In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sat down to teach his disciples how to live well. He taught about everyday life. His words were not poetic images of heaven but practical words for everyday life. He chose topics that were relevant to those who heard him that day, and amazingly, after 2,000 years these same topics are still relevant.
For me, part of the grandeur of his teaching is the connection between living well now and rewards awaiting us later. True, there is a sense in which living well is it’s own reward, but Jesus also revealed that the Father pays attention to the everyday business of living. When our actions and attitudes line up with his teaching they can provide rest and peace now, as well as reward later.
“Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 6: 1 Jesus wasn’t shy about discussing rewards for the choices we make or the secret plans of our hearts. He invited us to weigh the difference between the rewards of men and the reward of God. In the passage following Matthew 6:1 Jesus outlined three “acts of righteousness.” In these verses he repeated two phrases each time. The first phrase is chilling; the second is sublime.
Whether in charity, prayer, or fasting, Jesus indicated that recognition and praise is there for the taking. We can become “somebodies” in the religious world. We can engage in our religious duties in such a way as to ensure advancement and respect of others. We can scoop up the rewards and praise of men, but it comes with a price. After each “act of righteousness” Jesus challenged us to consider these seven words: “They have received their reward in full.”
Conversely, we can desire the reward of the Father. Jesus reveals a Father who “sees what is done in secret.” The Father is surprisingly interested in the smallest acts of everyday life. He is not only interested, he also rewards is undercover friends. God is not distant. The Father is present and active in the everyday. He is delighted by our private offerings and rewards his secret servants.
Over the years I have come to find this assessment both accurate and frightening. The Father lavishes his love and care on those who value his approval. To those who strive for the approval of men, we are left with some of the most chilling words Jesus ever spoke: “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”