1 "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding. 2-4"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. (Matthew 6:1-4)
Matthew is pretty straight-forward in his record of Jesus' advice for living. He takes time to share the things that are reflective of the struggles we have based on our human nature. It is a frequent struggle with wanting to be noticed when we do something worthy of notice - like helping out the poor or rescuing a cat from a tree for a little child in tears. After all, we reason, we did something pretty note-worthy!
Jesus took time out of his busy day to share principles for living that keep us in right standing with God. The principle of focus in this passage is that of "pride". It was not uncommon in the way of life of the Pharisees (Jewish leaders) to be "always on display", showing off the "good works" that they did. As a matter of fact, they went out of their way to ensure that people "noticed" their good works. In their mind, the work itself was what made them "worthy" of being noticed by God. What Jesus wanted to show them was that they missed the entire point of the good work - it was not to get noticed by God, it was to be done because we were ALREADY noticed by God!
Jesus tells his hearers that God works behind the scenes - he is quiet and unobtrusive in his dealings with us. God doesn't put on a show over cleaning us up from the inside out! He gently goes about the work of putting in order the things within our lives that we had managed to get in such a state of disorder. Eventually, the work that is being done all along behind the scenes becomes manifest - not because there are neon signs pointing it out, but because a changed life is noticeable.
Pride is nasty trait. When we are more concerned with how others see us than we are with allowing God to receive the honor, we are on dangerous ground. Don't get me wrong - God has no problem with us feeling like we have done something good - he just doesn't want that acknowledgement that we did it to be the reason for us doing it. Jesus was moved from within - moved by compassion - to reach out and meet the needs around him. That inner motivation was placed there by the empowering Holy Spirit. There were many times, in fact, when he asked individuals to "not tell anyone" what he had done - just go an worship the one who had sent him in response to his actions!
God is tremendously interested in "reward" - yet his rewards are realized quietly - in the tender moments of communion with him. That is one of the reasons I journal - in those quiet times together, he often shows me just how full my life has become in knowing him. In turn, I am focusing on him, and that brings him honor. It is a "behind the scenes" thing! God has so much for us "behind the scenes". If we are looking for our "reward" center-stage, we won't really find it there. The best place to find God's reward is "back-stage". Take time to get alone with God "back-stage" today - see what he has to show you in those times of quietness with him.