"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
I have always struggled with a desire to be recognized and appreciated. Growing up I was very shy and so I just blended into the background. While others were standing in the spotlight, I was looking on from the shadows. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have sat in awards ceremonies and fantasized that I would be the one called up to the platform.
It is natural to want to be recognized, appreciated and even applauded. It is nice when your efforts are recognized in a positive way. Businesses do this through programs like employee of the month. One of the things I like about distance running is that each runner is applauded for finishing the race. Sometimes the last runner in a cross country race receives as much applause and cheers as the winner. In its proper context, there is nothing wrong with being recognized.
On the other hand, when a person lives just for the applause then things change. We see this in the athlete who cares more about his or her personal stats then the good of the team. We see this in the salesman who has to tell everyone about his latest sales award. We see this in the performer who cannot live without the applause. People who long for the spotlight are willing to do whatever it takes to gain the recognition they crave. A problem with craving the spotlight is that it is a moving target and an insatiable hunger.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the religious elite. Being a Pharisee was comparable to being a celebrity. They were very serious about their faith and dedicated their lives to keeping the Law in every detail. Most people honored and respected them, but some of the Pharisees fell in love with the spotlight. They succumbed to the allure of the applause. In doing so, they lost touch with God. Jesus warned us about falling into the trap of craving the spiritual spotlight.
This is a real danger to which we are all susceptible. Jesus raised a red flag of warning: Be Careful! Inappropriate pride has a way of creeping into even our best efforts. We may start with our heart in the right place, but quickly slip into the spotlight, like a moth attracted by a floodlight.
This allure is most dangerous in the area of spiritual disciplines. Outward devotion to God can quickly be corrupted into seeking the praise of people. Jesus warned about letting our acts of righteousness become just a show. The warmth of the spotlight draws us in. For a short time we bask in its glow. Then the spotlight moves. Almost unconsciously, we adjust our behavior to regain center stage.
Jesus warned us that when we perform acts of righteousness for the applause of people, we forfeit the approval of God. True righteousness is focused on an audience of one. Righteousness done as a public display of our piety is a hollow façade. God will not share His glory with anyone. If we choose to actively seek the applause of people, we have our reward in full. We can expect nothing from God.
So how do we guard our hearts and correct our course along the way? Let me suggest four things we can do to keep our hearts pointed in the right direction.
Be honest with ourselves that we can do the right things outwardly and still not be serving Christ. If what is going on inside our heart is wrong, then our outward actions, no matter how noble, are tainted. Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Be aware of the real danger that the spotlight holds. Sometimes we get to a place where we think we are no longer vulnerable. We think we are spiritually strong, and our pride begins to blind us to reality. Paul warns us about succumbing to spiritual overconfidence. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)
Cultivate a truly humble spirit that will permeate your acts of righteousness. True humility is not looking down on yourself. It is having an honest estimate of your strengths and weaknesses, and being comfortable with that. True humility is offering your best to God and leaving the results in His hands. True humility is caring more about the other person than how your actions make you look. Paul challenges us to keep our focus in the right place. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (NIV)
Always seek the glory of God over the praise of people. The praise of people is temporary and fleeting. The glory of God is eternal. The public spotlight will abandon us, but God will never leave us or forsake us. The greatest payoff in life comes from seeking to honor God with all we do. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (NIV)
In 1968, Andy Warhol made the statement, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” That idea has stuck and has become a part of our shared culture. We still hear people talk about a person’s 15 minutes of fame. It highlights the fleeting and futile nature of chasing the spotlight. Jesus calls us to a higher goal. Jesus calls us not to stand in man’s spotlight for 15 minutes, but to live in God’s glory for all of eternity.