Self-Glorification in Contrast to Faith
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 6:1-6, Matthew 6:16-21
February 26, 2020

 In some respects it seems like Jesus is speaking a foreign language to us this evening. He talks about giving to the needy while sounding trumpets in the synagogues and in the streets. He talks about those who love to pray in the synagogues and on the street corners. He talks about those who fast and put on a gloomy face when they are fasting.

This may seem foreign because it is not our world. The culture in which Jesus preached His sermon that day was a very outwardly religious culture. Our culture, however, is not like this, I don’t think.

In our culture, religious practice is already confined to the private sphere, but for very different reasons than what Jesus talks about. So the public show of religiosity may not strike us as very meaningful.

But when we set aside the external cultural trappings, we can see that Jesus’s sermon does apply today. For Jesus is speaking about self-glorification in contrast to faith. And we live in a culture that thrives on self-glorification, though not for praying and fasting.

Jesus speaks to the self-glorification like this. Doing good things, doing what one should do, in order that, for the purpose of, being seen by other human beings.

And what it as at the heart of this purpose of being seen by others? It is so they will heap praise and pad and puff up the ego, and say what a wonderful person he or she is. How impressive. And then the person doing this can feel proud and think to themselves: “Oh yes, what a glorious person I am.”

Whatever the particular external trappings and cultural surroundings there may be, Jesus is speaking here about motivation. We could think of it like this. Do people do what they should, excel at what they do, give of their resources, in order to get praise and recognition from others? We could also say it the opposite way. Will a person not do anything good, or work hard to excel, or be a decent human being and give to others, if they will not also get praise and recognition from others?

Jesus is concerned about this motivation because it is a spiritual condition. It is the spiritual condition of pride and vanity. It is sin. And it is the opposite of faith. 

Jesus has an interesting and powerful way of bringing this sort of motivation into judgment. Truly I say to you, He says, they have received their reward.

If a person does anything good or what they should be doing in order to obtain the praise of other people, then they have received their reward. That person received the praise of men. There will be no praise from God. That person received the praise of men, they have no part in God and no hope in Him. The extent of their hope and glory is what they get from other people in this life.

I wonder, though, what impact this way of putting it has in our day. In Jesus’s very religious culture, these were powerful words. To not have any part in God the Father because one had done everything to receive praise from human beings was a powerful warning. It is part and parcel of the religious aspiration to have hope in God. It is as the writer of Hebrews teaches us: “[W]ithout faith, it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

In our secular world, where so many people are predisposed to think that all there is this life anyway, then maybe Jesus’s word don’t have much impact. No hope in God, you say preacher? Well, who cares. I doubt that God even exists, and, even if He does, He does not have any real practical bearing on my life. Everything just happens according to unchanging, unbending natural law anyway, or according to the standards and demands of culture. To speak of reward from God is meaningless. The only thing that really matters is my own achievement and accumulation of wealth and praise from other people. This is all that there really is.

So in the words of Jesus, they have their reward. We can say this with ease, but Jesus is speaking about a rather horrible reality. To have only the reward of this life, is to live in death.

But this is not us, is it? If we struggle with this secularity, because we live in this culture, Jesus challenges the secular world view for us and calls us out of it. The Father who sees in secret, will reward you. If the Father sees, the Father exists and has a very real bearing on our existence.

As Jesus speaks against secularity, He also speaks faith to us. He does not just speak judgment against self-glorification. He also speaks faith. The Father who sees in secret will reward you. This is a promise, that creates and sustains faith.

Faith is concerned with what God thinks, not what others think. Faith is looking to God for what God gives. It is not looking for glory from human beings.

And faith is confident about what God thinks, because faith trusts in God’s goodness and mercy and grace, and leaves the praise and honor and glory in His hands, entirely.

Faith trusts that God sees and God knows and rewards those who trust Him, and that is enough. No praise from human beings enters into the motivation for doing the good and what one ought to do in God’s universe for the good of others. And in this faith, one is strengthened for the good in a way that far surpasses all ego puffing.

Did Jesus practice what He preached? Yes. As He went to the cross, and entrusted Himself entirely to the One who could raise Him from the dead, He lived this faith. His death is proof of it, for they would not have put Him to death if He had lived for their praise and recognition. So Jesus is the source and power of this faith, as He redeemed us from the sin of self-glorification in His self denying death. Here there is forgiveness of this sin of self-glorification. And here there is the source and power of the life of faith.

As Jesus has died for us and risen for us, the wonderful Gospel we see ahead of us at the end of our Lenten journey, may He renew and strengthen this faith in us this Lenten season;  and not only in this season, but throughout the year and always.

Amen.



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