However, in this section of Matthew 5-7, also referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus criticizes those who display their prayer, fasting, and giving, so that they can be seen by others. They are "hypocrites" who already have their reward and it's not from God. I learn that any work of piety or service can serve my ego, not others, not God. Like getting an award for perfect Sunday School attendance, does the recognition defeat the purpose?
Who really knows anyone else's motives? It's hard enough to name my own intentions. The intention is of first importance. So when I display an empty plate to push a fasting program on social media, or a service project to show the world what I have done, or when I stand before the congregation to share how much more I'm pledging this year, or when I'm the designated prayer-giver for civic clubs and football games, etc., the reward goes to my professional and institutional public image.Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
He stuck in his plum, pulled out a plum
And said, what a proud boy am I!
One church began a community center, providing multiple services for the underserved residents in the area. The programs reached preschoolers and parents, to adults learning job skills. The campus was a strategic match for the many programs it housed each weekday. The number of people and families participating each week was amazing. Its relationship to the sponsoring congregation was well-known by the people that worked there, but also the neighboring households.
One of the most impressive aspects of this whole endeavor was the fact the fact that the congregation's name was not anywhere on the exterior of the building. This was intentional.***
What is my default? Am I even aware of it? When it's to prove how spiritual, wealthy, or creative I am, Jesus' words on anonymous giving fade away. When all the excitement and adulation evaporate (which it does) my resources are exhausted. In the words of Jesus, I have already received my reward, the limited applause of others. The cycle leads to what John Claypool called, in his experience, "bone-weariness." ****
Churches require that I do all I can to enhance public image, true. But running off the excitement of the next big thing- the spectacular and impressive- cannot teach or nurture a spirituality of patience, endurance, and love.*See Matthew 6:5-6
**The nations can also be translated gentiles.
***See also Ezekiel 36:22-23