Motives matter, according to Jesus.
All of you have done good things for people, like baking a cake for a widow or listening to someone who needs to talk.
But here’s a difficult question: why did you do it?
The spiritual answer is, Well, I did it because she was lonely or because I felt sorry for him or because of some other reason that’s equally spiritual-sounding.
And I’m sure that’s the main reason you did it.
But be honest: have you ever had the fleeting thought that went something like this?
I hope she tells someone I brought her this cake . . .
I hope someone notices me taking all this time for this man . . .
Then I think the Lord has done something special in you (seriously).
Some of the rest of us have occasionally and guiltily wanted a little recognition for what we’ve done, though we’d never admit it out loud.
Read what Jesus says about it:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).
He’s talking about Jewish traditions, of course, but we Christians have some that are just as obvious.
Jesus’ words apply to the preacher who’s more concerned about wowing the crowd than he is about preaching the word. Or who loves the extra acclaim he gets as the “Doctor” or the “Reverend” or the “Father.”
He’s also talking to the worship leader who loves to impress the crowds with his ability to manipulate the sound and tempo of the hymn.
Or the prayer leader who strings together verbs, adjectives, and adverbs with a rhetorical flourish that makes worshipers marvel at his eloquence.
And it doesn’t just apply to those who stand at the front of the church. The danger lurks on every pew and in every good deed.
The temptation extends to why we wear what we wear, why we drive what we drive, why we do everything we do.
Jesus seems to appreciate simplicity in religious service, doesn’t he?
He’s not impressed by what overwhelms the masses, but he loves the humble sinner who doesn’t have enough spiritual accomplishments to be proud of them.
He’s impressed by the Christian who just wants to do right and tries her best not to let anyone know about the good she’s doing.
The thing is, he wants us to get ourselves completely out of the picture.
Forget the accolades, drop the attention-grabbers, get rid of the bluster and swagger, and just follow Jesus.
To his first-century audience, Jesus said “Beware.”
And to us now he’s probably saying the same thing.