Why is it that you do good things? When you do something noble, or kind, or dutiful, or selfless–why is it that you’re really doing it? Is it to please a particular person you’re with, or because you’re being made to do it? Are you trying to look good in front of others–to better your image? Maybe you feel you owe someone, or perhaps you’re just doing it to feel good about yourself? Most of have have had selfish motivations for doing good deeds, but ultimately, the reason we should do good is because we love God!
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1 NLT)
We don’t always do what’s right, but even when we do, we may not do it for the right reasons. A man might try to impress his date by being more polite than he typically is, an employee might curry favor by donating to his boss’s favorite charity, a child might put their dollar in the collection plate because his parents told him to. Even helping out at a soup kitchen or shelter might be selfishly motivated–it might be an effort to see myself as good or generous.
The real test in determining if you’re doing something for God, or for some other reason, is to imagine that absolutely no one else will ever find out or see–would you still do it?
The Message is a loose paraphrase, but I like how it presents the passage containing today’s verse:
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 MSG)
God cares not only that we do good things, but also why we do them–what our motivation is. Paul explains why:
“Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it. The foundation that has already been laid is Jesus Christ, and no one can lay down any other foundation. But if people build on that foundation, using gold, silver, jewels, wood, grass, or straw, their work will be clearly seen, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible. That Day will appear with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work to show what sort of work it was. If the building that has been put on the foundation still stands, the builder will get a reward. But if the building is burned up, the builder will suffer loss. The builder will be saved, but it will be as one who escaped from a fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NCV)
The motivation behind every good deed I ever did will someday be revealed. It will become obvious why I was nice to my mother-in-law, why I gave a generous Christmas present, why I stayed late at work. Why I was polite to my teacher, why I visited a shut-in, why I served at church. Why I went on a mission trip, why I helped at the homeless shelter–even why I let my little sister have the last piece of cake. “…their work will be clearly seem, because the Day of Judgment will make it visible…to show what sort of work it was…”
So, why is it that you do good things? Is it for some other selfishly motivated reason, or because you genuinely love Jesus–because you have chosen to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him?
Help my life be clearly seen, that it was genuinely done in You! Amen.