An older man was walking on the beach and found a lamp. Instinctively he rubbed it, and to his surprise, a genie appeared.
“Because you have freed me,” the genie said, “I will grant you one wish.”
The man thought for a moment and then responded, “My brother and I had a fight 30 years ago and he hasn’t spoken to me since. I wish that he would finally forgive me.”
There was a thunderclap, and the genie declared, “Your wish has been granted.”
“You know,” the genie continued, “most men would have asked for wealth or fame or material possessions. But you only wanted the love of your brother. Is it because you are old or are you dying?
“No way!” the man cried. “But my brother is, and he’s worth about $60 million.”
Motives are critical to why we do what we do.
In today’s text, Jesus offered a denunciation of some religious folks because of improper motives. He began by warning, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
The Pharisees’ religion was too often characterized by appearances. Fake piety. And impressing people with their devotion, solemnity, and religious fervor. Yet, Jesus said, if it is all for a show to call attention to the deed itself, then it is useless
To the Jews, there were three important acts on which their religious life was based–almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses these activities. He obviously does not criticize the importance of charitable deeds or engaging in prayer or fasting, but He does condemn the self-serving motivation that prompted them.
In denouncing their sinful motives, Jesus announced “they have their reward.” Three times he repeats this refrain. Greek scholars say the word, Apechein, was used in business transactions to indicate a payment paid in full. In other words, they sought the praise of men and that’s what they received. So, that’s all they’re going to get. They’ve been paid in full.
This raises a serious question, worthy of our personal introspection and self-examination. Why do we do what we do?
Do we lead a public prayer seeking the praise of those in the congregation?
Do we preach a sermon desiring the acclaim of those who exclaim, “That was a great sermon!”?
Do we make a charitable contribution merely for a tax deduction? Or get our name published so others can see how generous we are?
Do we attend church service to see and be seen? To network for business contacts? Or just because it’s expected?
Do we accept a leadership position for the prestige of the title, or as an opportunity to be a servant-leader?
Do we engage in religious activities out of a pure heart seeking to serve God, or to demonstrate to others how devout we are?
Jesus’ admonition as well as these questions speak to an issue of the heart. Are we more concerned with external performance rather than internal character? W. Graham Scroggie put it this way, “If you appear to be what you are not, you are not what you ought to be.”
The word Jesus used to describe those with impure motives was “hypocrite.” A pretender. An actor. A phony. An imposter. A faker. He’s like an actor in a Greek drama wearing a mask and simply portraying a role.
Jesus’ succinct admonition was, “Therefore do not be like them.”
One of my favorite writers, anonymous, once observed “People are like stain-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out. But in the darkness, beauty is seen only if there is a light within.”
In the darkness of this morally perverse world and self-serving religious leaders may our light shine. Brightly. Honestly. Sincerely. And humbly.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman