“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
IF WE ARE COMMITTED TO DOING WHAT IS RIGHT FOR ITS OWN SAKE, IT WILL BE ENOUGH FOR US TO HAVE THE APPROVAL OF GOD. There are strong warnings in Jesus’ teaching against doing our good deeds in order to be seen by others. But while most of us would say we reject such pretense and hypocrisy, what would happen to our relationship with God if we were to receive nothing but criticism for our obedience to Him? Would we continue to serve God if no one appreciated us for it, no one recognized us for our goodness, or no one did good to us in return? And if we do good mainly to avoid criticism for not doing it, is that any better than doing it to be seen? And what are the implications of doing good primarily to enjoy the self-satisfaction of our own approval?
Benefits like approval, praise, significance, acceptance, and gratitude are powerful motivators. Few of us can honestly say these things do not matter to us. There may be many people out there whose approval is of little importance to us, but for virtually every human being there is at least someone whose acceptance it is important for that person to have. And the difficult question is this: what if doing God’s will does not result in that someone’s acceptance and approval? Will we obey anyway?
In all honesty, however, there is another problem that must be avoided, and that is the problem of smugness. Perhaps we do have the spiritual strength to do what’s right whether anyone else on the planet appreciates it or not. Perhaps it does not matter to us what anyone else thinks. What then? It would be a rare individual who could feel that way and not be a little bit proud of himself or herself for being so above it all. But the moment we begin to feel (however secretly) a little superior to those who are motivated by petty concerns, we need to take stock. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
In any and every circumstance, we must simply be careful about our focus. If it is truly God whom we seek — and if it is God whom we love — then our focus will be on Him, not on ourselves.
“Your purpose is not to be seen or known or loved or admired or praised. Your purpose is to see, know, love, admire, and praise God” (Guigo I).