The pool in our neighborhood closed last week, so naturally the kids had to go one last time. As we walked to the pool I noticed a few high school guys hanging out on the tennis court who were. . . well. . . being high school boys.
Here’s the scene: One dude is kneeling by the fence with his head between his legs in the tornado drill position. A second is standing ten yards away holding the tennis racket like a baseball bat. The third is bouncing tennis balls to the guy with the racket who is smacking them at his friend with all the fury a 110-pound sophomore can muster.
The best part of the entire scene—apart from the half-laugh, half-whimpers of the kneeling boy was the smart phone sitting on a stand in the corner. Unbeknownst to me, I had a front row seat to the next Instagram classic.
Our “look at me” culture has made such stupidity normative. Teenagers have always done these things, but they used to be hidden and known only to a few inside friends. In time, they might become the stories legends are made of but no one was clicking on a link to watch the foolishness first-hand.
Our propensity to Insta-everything makes it hard to obey passages like Matthew 6:1–4:
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.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus extends this principle to other areas of life too, areas like our prayers—urging his disciples to avoid praying in public and heaping empty phrases merely to be seen by others. God, who sees what no one else should see, will give you all the credit you need in ways that really matter.
It’s no wonder why Jesus would make such an appeal.
Something fundamentally changes about any action when it’s done for an audience. We invariably put on a show. This show is silly when it’s high school boys on the tennis court—it’s deadly when it’s followers of Jesus in the church.
We scream, “Look at me” when we:
- Slant our conversations to make ourselves look better than we actually are.
- Serve so that we can post a picture and receive the affirmation that someone “likes” our service.
- Give so that others will feel indebted to our generosity.
- Speak so that others will be impressed with our theological chops.
- Lead so that others will say “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
We might do all sorts of helpful things, but we get in trouble when our motives are designed for public consumption. To make matters worse, it seems that we are actually losing something when we parade our piety before the watching world.
Jesus says that those who do have received their reward in full—apparently meaning they’ve already gotten the affirmation and adulation of others and that will be as good as it gets.
Those who obey in secret are encouraged, not only that God sees, but also that He will reward this type of humble obedience. The nature of this reward is unclear, however rest assured that if God is the one giving the reward then it will make the feeble claps of our peers seem paltry by comparison.