We all like to be praised. If I reflect on my motives for doing something especially selfless, I often find myself casting sidelong glances to see if anyone is appreciating my “selflessness”! Jesus said, though, that if we practice righteousness to be seen by men, our reward is already paid in full – we will have the praise of men, but that is all. Sometimes, sadly, this is exactly what we choose to desire. John’s gospel says of those who hesitate to wholly follow Christ, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:43) His condemnation often justly applies to us.
So then, what can we do with our desire to be recognized? Does this word from Christ mean that we should simply be content to not receive praise? Is virtue really its own reward? In a sense, yes, it does. If following Christ means that I must deny myself and take up my cross, and that if I would save my life, I will lose it (Matthew 16:24-25), then yes, I must be prepared to sacrifice my desire to be praised by men.
However, worldly recognition is not the only kind there is. Speaking of enduring through suffering, Paul writes: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17) Our reward, the “eternal weight of glory,” is the praise of the Lord Himself. We will hear from the mouth of our loving Father, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21) We must take our need for praise, and direct it to the Lord, and receive His recognition. His blessing must be enough.
And what a blessing it will be! Hear some of the words of the angel to the persecuted churches in the book of Revelation:
“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God; I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and My own new name. I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” (from Revelation 2 & 3)
Jesus does call us to do righteous deeds. The Pharisees were not condemned for praying, for fasting, and for giving to the poor; they were condemned for doing it for their own glory. Jesus instructs us to pray, fast, and give to the poor, but that these are done unto God, and not unto men:
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! May we hear those words “Well done, good and faithful servant,” as we enter into our eternal reward, the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.