Beware of the Wrong Reward
The word “beware” indicates that we need to be on high alert. And in this text, the warning is not about our enemies, but about our own hearts. We are warned here of the ever-deceitful temptation to do the right things but for the wrong reasons.
“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.” – Matthew 6:1
The word “beware” indicates that we need to be on high alert. And in this text, the warning is not about our enemies, but about our own hearts. We are warned here of the ever-deceitful temptation to do the right things but for the wrong reasons. We are warned to make sure that we are not doing our service to God in order to receive the praise of men. Note the crushing statement that failing here means we will have no reward from God. None. Zero. No wonder the strong word of warning “beware” is used to start the Lord’s teaching on this matter. Who wants to spend their life practicing righteousness only to find out there is no reward from God? This is a serious matter; and ultimately it is a matter of motive. The Lord did not necessarily say that we must do everything we do in secret for that would be nearly impossible. He said we must not be doing what we do “in order to be seen”. In other words, it’s possible that the real reason we do certain things is because we want people to see us and honor us. Jesus says if this is the motive, you will have no reward from God.
It is a matter of the heart. And truly, only you and God know the purity of your motives for why you give, why you serve, how you pray publicly when you’re called upon to do so, why you show up to church, and so on. You know whether or not you are trying to impress people in hopes of being regarded by them. The Lord says if this is what you’re after, then this is the only reward you will get – the praise of men. But if you want the reward of your heavenly Father, you will have to do what is right for no other reason than to be obediently following your Father. And the promise that follows is that when you do what you do for God alone – God will reward you. But you can’t have both. You can’t live for the praise of men and expect God to reward you. It’s either God you live for or it’s people. Which is it?
I again bring us to the word “beware”. Often wounded people who are hurt because they didn’t receive the praise of men will read something like the statements above and respond with a hearty “amen”. “That’s right.” But in reality, they are only saying this because they wanted the approval of men and didn’t get it. So now in their anger they shout amen. Here too the heart is deceitfully wicked. Being hurt that you didn’t get the praise you expected is the evidence in and of itself that you were after the wrong reward all along. And now, you have none. If there is any level of pain or hurt that we didn’t get the reward of men we had hoped to receive then our hearts have already testified against us that we were never on the right track in the first place. Beware.
Why is it so? When you serve with the desire to be praised, then the real reason you are serving is selfish. You want to be honored and lifted up, recognized for you great acts of service, or else you don’t want to do it at all. This proves that you were never really living for God in the first place. You were living for yourself. You wanted to gain something for yourself out of the deal. No wonder God says that you’ll have no reward from Him if this is why you do “good deeds”.
On the other hand, when we truly live for God, truly obey Him, and genuinely want to advance His Kingdom and point people to Him, we will serve others without any need for praise or payment of any sort. For that was never the goal. This kind of righteousness is exactly what God will reward. And make no mistake about it – God will reward those who live to advance His Kingdom. In fact, this is the incredible promise that follows the great warning. God does reward you when your service is done in the right spirit and for the right motives. God will reward you. He wants to reward you. It is His good pleasure to do so! This promise of reward is the incredible word of hope that follows the warning. God has promised to reward you when you do your good works – to others – but for Him. The reward is promised when you do your good deeds and desire nothing in return from those you serve. When your work is for Him, God says He will reward you. And rest assured dear reader, whatever reward God comes up with will be a thousand times more fulfilling than any praise you could ever receive of men.