A preacher friend of mine once told about a visit he made to a manís home in La Jolla, California. First, you must understand that La Jolla is known for expensive homes and rich residents. It is to San Diego roughly what Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles. As the preacher came up to the house he noticed a luxury car in the driveway. As he approached the door he could see, through a large picture window, a living room full of expensive furniture. This appeared to be the quintessential La Jolla home. Once he got inside, however, he realized that it was al for show. The owner of the house lived on a pallet in the bedroom. The closet may have been filled with expensive suits, but the other furniture in that room was a box for a table. The man had to look like a millionaire, but could barely make the payments on the house and the car. He didnít need a health club membership; he stayed thin through near starvation. The man was, by strict definition, a hypocrite, an actor.
What could make a man live like this? What compelled him to put up such a front, when he could have afforded to live comfortably? I donít know. I can guess, though, that he regarded more of what people thought of him than anything else. He wanted to be seen by men, no matter what the personal cost.
Jesus talked about people like that. There were some in his day that considered what men saw more important than what God saw.
But all their [the scribes and Pharisees] works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. (Matt 23:5-7)
Actually, this attitude is not all that uncommon. The degree may differ from person to person, but most of us care what others think of us. If we didnít, the world would be full of unkempt, uncouth, uncaring people. Some terms used for those that donít care what others think of them are antisocial, autistic, and psychopathic, depending on cause and degree. We need to worry about how we appear to others. It is what keeps most of us from stealing, and a host of other sins.
What Jesus objected to, though, was not the normal concern for our appearance. What he condemned was excess. You see, what matters most is what God thinks of us. When we put other people in Godís place, God doesnít like it. He told the Israelites not to put anyone in His place, because he was a jealous God. (Ex 20:4-5) He wants the best for us, and the regard of men is less than the best.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matt 6:1-2)
The real difference is the reward. That man in La Jolla had his reward. He had the admiration of men, and could hope for no more. After all, he strove for no more. What man can give doesnít last. Celebrity is short-lived. On the other hand, when we put God where he belongs, and seek his approval, the rewards are permanent and eternal. Why should we seek the lesser reward? Why look only to the short future? God has so much more for us.