Wanting God’s Approval

30 Oct

Matthew 6:1-4

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 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.

I read about a person who went to a concert.  At the end, he noticed two ushers who were
applauding harder than anybody else in the whole place.

He thought how awesome it was to see two employees who loved music so much working at a concert hall.   That was until he heard the one usher say to the other, “Keep clapping. If we can get them to do another encore, we get overtime!”

It appeared that these two ushers were serious music lovers  It turned out they were only applauding so long and so hard because it would mean a few more dollars in their pockets.

It’s just a fact of life that there are people who do good things for the wrong reasons
It might seem at the outset that they are unselfish and noble but it ends up that
they only doing what they’re doing for their own benefit.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus encouraged His disciples to play to an audience of
One – to want only the approval of the Heavenly Father.

He urged them not to be people pleasers seeking to impress others.  If you get your self-worth from the approval of people, you’re mood is going to be frequently depressed and your performance often erratic. People are unpredictable. What will impress them one day won’t the next.

But God is faithful. He is always rooting for you. He wants the best for you and, in the end, it’s only His favor that matters.

This is a passage that speaks to those of us who are tempted to be people-pleasers.

Some of us crave the approval of others so much  that we go to almost any length to get it.

We have a hard time saying “no” to anyone, we want so much to be liked that
it’s almost impossible to overcome peer pressure.

We’re always wondering what people will say, what people will think, how
people will respond.

When people approve of us, we feel great. However, when someone is upset with us, we feel devastated.

Our whole life is viewed as a stage performance seeking the applause and
avoiding the disapproval of the crowd.

Even when it comes to spiritual service, instead of seeking God’s approval, were
most concerned about what people think.

And those of us who are in that boat need to pay attention today as we study Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount that encourage us to seek only God’s approval!

First, we need to realize that Jesus gives a warning against self-promotion.

Matthew 6:1 – “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.”

We all instinctively want to be liked.  From the time we’re born, we want approval and attention. Little children unashamedly say, “Watch me, Daddy!” “Look at me, Mommy!”

Teenagers want more than anything to be popular.

They are careful to dress, talk, and act in whatever fashion is acceptable among their peers.

Even nonconformity is a way of drawing attention to self.
–Body piercing, tattoos, green hair, and black lipstick are means of saying, “Look at me!”

As adults we often worry about what our neighbors will think of us (if we have neighbors).

We care what people think of us and that’s not altogether bad. The Bible says we ought to be sensitive to our witness to others.

The problem with people-pleasers is they become overly concerned with what other people think.

Jesus’ warning in this passage is not about doing evil but about doing good just to impress people.

On the surface this seems to contradict what Jesus said in Mt. 5:16 – “… let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The difference is in motive.
–Are you doing the good deed to exalt Christ or to promote self?

It’s the self-centeredness of it all that Jesus warns against.
–Why do we do what we do?

John Ortberg facetiously said, “I know I’m supposed to be humble, but what if no one notices?”

We want people to notice our goodness.

I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself.”

If you’re tempted to be a people-pleaser let me share four good reasons to quit worrying so much about what people think of you.

First, realize that people are fickle. They can applaud you one minute and condemn you the next. You can’t please people. They’re so inconsistent in both praise and condemnation

Someone once said : “If you worry too much about what people think of you, you’d probably be disappointed to discover how seldom they did.”
–That’s the truth.

Why spend so much time worrying about someone else’s opinion when they really don’t notice?

The most popular people are those who don’t try to please others.

It’s kind of a paradox when you think about it.

The less self-conscious you are, the more likely you are to be liked.

The people who try too hard to please are rejected, while the people who don’t seem to care what others think are the most respected for their courage, uninhibited behavior, and self-confidence.

One of the things that made Jesus so attractive to those around Him was that He wasn’t very concerned about the opinions of people.

One of his detractors admitted this to Jesus in Matthew 22:16 – “We know you are a man of
integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are”

In the end only God’s evaluation matters .

John 5:30 – Jesus says: “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

James 4:12 – There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.

Paul says in Galatians 1:10 – Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? …If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tennis tournament for the first time in 2002. After her impressive victory, a reporter asked Serena if it bothered her that many of the English fans were rooting against her. She politely said, “No,” she understood – there had been people rooting against her all her life. But she still wanted to win for herself. Then she added, “Besides my dad was sitting in those stands, and I knew he was rooting for me and I wanted to please him.”

Your whole life, there will be people rooting against you that want to see you fail. But your Father is always rooting for you.

Further, Jesus had something to say about those who tried to impress others with their so called “righteous”

Matthew 6:2-4 – “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 men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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.”

Jesus calls those who do good things with selfish intentions “hypocrites”

That word comes into our language directly from the New Testament Greek language

It means “an actor who wears a mask”

In the theatre of Jesus’ day, one actor could play several roles on stage. They designated the changing of the role onstage by wearing different masks.

A hypocrite in its simplest sense is someone who pretends to be something that in reality they are not.
I read an illustration not long ago about a young dockworker who came into the local
Western Union agent and tried to cash a check made out to Roadway Express, which is a trucking company based out of Dallas, TX. The manager figured something was up and slyly asked the young man for his ID. The 18-year-old produced a fairly well-made picture ID and under the name it said, “Roadway V. Express”.
The manager told the young man to wait there while he went in the back to get the money. When the manager went into the back of the office, he called the police and they promptly arrested Mr. Express.

He was trying to pretend that he was something he was not.

Evidently the Pharisees, who craved the praise of men, sometimes made a big show out of what they gave to the temple treasury.

In the Jewish system of worship, they didn’t pass the offering tray and people didn’t give by anonymous envelopes or folded checks.

The treasury boxes were set outside the worship area and people gave their money as they came in,

Mark 12:41 – “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.”

People still sometimes give to good causes for public approval.

Listen to any fund-raising telethon.
–You’ll hear the names of the donors names read out loud: “John Smith gave a hundred dollars.”

Go to almost any hospital in America and you can read plaques like “This wing donated by John Smith” and a family is listed who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to that hospital.

Our Bible Colleges put names of donors on bricks or, if you give enough money, you can have a dormitory or library named after you.
–This method is a very successful method of gaining donors and it’s not all wrong.

I actually have a brick with my name on it at Hardin-Simmons University.

But Jesus raised the bar once again.

He uses a unique phrase that puzzles some people in our age: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

Notice Jesus assumes that if we’re subjects to the King of kings and want to live according to his expectations, we will be “givers”

He doesn’t say “if you give” but “when you give”

Being generous in helping meet the needs of others was a mark of the early church

A Greek philosopher named Aristedes presented a defense of Christians to the Roman emperor Hadrian. He was speaking about normal Christians. He said:

He who has gives to him who has not without grudging. When one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them sees him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability. If they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they will deliver him. If there is among them a man that is poor or needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast two or three days, that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.

The phrase was a reference to your best friends.

We still refer to someone as our “right-hand man”

Jesus isn’t telling us that we shouldn’t keep track of what we give for income tax purposes or that it’s wrong to give by envelope or check because someone is going to find out, or even to just reach into your wallet and close your eyes and give whatever bill you pull out.

What He is saying is that we should “give and forget”
–Don’t dwell on or gloat over how much we’ve given

He also means that we shouldn’t call attention to our giving
–Be satisfied with having no one know what you give but God.

Years ago, I remember watching  Ted Turner as he announced that he was
giving a billion dollars to the United Nations. Although he designated that the money be used to help the extremely poor with food, clothing, and shelter, he made sure his huge donation was seen by everybody.

Before he made the gift, he notified talk-show host Larry King so he could start circulating the news.

And then, Turner made his announcement in a New York ballroom filled with tuxedos, evening gowns, reporters and cameras.

He has his reward—the approval of men.

The Message: “They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively.”

Ah, but check out Matthew 6:4 – “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Some people downplay this truth, but there is a legitimate reward motive in the Christian life.

You may remember an old TV ad that featured an athlete running up the steps of an empty
stadium. No one is watching, but he’s really sweating and grinding it out in discipline.

The ad points out that he’s going through all that hard work so that he can receive the reward of winning on the weekend.

God asks us to discipline our lives, to deny self and take up the cross so that we can win the victory of eternal life.

He promises that, while we’re saved by grace and not works, we are going to be rewarded for our works.

My personal belief is that the real reward is spending eternity with God.
Even though the Bible promises “stars” in our crowns in heaven, it also tells us that in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords we’ll cast our crowns into the glassy sea described in the book of Revelation.

That concept can certainly change your attitude about what you are doing today.

Tim Keller imagines two guys in a room who are given an assignment of folding papers for 12 hours straight. The first guy quits after three hours. He says, “I can’t stand this. This is driving me crazy!”

But the second guy is delighted. He keeps working saying, “This is the greatest
day of my life! This is a joy!”

He folds paper for 12 hours straight.
What’s the difference? The first guy is working for minimum wage. The second guy is
promised a million dollars if he stays. A reward is a big motivator to attitude and faithfulness.

Listen to these verses that promise a reward commensurate with our faithfulness on Earth.
Matthew. 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

Matthew 19:29-30 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”

Ephesians. 6:8 – …The Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does. 

1 Corinthians. 3:12-15 – If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

Understand that the reward the Heavenly Father promises is not just eternal, it’s immediate.

If you support this church with your money and service, when you see lost people saved, children taught the Word of God, hurting people comforted, and homes united, there should be a sense of satisfaction within.

You ought to feel good that you’ve had a part in seeing people ministered to and God being

You ought to say to yourself, “I’ve helped make that happen.”
–That in itself is a great reward.

I like this quote I found by Watchman Nee:

“I have never met a soul who has set out to satisfy the Lord and has not been
satisfied himself.”

But the glory is we get all that and heaven too.

When I was in school, my best friend was made a lineman on the junior high football team.  The lineman is not a position of glory. Glory for a win usually goes to the quarterback, running back or receiver. Nevertheless, the linemen are really important because they
block for the other players. The lineman don’t get to carry the ball or throw passes, but if
the lineman do their job, the guys carrying the ball can make touchdowns—otherwise
they can’t.

Maybe your Heavenly Father designed you to play a role that doesn’t get much

If you have a behind-the-scenes assignment where you’re blocking for others and not
getting much glory, can you still be content?

Along with watching out for being a people-pleaser, we also have to guard against being
a self-pleaser.

Sometimes we preserve our anonymity while quietly congratulating ourselves.

Not only are we to avoid giving for the praise of others, we are also to make sure we
don’t give simply so we can privately praise ourselves.

It’s possible to take deliberate steps to keep our giving a secret all the while gloating
over our self-satisfied generosity.

Our motive must be to want God’s approval.



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