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Main message - don't seek man's glory, but God's kingdom.

Matthew 6 also has a lot to say about "esteem" without ever using that word.

Matthew begins this chapter with three great cardinal works of the Jewish religious life - Giving, Praying, Fasting. To be a good Jew one must give liberally to the poor, pray to God regularly and fast - deny the body of physical sustenance in order to concentrate on spiritual sustenance. These were the three good works of righteousness. Jesus does not condemn these works. He had just told them to be the salt of the earth and "let your light shine that they may see your works." But they failed in the last phrase "that they may see your good works AND GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN." Jesus made it very clear that they were performing these works for the sole intention of bringing glory to the doer. They gave to satisfy their ego. They prayed to be identified as people who prayed fervently. They fasted to make others think, "That is a true, holy one of God." Jesus condemns their motive here of doing righteousness to be seen of men.

Their motive was pride, to exalt their worth before others - so that others would ESTEEM them greatly. They needed the esteem and approval of others to feel good about themselves. Pride, ego, esteem, self image - that's just where this Sermon on the Mount began - "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." But they couldn't empty their own high spirit to allow room for God's Spirit. These people were relying on their own works for a FALSE BLESSEDNESS. Jesus points out they have all the reward they are going to receive.

So how do you give, pray and fast? How do you know you're doing it for the right reason? Solely because you love God and can't give or do enough for Him?

Ironic that I get this section of lectures on the Sermon on the Mount. First - excited. Then frustrated because there is so much wisdom in each chapter and because I can't figure out how to do these lectures without making them sound like a sermon. Then I remembered this IS a sermon.

When I realized Jesus is saying here, "check your attitude and motives," it really became difficult. I enjoy making myself do these lectures. I have to study and search a whole lot. I do a lot of reading to prepare for these lectures. I find something good and highlight it thinking, "Oh, this is great stuff - this will really get the point across and make an impression on these ladies - this will really impress..." and then I have to stop and ask, "Impress them with God's word, or with me?" Then I have to talk to God and say, "Help me figure out what You want said," not "What did I learn that will impress the ladies?" Your words of encouragement and pats on the back give me the courage to get up here again, but I have to really watch that that is not part of my motive.

How do you know your motive is pure? (I seem to struggle with Satan over this quite often.) For instance, at Christmas time there are lots of opportunities to give Christmas gifts to the needy. Orphans, Laotians, abused children who need deeds of kindness. We give to them because we love God, to show God's love to others who are in need. Do we also give to ease our conscience so we can enjoy our big Christmases more? I'm not asking you this to bug your conscience so that this Christmas you won't give to these people because you might be doing it partly out of a wrong motive. But BE AWARE THAT SATAN SLIPS IN SOMETIMES WHEN WE ARE DOING THE DEEDS THAT GOD WANTS US TO DO. Like these Pharisees were doing - doing the right thing, but for the wrong motive. They wanted to be highly esteemed by others.

Ego is a peculiar part of us humans. Our self-esteem can either work for us or against us. To be effective as Christians we need a good self-esteem. Self-esteem/image influences every part of your life. It affects the way you respond to people, opportunities, situations, and even God. It can affect the amount of conflict you have with others and with yourself. It can void every success in your life and magnify every failure or give you the confidence to try something more challenging. We need a good self-image to be effective Christians.

Dallas - Psychiatrist said, "People try to build good self-esteem in one of three ways. ..."

  1. HAVING - most damaging way. T-shirts say "He who dies with the most toys wins." That's this philosophy. This is people who say-- "I will be happy after I get that big house." "I'll relax after I get that promotion to that position I want." "I won't be anyone 'till I drive a red Ferrari and have nothing but Waverly wallpaper hanging everywhere in my house." Adolescents have to have THIS particular brand of clothing and shoes to feel good about themselves. There's nothing wrong with having comfortable things or a nice position, but what happens when these goods are obtained? They aren't enough - something else more elaborate comes along or a more prestigious position starts calling. This is an insatiable empty, hungering that will never be filled. Because no matter what you have, someone else will have better or newer things - and there goes the ol' ego. Or what happens when these things are taken away? These people find they have no good image of themselves - only the things they had.

    This is what Jesus addressed in verses 19-21. Telling us not to lay up treasures on earth. He knows there is no real peace in having treasures or positions. They leave an emptiness. Jesus knows that emptiness needs to be filled by hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

  2. DOING. - Some try to build a good self-image by doing. "I can do this. I get great satisfaction from my job. I volunteer here. I'm the best MOM these kids could ever have."

    There is nothing wrong in doing. We need to do good things. We are commanded to do good works. But what happens to our ego, self-esteem when we can no longer perform those tasks? If we find ourselves suddenly handicapped, or mandatory retirement comes along, kids grow up and leave home? Then what is our image of ourselves based on? Our past? That won't work. The Pharisees in giving, praying and fasting were trying this method of building up their own self-image and their public image. This is a prideful situation that is far from the "poor in spirit" that will be in the kingdom of heaven. Building a good self-image on what we do will eventually let us down into a deep depression.

    If we can't build a good self-image on what we have or what we do, then what CAN we build a good self-image on? The psychiatrist's answer was:

  3. BEING. - Base your self-image on being a member of the human race. No one can out-do you on that or take that away from you. Sounded strange coming from this psychiatrist who seemed to have few morals at all. But when we look at the last part of Matthew 6:25ff, isn't that what Jesus is saying? His main message is "seek God's kingdom," but He is also telling them of their value.

We've talked about how we esteem others, how we can esteem ourselves. Now let's see how God esteems us.

Jesus has told them to stop doing works to build up their egos. He's told them treasures will let them down. Now He is telling them, "You are valuable because you are you." Like Mr. Rogers says, "I like you just the way you are."

Jesus tells us we are of more value than the birds that God created and cares for. And let's consider those lilies in the field. Flowers have a relatively short life on this planet. While they are in bloom, God clothes them with more beauty and pomp than a king. Yet, when they start to fade - of what good are they? The women of Palestine would cut these faded flowers and throw them into their ovens to heat up their ovens quickly. They had such a short life - yet God clothed them so magnificently with a beauty beyond man's power to imitate. YET GOD LOVES US MORE. Jesus didn't come to give His life to feed the birds or clothe the flowers. He came for us, and that makes us of the greatest value.

That's where we can put our self-esteem. BEING - GOD'S. Of all His creations, we are the creation that He will take to live with Him in Heaven. When we accepted His Son's sacrifice for our sins, let His Son's blood wash away our sins by putting on Christ in baptism, then Christ can present us as pure and perfect before God. If it is truly His kingdom we are seeking, deeds and treasures will let us down. But the best place of all where we can place our self-image is in God's hands.

Jeannie Cole

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Fall 1990

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