Who doesn’t like rewards? We get reward points when shopping, my auto insurer gives me reward points for safe driving, we use a particular credit card due to the rewards offered, we get frequent flier miles for flying on an airline. If we do well at our job, we are recognized and rewarded. Volunteers to non-profit organizations are recognized for their efforts. If we are parents we may reward our children for good grades or good behavior. In a shady side of rewards, we may get an email to click on a link to get a reward (don’t try this). Rewards are everywhere, it seems.
Jesus had some things to say about rewards in Matthew 6. In verse 2 he is quoted as saying. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” As if once was not enough, in verse 16 He proclaimed “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
I think Jesus was telling His listeners that they could choose their reward. Note that in both cases cited above, Jesus stated that the hypocrites have already received their reward. They have already received what they wanted. They (or their surrogates) loudly proclaimed their benevolence to the needy. They sought the praise of men and they received it. Their reward, received on earth was the praise and adulation of man. And that’s the only reward they will ever get.
Don’t get me wrong here. There is nothing wrong with giving praise to someone who deserves it. It can be a boost to our morale when someone compliments us on a job well done. But the praise of man is not the ultimate reward. Settling for that is settling hamburger rather than filet mignon. I once heard a story in which a father and young son were observing a ceremony honoring a local philanthropist, one who was caught up in himself. The father made the statement to the son that this was “a self-made man.” With the honesty and clarity that youth often exhibits, the son responded “Why did he make himself that way?” Don’t settle for second best.
In referring to those who give with much fanfare, Jesus said “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
We give, not for the praise of man, not even to please God. We give because that’s what God is telling us to do. Our eternal reward will come. Sometimes people add “secretly” to the end of this passage. It does not state God will reward us secretly. We do it in secret, God rewards us. Our reward is heaven, not the praise of men. This brings to mind what our attitude should be and I can’t help but think of David’s plea in Psalm 51 “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God.”
In the second instance, Jesus is taking the hypocrites to task for a different subject, with the same end result. He was critical of those who fast and put on a display of suffering so people will notice and praise them for their piety. Jesus is telling us to fast privately. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
In looking at Jesus’ comments on how we should behave in such cases I can almost hear Paul in I Corinthians 12 “And I show you a still more excellent way.” The hypocrites receive their reward in full – right here, right now. Jesus says the righteous will be rewarded. I don’t think it out-of-bounds to think that our reward is continuous. Like eternal life, it starts now and is never ending. A more excellent way.
In addition to the admonition to be private about our fasting, Jesus says “When you fast,” not “If you fast.” He assumes that fasting will be a part of our walk with him. No command was given, nor was a time, place, or method given.
Which reward do you choose?
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