1 “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. 2 “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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “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. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:1-6
My favorite Italian meal is spaghetti and meatballs. When I visit a new Italian restaurant, that’s what I order to see if the restaurant measures up. Granted, spaghetti and meatballs in America is probably very different than in Italy. But, using a good recipe, or formula, produces a wonderful eating experience. My mom had a wonderful recipe, inspired by an Italian woman when we lived in Brooklyn, New York. I started making that recipe when I was in junior high school. There were times when I felt ‘inspired’ in my cooking and botched the dinner. But at other times, when I stuck to the recipe, everyone enjoyed it. As with this meal, there’s a formula for how we’re to go through our walk with Christ.
Jesus actually lists two formulas. One relates to being public in living out our Christ-like lives, while the other describes a more excellent formula. Being public about doing good leads to public recognition. While this makes us feel good at the time, it isn’t the reason we serve others. Jesus says the public recognition received is our reward. Just like my ‘inspired’ spaghetti dinner, it’s viewed as a failure.
Alternatively, when service isn’t public, our reward or blessing comes from God. If we’re following the recipe as Christ outlines, our rewards or blessings are from the Father of Lights and take on an eternal character. And, what’s done in this way provides a pleasing ‘smell’ to God, much the same as the heart-felt sacrifices given to God in the Old Testament. Just as spaghetti dinners can vary widely based on following the good recipe, the lives we present to Jesus can be very different, too.
As you consider ways to serve the Lord by serving others, remember Jesus’ formula, where it’s far better to be seen by God doing service, from a pure heart, than to receive accolades from peers. The blessings God has to offer are eternal in nature and more valuable than the most precious of pearls.
By Rich Obrecht