Vol. 11 No. 3 March 2009
The Bible has often been accused of being contradictory, as sometimes people see passages that seem to be in conflict with one another. This may often come from not understanding the context of these verses, or people who have an agenda in trying to deny the inspiration of the Bible. Two such passages can be found in Romans 13:7 (“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed”) and Matthew 6:1 (“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven”).
Of course, these passages are not in conflict with each other. The differences have to do with who is seeking honor, and the motives from which it comes. I remember a person telling me one time, “If you don’t toot your own horn, then who will there be to toot it for you?” This comes from the heart of someone seeking his own glory, the praise of others and manipulating circumstances so that it comes one’s way. If one serves in the kingdom of God, but is seeking the accolades of others in doing so, Jesus indicates that is all the reward one will receive. In the context of Matthew 6, He says those who give, or pray or fast, in such a way that they will surely be noticed by others as they do these things, “they have received their reward” (6:2, 5, 16). The Greek word here means they have received payment in full. To do anything in service to God for the recognition that others may offer is to get all out of it there is to get. You forfeit God’s eternal reward when you seek temporal acknowledgment for spiritual service.
This is different, however, from those who go about serving God for the sole purpose of pleasing Him. Jesus went on to say, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). Of course, many times one’s service must, of necessity, be done where others can take note. Yet, the motive of whoever serves should always be to please the Father, to offer it to Him as part of our being “living sacrifices” to Him (Romans 12:2), in having the deepest appreciation for the love of God exemplified for us in Christ (Hebrews 12:28-29).
To have words of kindness expressed for what one does by others is, of course, encouraging. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Paul reminds us in the passage in Romans that it is appropriate to do so. However, even if no one says anything about what one offers in service to God, God knows! Having praise and honor expressed by Him on the Day of Judgment will mean far more then, than any human praise one can receive here and now. The talents and abilities we use in service to God are given by Him. The opportunities we have to serve are provided by Him. The strength, wisdom and knowledge to take advantage of them are from Him. We are richly blessed beyond measure by God when we are willing to serve. God be praised for how He has made us, and all He offers us when we yield our lives in humble submission to His good will! We should “…approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:10-11).
There is no conflict between these two passages, or any other passages in Scripture. The conflict comes, as is so often the case, from the motives of the hearts of people. For everyone who does anything sincerely for the cause of Christ, we should be grateful, and as opportunities arise, express it sincerely. However, to do those things that will promote oneself and seek the praise of others should cause one to give serious consideration about the kind of praise one seeks, temporal or eternal. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).