Passage: Matthew 6:1-21
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (v.1)
“Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.” Mother Teresa
Teresa of Calcutta, born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu and commonly known as Mother Teresa, was an ethnic Albanian, Indian Roman Catholic nun. As I read about this famous figure of the 20thCentury, in spite of some controversies regarding her wavering faith through the years, one trait has stood out as rock-solid in her life – Teresa of Calcutta was humble. She founded several orphanages, food banks and dedicated her life to reach those who were hungry for food and love. I grew up watching her pop up in the news quite often: A small-framed, frail-looking lady with sad eyes and a wide smile. The spotlight followed her, but she never seemed to care about being in it. She loved Jesus and wanted to be His light to the hurting, whether people clapped in approval or not.
As I ponder about Mother Teresa’s ministry and the humility in which she gave, I am challenged to search my own motives when it comes to serving. Why do I do what I do? Whether standing in the choir loft on Sunday mornings or speaking to women in conferences and retreats; whether giving to missions or sending a card to a hurting friend, I need to remember to keep my heart in check for signs of pride. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 remind me to give and serve for the right reasons: out of love for God and our fellowmen.
According to Jesus, religion is worth nothing until it becomes heart religion. That concept was often a focal point of His teachings during His three-year ministry. Heart religion says that more important than the outward expressions of faith, is the condition of one’s heart. During the famous Sermon of the Mount, Jesus took sins such as adultery and murder to a new level, explaining that these are heart sins: If one hates his neighbor, he commits murder. If one looks at a woman (or man) lustfully, he or she commits adultery (Matthew 5). But as much as we must watch to keep our hearts from stumbling by avoiding these “heart sins,” the Lord warns us in these verses about another dangerous enemy of true worship – hypocrisy.
He calls it the “leaven of the Pharisees” in Luke 12:1. He indeed was not too kind in regards to the condition of the Pharisees’ hearts when it came to worship and service. Several times did Jesus call them hypocrites. In order to receive the applause and approval of men, these leaders would chose to “give alms” in the synagogues and in the streets, where there was a greater number of spectators to applaud them. That sort of religion is rubbish to God. Three times in the sixth chapter of Matthew Jesus said that when the Pharisees served or worshiped for the wrong reasons, “They had received their reward in full.”
There is nothing wrong in giving in public – we may give it. It is the reason why we give and serve that must be sifted through. We must give because we love God and wish to obey Him and because we know that giving (whether we give our resources or service) is the heart of true religion: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27
The Heart of Giving
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them.” Proverbs 3:27 (NLT)
Giving is in the heart of the Law of Moses and Christianity. Throughout the Bible, God encourages His people to be givers – of their resources and talents. Whereas salvation is through faith in Christ alone, a person who is truly surrendered to Christ cannot help but give. There is a burning desire in the heart of the surrendered Christian to make an impact in the world through their gifts and talents. Giving and serving satisfy that.
However, there is a danger behind the service of giving. The reward behind all that we do in the Name of Christ is lost if it is done for our own glory and vanity. Oh, what a chilling thought to ponder, that much of our service will be forgotten by God, if and when our true motives are far from giving Him glory. As Matthew Henry masterly explains in his commentary: “How many times service is rendered in the name of Jesus, but not from principle of obeying God and glorifying Him, but to satisfy one’s pride and vainglory?”
Jesus’ take on the matter is (as usual) direct – “truly I tell you, you have received your reward in full.” In other words, Jesus is saying: “Enjoy the applause and the pat on the back (from men). Heaven will not remember.”
Is That an Issue in our Churches Today?
Unfortunately, this is an age-old problem. There will always be pastors and church members who serve to satisfy their pride and lustful desires. Many church members secretly glory in their talents and give very little credit to God. And this day and time, with the media exposure that some churches have, I dare say the devil is tempting the saints more than ever to forget Who should be glorified through their service and that our resources and talents can only be shared because the Giver bestowed them upon us. Oh, what a satanic trap, to forget that we depend upon our God to merely breathe! Much more to serve Him! May our “spiritual antennas” be ever alert to the lures of pride, lest we miss the blessings and true reward from God.
“Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar.” Psalm 138:6
Something happened not long ago on a Sunday morning that grieved my heart. As I watched the situation unfold, God opened my spiritual eyes to realize how easy it is to be deceived by Satan while serving. God whispered in my spirit: “many people serve Me for the pleasure of being seen.” I’ll be honest. My first reaction was to jump right in and judge the person. “We should be here to serve God, not our pride,” my heart cried out. “Shame, shame!” But when God put His Holy mirror in front of my face, I bowed my head, convicted. Who has never done it? Who has never felt pride in receiving the applause of this world? I believe we all have at some point in time while serving God. That is human nature. It feels good to be loved and admired. But we must be so aware that pride is a trap that Satan uses to make our service ineffective and without a holy purpose. If you give in to the slightest prideful thought in regards to your service in the kingdom, Satan will snare you into thinking that the results of your ministry are due to your “amazing”talents and abilities. And before you know it, God will turn His face and favor away from your ministry. Because the truth is – we may reap the benefits of what we do for Christ; and we certainly will receive rewards for what we do in His Name. But the glory, oh, the glory, my friend, belongs to Him and Him alone.
Because I understand the dangers behind a prideful heart, God has taught me this simple “antidote to pride” steps to keep the devil away from any prideful thoughts:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24
Pray that God will expose the true reasons why you serve – is it for His glory? Is it to further His kingdom? Or is it to satisfy a prideful desire to be seen, admired, useful? If you ask the Lord to reveal it to you, He certainly will. As He does, ask Him to forgive you and help you focus your ministry on bringing Him glory, that you may truly worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)
“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Revelations 4:11
Remember that God is who created all things, including your ministry. When you are fully aware of that truth, you will be able to give Him glory for the open doors as well as accept the closed ones. Remember that He is who calls us into service. If you are not chosen to perform a particular task, it is because God has something else in mind for you. Humbly accept and thank Him for the closed doors. If your heart is in the right place, you will develop a holy awareness that you are doing what God wants you to do and that, when He wants you to serve Him at some capacity, HE will move heaven and earth to accomplish His will for your life. Therefore… do.not.strive.
“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)
Once you are aware of your weakness, do not let your guard down! Satan will not give up alluring you into thinking that your success depends on your gifts and talents. You must be committed to take every thought captive on an ongoing basis, reminding Satan that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17 (NASB). Indeed, we are empty vessels without Him!
Serving God with our talents and gifts is one of the most fulfilling things in life. I have found joy, contentment, peace and purpose as God opens doors and uses me to proclaim His Name. My prayer to each and all of us is that we may become ever aware of any time we take center stage and forget to give glory to the Giver of every good gift. May we remain humbled and grateful with the realization that God uses broken vessels like us to bring others closer to Him. May we serve God in a way that when people watch us, they may see past our many flaws and have a glimpse of God’s grace. May we realize each day, that as the audience applauds; they do so because Jesus is in the house and because He is the power behind anything we do or say.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14