Mission accomplished isn’t always success. Winning the race doesn’t necessarily mean getting the gold medal. Hitting a bullseye may still mean you missed the mark. Getting your reward may not be much of a prize at all if it’s the wrong reward. That’s what I’m picking up this morning from what Jesus is laying down in the first part of Matthew 6.
It’s been said before but bears saying again: Right theology will determine right behavior. Don’t know your God? Then it’s gonna be hard to serve your God?
Case in point? The hypocrites.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. . .
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. . . .
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
(Matthew 6:2, 5, 16 ESV)
The hypocrites. They’re actors. Stage players. Pretenders. And Jesus says, don’t be like them. Don’t play games. And certainly don’t play them on the wrong stage before the wrong audience.
They give to be praised by others. They pray and they fast to be seen by others. And guess what? They’re successful. Their generosity is the talk of the synagogue. Their eloquence in prayer demonstrates to all who hear them that they must be heavenly because of their heaven-ese. The depths of their piety evident by the almost visible cloud hanging over their pained countenances as they go without food for hours, even days, on end.
Mission accomplished. Race won. Bullseye! Jesus Himself acknowledging that they have received their reward. That people will take notice. That praise, admiration, and veneration from many will be deposited to their ego accounts.
But big deal! Who cares?
Fleeting acknowledgement. No eternal significance. Passing praise from dying people. And all because of bad theology. All because they don’t know that their God is a God who sees in secret.
And three times Jesus declares one of the foundational operational laws of the kingdom: “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
When you give, give in secret. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:3-4)
When you pray, go into your room and close the door. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:6)
When you fast, cover it up so no one knows. “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (6:17-18)
We’re not to be actors. And we certainly need to beware of playing to the wrong audience.
Rather, we are to be disciples, followers of Christ, the real meal deal. And our audience is an Audience of One. The One who sees in secret. The One who rewards for what is done in secret. And that, with a heavenly reward, a prize that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1Pet. 1:4).
“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.” ~ Jesus
(Matthew 6:1 ESV)
Live for the praise of others on earth and we may very well be quite successful in achieving our goal. But the response will be fast fading. The recognition fleeting. The reward a non-reward.
But live for, and before, our Father who is in heaven, the One who sees in secret and rewards with eternal rewards, and truly, we’ll live for the right reward.
By His grace. For His glory.