, synagogues, public baths, and temples. It boasted paved streets, frescoed walls, and beautiful mosaics.

The theatre was truly impressive. Built with semicircular rows facing the stage, it could accommodate more than 4,500 people. Here the citizens were entertained by the “hypocrites”—actors who wore masks and costumes as they performed Greek plays.

“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do,” Jesus said, lifting the word from the stage and giving it the meaning we know today (Matthew 6:2). “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites,” He added (Matthew 6:5). “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do,” He instructed (Matthew 6:16). When you give, pray, and fast, don’t be like the religious actors who turn spirituality into a performance for the applause of the crowd.

There is ultimately nothing wrong with giving or praying in public, nor with others knowing that we’re fasting. But the sad fact is that we can give in order to be praised, pray in order to be applauded, fast in order to be congratulated—in short, “looking spiritual” to be admired. When we’re tempted to do this, Jesus said, it’s time to hide our giving (Matthew 6:3-4), pray in our closets (Matthew 6:6), fast in secret (Matthew 6:17), and quit acting.

True spirituality should be centred on loving God and others (Matthew 22:37-39). Our religious acts may be seen by others, but they’re to be done out of love for God who has lavished His great love on us.

This passage first appeared on

Religious Actors