When I was in high school, a teacher introduced me to a really wonderful book called The Robe. It is a fictional tale about the guard who won the robe of Christ at His crucifixion. The story shares Marcellus’ journey to faith and gives some insight into the first century church. I’ve only read it once, but all these years later – never mind how many- there is one scene that still shouts out to me from time to time.
There is a child in the story who does a job for Marcellus. He wanted to reward the boy, and actually insisted on it. The grandfather, Bartholomew, did not want any acknowledgment given to his grandson. I know this sounds strange. Bartholomew’s reasoning was that any earthly reward was all there would be. He wanted his grandson to have heavenly reward instead of earthly. He valued God’s reward as the greater accolade.
The reason that this scenario has resonated with me all these years later is because it is so counter to our culture. In our world today, we must always be praised for what we do, whether it is successful or not. I’ve even known people to be irate when not praised for their service in a church. Truly. We want our good to be known to others so we can have credit for it.
I am often guilty of desiring to be credited for what I do in taking care of my family. All the hours of homeschooling, changing diapers, making meals… it’s exhausting and some words of “great job” would be nice on a daily basis. Thankless tasks make me not want to do them at all. And that really reveals something about myself.
If praise for myself is my goal, my motive is all wrong.
John the Baptist had a well known ministry in Judea. He had even made the attention of King Herod and his lovely wife, er sister-in-law… er… whatever she was. When he realized that the Messiah was come, his response was not to get jealous or bark his ministry louder. Nope. He simply said,
“He must increase and I must decrease.”
John’s star did shrink. Christ’s star did grow brighter. John would eventually lose his life in a very short while. We don’t like to think that in the life of a Christian our star should not be what shines brightest in our lives. Whose star should it be?
“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” Colossians 1:18b
Living to make someone else stand out. Talk about selfless. And yet, as little Christs, that is exactly the one thing we are all called to do in everything we do. Let Christ shine in us. Put aside our own ambition, our own praise, for Him.
I could quote verses about doing all to the glory of God. But I think many of us already know this in our head. It’s getting those words into our heart that is the real problem.
And in case you think I am stretching it, this is what Jesus said about our works of charity and love in Matthew 6:1-4:
The reward of our Heavenly Father should mean more to us than the praise of those around us. When we bellow our “sacrifices” to the world about us, what real good comes from that? Only our own. Only temporary. Only until we decide to do the next “good thing” so we can get our next praise fix.
True humility and love come when we can do what we are called to do expecting nothing in return. When we can honestly say in our heart that no one owes us for what we do. This can apply to charity, but I think it works with just plain ‘ol life. Doing the dishes. Taking the kids to soccer practice. Mending a shirt. Those tasks that no one seems to notice are noticed. God Himself sees. He also can peer much further than any person to our very attitude as we do those things. Ouch.
I recently heard a pastor say, “I think we will be surprised in Heaven. The people who were paid no mind to, who just were faithful, will be first, and those who had prominence will be last.” How true. And the funny thing is the people who are paid no mind to, but are just faithfully fulfilling their calling, are not doing it for that status. No, those people do it simply out of love for God and man.Jesus told His disciples this:
“If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” ~Mark 9:35b
I taught this verse to my Sunday School children one Sunday, and they started almost fighting over who was last out the door that day. I chuckle thinking about it, but the picture really shows how we ought to be. Preferring one another. Not so consumed with ourselves and building up honors that we can’t stand to be last.
If I am honest, and I think if we all are honest as mothers, wives, teachers, church workers, we want the praise. We want the status and acknowledgment. There is nothing wrong with accepting it when it does come our way. But let’s stop seeking it. Let’s focus on “the prize of the high-calling of God in Christ Jesus” and let Him take care of the rest.