I had a disturbing thought not too long ago. I was scrolling through my social media and noticed how much of it was someone saying, “Look at me!” I thought about how toddlers do this all day long, demanding the attention of everyone around them non-stop. I got all judge-y for a moment, then I decided to scroll through my own posts to see how I faired. Nearly every post was a bid for attention. “Look at what my kid did!” “Look at this funny or creative thing I did or made!” “Like me!” It was painful. There are a lot of reasons we probably all shouldn’t have our own global platforms, but one of the most dangerous temptations is that of trying to get everyone’s attention and approval.
I’ve spent the first 11 posts of this Teachings of Jesus series of writings on Matthew 5, the first of three chapters that make up Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount. With chapter 6, Jesus spends quite a bit of time warning us against the dangers of doing things to be seen and appreciated by others. He uses the phrase, “…have your reward in full.”, several times. Take a look:
V. 1-2 “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. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
V. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
V.16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
All of those examples are followed by Jesus promising that if we, instead, do all of those things without others knowing, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The idea is that we can choose our reward. If we want the reward of others noticing us and their approval, we can have that by doing things to be seen. Of course, often people won’t even notice. Maybe they will notice, but not approve. We can roll the dice, do things to be seen by all, and maybe we’ll enjoy the approval of our fellow human beings for a time.
We can do things for God’s approval. We can do good things, forgo the earthly credit, and enjoy God’s blessings and reward. Here’s how Jesus says it, “
V. 19-20 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
We have a deep need to feel good about ourselves. Facebook and Instagram have become a breeding ground for those desires, though Jesus shows us people have been finding ways to indulge in image management for thousands of years. This is especially true when it comes to piety.
If you’re working hard and feeling unseen, how great is God’s promise to you! He’s holding your reward for you! For all the moms out there who have set aside a career to keep the household in order and you feel unseen and unappreciated, God sees you. You made a sacrifice for others in secret. God, who sees what is done in secret, holds your reward! For all the men who are out there working hard to provide but can’t keep up with the things other families have, you feel like your family doesn’t appreciate your effort and only sees what you cannot afford, God sees your work. Of course that applies to both genders, but I think men take it harder when they feel they aren’t a good provider. Remember that God sees what no one else may see. Paul tells us that anything done for God is never done in vain. Nothing is wasted if we do it for God to see, for an Audience of One.
The real question at the center of the teaching is, “Who are you trying to please?” If we are living for the approval of others, we’ll do things to be seen. We will have that reward in full. God allows us to hop on the hamster wheel and run ourselves ragged to gain (and keep) the approval of other people. We also have the option of aiming for God’s approval. We can do good things to help others and keep it unnoticed by “our public”. We do things to be seen only by God. According to Jesus, the Father will reward us because He sees what is done in secret. That’s a reward that will last and is not subject to the fickle desires of onlooking humans.
We can post a great selfie with a high-powered filter on Instagram and get a few likes, but with a flick of the finger that post is quickly buried and forgotten about by all. That little heart was our reward. Or we can do good things for others and develop a genuine friendship with God, never to be forgotten or buried. People have their own lives to take care of and images to uphold. Only the Father will be there for you when you need more than a “like”. When we stand before Him face-to-face, the opinions of others will fade pretty fast. Invest in what will last!