In the Sermon on the Mount (which I consider to be among the most important passages in the entire bible) Jesus says a number of things about seeking the approval of others. And guess what … none of them are said positively.
He warns about:
- Making vows; promising to do something “on my mother’s grave” or some such thing. Rather, he says, simply say “yes” or “no” and then do what you said you would.
- Practicing your religion publicly so as to impress others with your “holiness”.
- Helping others and then bragging about it. Do things quietly and God will see you.
- Praying boisterously in public so that people will be impressed by your abilities.
- Making yourself look like you are “slumming it” when you are fasting (or, I would say, doing some sort of spiritual practice). You don’t need to let people know you are “suffering for Christ”. Make sure you go about business-as-usual so people aren’t made to feel “impressed” by your walk with God.
This is (one of the reasons) why I believe the Bible is an inspired book. These comments, while very rooted in a cultural time and place, still speak an important word to us today in the world of social media, the competitive work environment, and more …
What I am finding interesting as I re-read this section of Scripture again is how all this relates to most everything else covered in the sermon – that we sometimes think is unrelated.
The sermon starts with a list of people who are blessed. While we have tried to sanitize these and say Christians should strive to be like these people, in reality the list is intended to show us that people we think are not blessed, actually are. Our view of who is blessed and who is “cursed” is off somehow and we need to learn to see with God’s eyes.
The list ends with a blessing pronounced on people who are persecuted and who have people say a lot of horrible lies about them and this marks the transition to the main portion of the sermon.
Skipping ahead a bit, we pick up with Jesus’ warnings listed above. Once these are concluded, Jesus moves on to talk about how our treasures should be rooted in “heaven” and not to serve the master of wealth and earthly possessions. We shouldn’t worry about what we eat, drink, or wear; God will look after us.
It is my opinion that this is very connected to seeking the approval of others.
In our daily lives, we can become very concerned with what others think about us. Here are just a few of the things I am sure I subconsciously think about each day; Have I done a good job? Are people impressed with my fitness level? Do others think my kids are being raised properly? Have I made people believe I love my wife enough? Have I shown enough public affection? Too much? Did I get enough credit for the amazing things I did at work? Did I tell enough people about all the places I’ve been so they’ll know how much of a traveler I am?
(Some of) These concerns always seem valid because they have actual, real, tangible affects on my health, wealth, and well-being in the here and now.
And yet …
God seems to be telling us over and again that if our treasures are here, we will have our reward here. I may appear successful now but could have done nothing of real value.
It is an invitation to shift focus from what we consider to be success and those things that look so impressive from our consumeristic viewpoint to something much more eternal and lasting. It is an invitation to enter “eternal life” now. It is an invitation to focus attention on things that will not burn away like straw when our actions are revealed “as through fire”.
It sounds great in theory, but is so hard to actually walk out daily. Lord help me to shift my focus to things that are most important.