Behavior is important. Motives matter more. Motives reveal the heart.
In teaching His disciples on giving, prayer, and fasting, Jesus makes this point emphatically.
“If you lend to those of whom you hope to receive back, what credit do you have?”
“Whenever you give donations, do not sound a trumpet…”
“And when you pray, do not… stand in the corners of the city square, so that (you) may be seen by men…”
“And when you fast, do not be… sad in appearance…”
Doing spiritual things for recognition and praise reveals a prideful heart.
I’ve joked (and I’ve heard others do the same) that we shouldn’t praise people for doing good things or they’ll “lose their reward in heaven.” While joking, I think there can be a false belief that we only will get our “reward in heaven” if we don’t receive any reward here on earth.
This comes from a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words here. Jesus says the Pharisees who pray loudly or give publicly have “received their reward in full.” I think our mistake is in thinking that the reward they have received is truly a reward. Yes, they got what they wanted. They were noticed. But this reward wasn’t from God. It was an empty reward.
Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t praise others or graciously receive praise from others. He’s saying our motive for acting shouldn’t be to receive that praise.
Jesus had just said, “So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and may glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.”
I love how The Merged Gospels translate this.
“But when giving donations, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your donation may be in secret, and your Father Himself Who sees in secret will reward you openly.”
We’ll be rewarded “openly!” Maybe the reward is blessing… maybe it comes in the form of gratitude or praise from others… and maybe it’s a growing, deepening faith that causes our light to shine brightly before men.
Getting noticed doesn’t cause us to lose our reward. Wanting to get noticed, if our hope is to shine the light back on God, doesn’t cause us to lose our reward. Wanting to get noticed so WE get noticed… there’s no reward from God to be found there.
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