Beware of doing your good deeds conspicuously to catch men’s eyes or you will miss the reward of your Heavenly Father. So, when you do good to other people, don’t hire a trumpeter to go in front of you—like those play-actors in the synagogues and streets who make sure that men admire them. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get! No, when you give to charity, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be secret. Your Father who knows all secrets will reward you. [Matthew 6:1-4 (PHILIPS)]
A recent “Close to Home” comic, by John McPherson, certainly hit close to home for me. While the wife stretches in preparation for a run, her husband is strapping a Fitbit to the dog’s legs in readiness for some Frisbee tossing. The caption read: “Determined to put 100 miles on the Fitbit before his wife did, Stu got a little help from Pepper.” Having no dog, I’ve never cheated at my step count, but I do want full credit for every step I do take. Once, after having taken over 15,000 steps, my Fitbit died before the steps were logged onto my phone. When a new battery brought the device back to life, my step count was at zero. I was visibly upset because just my knowing how much I’d walked wasn’t enough. I wanted official web recognition for those miles because I wanted bragging rights—I wanted my husband and the rest of my Fitbit friends to be impressed.
I think of a friend who told me she was getting active in a variety of good causes so that her obituary would be long and impressive. Even dead and gone, she wanted bragging rights. Sometimes, we want bragging rights in our faith. Our faith journey, however, is not a competition to see who can pray the longest, knows the most Bible verses, volunteers for the most committees, gives the most money, or has the loudest “Hallelujah!”
In Matthew 6, Jesus warned his disciples about seeking a good reputation through outward showmanship. Their new life was not to be about impressing people but rather about having a relationship with God. Good acts done for personal glory are hypocrisy. When our giving, serving and conversation is led by the desire to impress others with our Christian behavior, we become the hypocrites Jesus described. When we strive to be perceived as more pious, generous, faithful, or loving than others, we become self-seekers, not God seekers. While scripture tells us to serve the Lord with gladness, it never tells us to serve him with fanfare. No matter how good the cause or worthy the work, bragging rights or boosting our worth in the eyes of others should never be our motivation for what we do.
Granted, we should be good examples but there are only two who need to know how much we believe, give, pray or serve: God and ourselves! Life is not about having a long impressive obituary—it is about living the life God intended for us in the way He wants it lived. When my Fitbit cheats me of steps, it really doesn’t matter because I know how much I’ve walked and that’s all that counts. When I serve the Lord, no matter in what the capacity, God already knows and no one else needs to know. His approval is the only approval any of us should seek.
And then, when you pray, don’t be like the play-actors. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street-corners so that people may see them at it. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get. But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you. … Then, when you fast, don’t look like those miserable play-actors! For they deliberately disfigure their faces so that people may see that they are fasting. Believe me, they have had all their reward. No, when you fast, brush your hair and wash your face so that nobody knows that you are fasting—let it be a secret between you and your Father. And your Father who knows all secrets will reward you. [Matthew 6:5-6,16-18 (PHILIPS)]