Matthew 6:1 and the basis of morality

This spotlight verse (Matthew 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”. underscores one of the most challenging claims of Christian morality: that motive is just as important as action. According to God's Word, it's not "good enough" to do the right thing, regardless of why you do it. In fact, as Jesus will point out, there's a toxic quality to doing the right thing for the wrong reason. This closely relates to the idea of purpose: that there is an intended use for all things. In a random, godless universe, there is no purpose, therefore there is no "wrong" thing to do or a "wrong" reason to do it. In a universe created by God, it matters very much that we act according to His purposes, and "on purpose."

Purpose is essential for understanding morality, justice, and meaning. If we don't know the purpose of an object, we can't say whether it's being "used" or "abused". Knowing the purpose for which a screwdriver is intended, for example, lets us see some actions as abuses of the tool. For instance, you could use a screwdriver to clean your teeth, or to stir a jar of acid. Even if those choices work in some sense, abuse of the tool will cause more harm than good. The screwdriver wasn't "purposed" for such things. Following the intended purpose of a screwdriver stops us from committing abuses and suffering the consequences.

This applies even more to people, and our actions. Without understanding purpose, we have no way to say what is right, wrong, good, or bad. From a historical perspective, we can't identify progress unless we know what the right direction is. We can only determine this if we understand the purpose of this world, and of human existence.

Some philosophers reject the idea of God; they advocate viewing the universe as meaningless and non-purposed. Atheists have been blatant in their view, being a liberation from social or moral constraints. However, this also makes it impossible to call any action better or worse than another. Nietzsche said this would "wipe away the entire horizon", removing all sense of up, down, or distance. The worst atrocities in human history were committed by governments that rejected the ultimate purpose of mankind, using the vacuum of power as leverage for abuse. Whenever purpose is ignored, whether in an individual's life, or in a culture, misery will follow.

Personally, understanding purpose is critical to morality and life issues. As an analogy, consider the captain of a ship. The captain has many choices to make; he or she can direct the ship in thousands of different ways. Yet, in every decision a captain makes, the first consideration must be why the boat is out there. Without knowing the ship's purpose, any decision by the captain will be random, possibly deadly, and ultimately pointless. Life decisions, both major and minor, must be made with our purpose in mind, or we risk making terrible mistakes.

Historically, collectively, and personally, we see that acting according to the purpose for which we were created produces a better life, a better society, and true "progress". This is why God emphasized that His guidelines are meant for our benefit (John 10:102 Timothy 3:16). He knows the purpose for which we were created (Psalm 139:1316), and He has a goal in mind for every human life (2 Peter 3:9Ephesians 1:11). We need to recognize and submit to this purpose if we want to be truly successful (Proverbs 19:21Romans 8:28). And, if we expect God to approve of our deeds, we have to more than "do" good—we must "desire" good and act with the right motives (Matthew 6:1).