30 Days in the Bible, Day 16: Matthew 6:1-4
Jesus’ words here in Matthew 6:1-4 are cited by some Christians as a warning against ever accepting praise or thanks from someone for doing good. The thought is that if you receive any praise, you lose any reward you would have received from the Lord. Praise and reward are seen as an either/or proposition: either you get praise from people, or you get praise from God. There is no middle ground.
I think this misses the point of what Jesus was teaching here. His point has nothing to do with what other people have to say about what you do. Whether or not anyone knows that you have done something for the sake of the needy or lived in a righteous manner before God isn’t the key issue here. What Jesus is focused on is our own attitude toward our good works.
Jesus warns us against performing our good deeds in front of an audience “in order to be seen by them.” There are some good works that can’t be done in private. Can you imagine the result if Pastor Chris preached next Sunday’s sermon from a closet in the parsonage with no one there to hear it? That would be done in secret, but it would hardly be a good work. In order for him to do something that is right and pleasing in God’s sight, he has to do it in the sight (and hearing) of people. Sometimes we may have to do what we do for the Lord out in the open in order for it to be good.
The question Jesus raises for us is why we do what we do where we do it. If a pastor preaches to become famous or to gain wealth, he isn’t doing good. If he preaches with a desire to minister to the needs of people while exalting Christ, he is doing what will please and honor the Lord. If we serve in front of others because that is the only way to do what God is calling us to do, but our motivation is not to receive their praise but to minister to them in the name of Jesus, we will be honoring the Lord and truly following the spirit of what Jesus is teaching here.
There are some things we can do quietly and out of the limelight, and when we have those opportunities we should take them. There are even some needs we can meet that should not be made known due to their sensitive nature or potential to hurt or embarrass an individual. Having a heart that is willing to bypass the praise of people in order to honor God is the key to all of our service for the Lord.
If someone sees you do good for another and compliments you for it, if the pastor thanks you for serving in a particular capacity from the pulpit, or if a person you have helped tells someone else how they appreciate your effort, you haven’t lost your reward- unless that was your motivation for doing what you did! If we never receive any recognition for what we do from others, or if no one ever thanks us for helping them, that shouldn’t matter to us. Our goal is to serve Jesus and to help others in need, and the praise we seek is the praise of our Lord. Anything else is incidental.