Pastoral Commentary: There is no reward in heaven for self-promotion

Mike Neifert
Pratt Tribune
Give God the glory.

Be careful.

You probably first heard those words from your mom as a kid. You’d run out to play with friends and just before the door slammed shut, you’d hear her warning.

Did you pay attention to this directive? Not really. You were oblivious to the everyday dangers all around you – heavy traffic, fall hazards, nefarious criminals. Your focus was on more important things – baseball, bike rides, backwoods exploration.

During your teen years, perhaps you heard those words again as you grabbed your car keys to go to school. You’d heard your dad’s caution and shrug your shoulders. What could go wrong? It’s only a mile or two.

You aged a bit more and suddenly you were the one shouting out advisories. You’d drop a glass bowl on the kitchen floor and cry out in alarm as your toddler crawled toward the broken shards scattered across the linoleum. “Be careful! Stop!”

Then you added twenty, thirty, forty years and new threats presented themselves. As your wife headed to the store after a winter storm, you spoke urgently. “Be careful! It’s icy out there!”

Be careful. We use these words over and over and over again throughout life. We use them in mildly risky situations and in particularly perilous circumstances.

“Be careful. Those pop tarts are hot.”

“Be careful. That minefield isn’t cleared yet.”

Same phrase. Different levels of jeopardy.

Jesus, at the beginning of Matthew 6, speaks these words, urging watchfulness.

“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.” (Matthew 6:1)

His words don’t sound all that ominous. They seem to be more along the lines of a hot pop tarts notification than of a possible landmines alert. But then you notice what the consequences of ignoring his counsel are. Listen carefully to his words again. *

“…you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (v. 1)

That single sentence is a solemn warning. If you choose the path of doing things for the approval of others, you’ll get NOTHING from God. No praise. No reward.

Be careful!

What kinds of actions elicit our master’s words of caution? Showy acts of righteousness. Good deeds done to garner good press. Kindness done for the compliments of men.

These things do not impress our heavenly Father. It seems, rather, that public displays of piety displease him greatly.

Why, you might ask, is God not happy with the good done in these situations? Does it really matter who gets the credit?

YES! A thousand times yes! It matters!

In Matthew 5, in a short three-verse section, Jesus speaks of doing good deeds and clearly states who should get the glory when you or I or anyone does what’s right.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

I want you to picture a spotlight in a theater for a second. Does it shine on itself? No. It shines on the stars. It draws attention to the characters on stage.

In the same way, we are to spotlight our God. We are to focus people’s attention on him, not on ourselves. No one will see God and glorify him if we steal the limelight. “Look at me! I’m so good!”

“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.” (Matthew 6:1)

The reason there is no reward from God in heaven for self-promoting behavior is this: in drawing the eyes of the community to your excellence, you’ve caused your neighbors to miss God’s great goodness completely.

No one is saved when they see your goodness or mine. It’s only God’s goodness which can rescue them from sin. Point your friends to him!