It’s not just the current election season we’re in, but in general in our society – and globally – we’re obsessed. With ourselves. You don’t have to look to far, frankly beyond our bathroom mirrors, to figure out who matters most to many of us. These days, while our presidential and other elections are bubbling up, we are getting the most acute sense of self-aggrandizement in recent memory as far as I’m concerned. There’s a great quote in one of my favorite movies “A Few Good Men,” where Tom Cruise’s character asks Demi Moore’s character, “Why are you always giving me your resume?” Doesn’t that seem like a question we can ask about people we know or watch on TV every day … or perhaps, ourselves?
This past week I began rereading the Gospels, this time in the Amplified Bible version (it’s a cool version … check it out!). I’ve grown to appreciate how it helps bring additional context and vibrancy to words and topics I’ve read dozens of times, and how it has been equipping me with greater resolution in how I see the themes as I read them.
One such section brought to light this week’s focus for me as I read through Matthew 1 – 19. The specific passage, Matthew 6:1-4, says …
“Be [very] careful not to do your [a]good deeds publicly, to be seen by men; otherwise you will have no reward [prepared and awaiting you] with your Father who is in heaven. “So whenever you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not blow a trumpet before you [to advertise it], as the hypocrites do [like actors acting out a role] in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored and recognized and praised by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing [give in complete secrecy], so that your charitable acts will be done in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.
Last year I had the chance to travel with Helen and the kids through the southeast on a tour of colleges that Jared has since applied to for a year from now when he begins college. During that trip, we had a cool opportunity while sitting in a Starbucks somewhere in Tennessee. A young couple walked in, one of whom was in a military uniform. I got up from where we were sitting and went to the opposite side of the counter and prepaid the order for the couple without letting them know. It was fun to watch the reaction they had when they attempted to pay and were told it was covered. Perhaps the most rewarding part was that they didn’t know who had paid or even why … it was most rewarding because we were able to help them without any motivation other than helping them. Now, I realize the irony of telling this story in a post where I’m advocating not telling such a story … but a little grace on that, please. 😎
But the purpose of the illustration in some small measure is to align with Jesus’ admonition during the Sermon on the Mount, from which the passage above is excerpted. He’s speaking about things that are generally considered good … doing good deeds, performing acts of kindness, charitable acts, etc. But He’s speaking about the motivation behind doing those things. He’s talking about the “Why are you always giving your resume?” nature of our intentions when we do things. Let’s face it, listening to any politician aptly fits this scenario and most of us consider it part of what makes politicians repulsive (perhaps I’m speaking for myself, who knows?). But the illness in that sense is not confined to politicians.
In the end, we need to think through the things we do in an attempt to be benevolent and ask ourselves: Who are we trying to serve? Who are we trying to impress? Who are we trying to be?
Interestingly, when our benevolence is askew, we are not trying to serve others. We’re usually trying to serve ourselves. It’s one of the things that bugs me about many politicians these days. Yes, I understand that there are many politicians who legitimately have an other-focused motivation at heart. But all too often these days there’s both a self-interest and a self-preservation at heart. Instead, Jesus is saying when we serve, we should truly have the interest of others at heart and to be focused on serving others.
Similarly, our misaligned intent is often shown through who we’re trying to impress with our giving or serving. Too frequently, we’re trying to impress others, to show them how “good” we are. Jesus’ point in the passage above is that our goal should be to impress no one other than God, our “Father who sees [what is done] in secret.” Any time we’re working to impress others, it’s fleeting at best, and it serves no lasting benefit. I’m not saying we should do good things to gain God’s favor, but I am saying we should do good things to show God’s favor.
Finally, our misalignment in doing good often is shown when we’re trying to be someone else or someone we’re not. Or, perhaps better said, someone we feel like we’re not. It’s not a stretch to conclude that when someone points the spotlight at themselves it’s because they don’t feel illuminated without it. There’s always a sense that they’re trying to fill some gap about themselves that they feel. God sees who we really are, so trying to put up airs serves no purpose for the One who knows us best. Instead, we should focus on just being who we are, and giving in light of that.
Our goal should be to give and serve and do without trying to give the reflection to ourselves. We should be reflecting God. My prayer for us this week is that in our acts of kindness, we focus on serving others, conveying to others to be impressed by God, and to be ourselves and use the gifts God has entrusted to us. Then, as Jesus says, a lasting, eternal impact and reward can follow.
Soli Deo gloria!