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. Matt. 6:1
Whoa, if you take that command seriously, it is really indicting. I mean, in the one six hour window each week that I have the laundry all put away and out of sight, I want everyone to know it, celebrate it and congratulate me…well, actually celebrate ME. And that is the least of the righteous acts I want to be sure get some credit. If I put myself out for a neighbor, (which by the way, I often consider simply opening our door when it is not convenient “putting myself out”), I surely want as many people as possible to know the sacrifices I make for living here. When I used to babysit in high school, I would begin reciting the list of activities I had done with the children the moment the parents crossed their thresh hold. I want credit. I want approval. I want to earn my reward and have it very clear to everyone who is cognitively functioning that I have really exceeded expectations in sacrificial service. So is God suggesting that keeping silent about all of these awe inspiring acts of righteousness, perhaps even turning blue keeping them all inside, is the key to reward?
I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin. The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight. Psalm 18:23-24All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Is. 64:6“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Matt. 19:17
No person from Adam onward can speak the words of Psalm 18:23-24 except Jesus, the only one to keep the entirety of the Law without violating a single letter of it. My reward isn’t based on my righteous acts at all, which are all so corrupted with my own selfish ambition, vain conceit, fear of people, need to be liked or approved of, egotistical and condescending attitude or pride, but on the righteous acts of Jesus alone. The trick isn’t to just be falsely humble about all my great acts of righteousness so that I can then get my reward. The truth is that as long as I keep thinking I’m earning my reward, I don’t have the faintest understanding of the gospel or my need for the life and record of Jesus to be substituted in the place of my life and record.
So, practically speaking, what has me thinking about this today? Walter made a comment in his sermon Sunday about the choice to be downwardly mobile in order to raise the standard of living for others, and it was like coming to the surface for a gasp of air after being deeper underwater than you realized after jumping. Of course! This is what Jesus did. He left his position of honor, glory, power, riches and familiarity with the Father to descend into the broken world of His creation where He was unknown, misunderstood, despised, falsely accused, used but easily abandoned and ultimately physically assaulted to the point of death.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24
It is so ingrained in me from my socio-economic culture to be on top, to make the cut, to win, to impress, to be counted, to be inside and not out, to have a foot in the door, to be ready with the secret handshake (or insider’s language and references) that I have never really taken Jesus seriously that the first will be last and the last will be first. I have actually believed that I could somehow be qualified for “first” in both worlds without being disqualified for that position in either. But what if He really means it, that those who are on top now, apart from their righteousness being in the person and work of Jesus alone, will in fact be below the toothless, mumbling, body odor filled beggars who walk the streets of my neighborhood daily? What if their externally obvious status to the world is a more accurate portrayal of all of our status before Him apart from the exchange of our record for His? What if to be found in Him begins with being found in them?
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14