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When Jesus Says "Watch Out:" Living For An Audience of One

Most of us want to be good and do good - but when we stop to evaluate why, our motivations might surprise us.

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In the everyday chaos of our lives, we don’t always think about the reasons behind our actions. Most of us want to be good and do good - but when we stop to evaluate why, our motivations might surprise us.

Jesus talked about this exact idea in his famous Sermon on the Mount - in fact, he addresses it as a warning to us, starting his thoughts with “Watch out!” so we know it’s serious to him, and it should be serious to us, too. In Matthew 6:1-4, he warns us about the audience we’re performing for when we choose to do good deeds:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you."

This is one of those moments where Jesus is telling us to pause and check our hearts. Doing good things isn’t cause for concern, and the good deeds we do can still lead to positive outcomes, but if we’re only helping others or being generous for the reward of being noticed by others, Jesus wants us to know that we’re not doing it right. And he goes on to give the same warning when it comes to prayer and fasting, too (Matthew 6:5-14Matthew 6:16-18).

When we’re only doing good to seek the approval of others, we’re missing the point. On some level, we all want to be people pleasers - we desire admiration, appreciation, and at the very least acknowledgment for the good things we do. And while it’s not wrong to want those things, it can get in the way of our contentment and the truth about where our value comes from - which is from Christ alone.

Getting this wrong can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt for us personally, because when we chase the approval of people, we will always be let down. God is the only one who can truly fulfill us, and in reality, his approval is the only one that matters. We can’t live for God - for a true audience of One - and desire to be approved by others at the same time. Becoming obsessed with what others think is the fastest way to forget what God thinks about you.

The most effective way to avoid this desire to live for an audience of many instead of an audience of One is a simple change: make it private. When you feel the nudge to be extraordinarily generous, do it privately, without showcasing your generosity. When you see an opportunity to help out a neighbor, don’t brag to your friends later about the help you’ve given - just be a good neighbor. When you decide to pursue a closer relationship with God by doing an in-depth study, fasting, or setting aside time for intentional prayer, don’t make a big deal about it publicly, just commit yourself to the task. When you do the good things privately, you can be sure that you’re not doing them for the wrong reasons.

For more encouragement on living for an audience of One, check out the message Living For the Approval of God from our Uncensored series, or read through our Audience of One Bible Reading Plan.

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