Imagine, if you will, that you live in a kingdom. The king, as kings do, subscribes rules and laws for his citizens. One day, you do a great thing for the king that serves the kingdom’s best interests. The act you perform is a selfless act that did not benefit you. When the king finds out, he tells you that you have a great reward coming to you but there’s one catch: you cannot tell anyone about the deed you performed. If you tell even one person, you will lose your reward. What would you do?
Surely there would be a draw to tell someone. After all, people should know about the selfless act you performed for the kingdom. But the risk of losing the reward is great. “Perhaps the king wont find out,” you reason to yourself, “maybe it wont be so bad if I tell just one or two people, after all, shouldn’t people know about my deeds?”
The desire to have people know how awesome we are is really strong, isn’t it? We, for the most part, don’t like to hear someone who is braggadocios, but we tend to brag on ourselves anyway, because we have somehow convinced ourselves it really isn’t bragging.
But why do we do it? Why do we brag about things we’ve done? Even if we wouldn’t call telling others about our deeds “bragging,” it is bragging nonetheless. We do it, and we know this, because we want to elevate ourselves in the eyes of our audience, whether it is one person or many. We like control, and if we can control how others view us, we will do it whenever we can.
The same holds true for spiritual “deeds.” Tell someone the gospel, and others should know that you did that. Give someone a bible or tract, others should know. Visit someone who is sick, give a homeless man a dollar, help anyone in anyway, and others should hear about it.
Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that spiritual matters don’t count as bragging. But there is a very real danger in telling others about our good deeds.
When Jesus was talking about giving to the needy on the Sermon on the Mount, he said this: “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” (Matt. 6:1, ESV).
He goes on to say that when you give to the needy, don’t make a spectacle out of it, so that others can praise you, because, if you do, that is your reward, and the reward you would have gotten from the Father is gone. Instead, you should give in secret, why? Because “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:4, ESV).
Jesus says the same thing about fasting. People would skip bathing, get their worst clothes, put sad faces on, and brag about their fasting and their “suffering” for spiritual things. But Jesus repeats, “they have received their rewards” (Matt. 6:16, ESV). Instead, says Jesus, take a bath, wear clean clothes, and the Father will see and reward you.
Same with prayer: some people would time when the daily prayers would occur and make sure they were in a busy place when the call was made. That way, people could see them praying and be impressed by how holy they were. Instead, says Jesus, pray in secret and your Father will hear and reward you.
Do you see the pattern?
When we brag to others about our spiritual deeds, we want to impress them. When that happens, that is our reward. Others being impressed by us becomes our reward and we lose the reward from God. We might think it’s pretty harmless, or might not even realize we are doing it, but Jesus’ words are clear. So maybe we should be careful and be more intentional about our words.
We should respond to God’s grace with a changed life, we know this. We should give to the needy, pray, fast, evangelize, etc. but why do people need to know that we do those things? We really cannot control what people think about us, so why bother bragging on ourselves?
Similar to our story at the beginning of this post, the king has promised a reward for our deeds but only if we don’t go around telling others about how holy and awesome we are. So next time you (and I) feel the need to brag on ourselves, maybe it would be best to think twice about our motivation.
But whatever you do, don’t lose your reward.