The old saying, “you cannot judge a book by its cover” has the ring of truth. Jesus said essentially the same thing, “Do not judge by appearances….” (John 7:24)
One difference between God and people is that God sees the heart; we only see the deeds. “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10 When we judge others, we can’t see what God sees. We enter dangerous territory. We tread into the territory of God. Indeed, we trespass on the province of God.
Even though we cannot see into the hearts and minds of other people, we sometimes act as if we can. We spend much time and energy analyzing and dissecting the specs in other’s eyes, ignoring or missing the logs in our own eyes. We go where angles dare not tread.
At the same time, we spend much time and energy making ourselves look good. We do things for others to see because we want approval and a pat on the back. Jesus judged the Pharisees for doing exactly that. He called them “whitewashed tombs”. They looked good on the outside, but they were dead on the inside. The people who pray eloquently for others to hear or give publically for others to see have received their rewards, Jesus said. The approval, acceptance and praise of other people is the reward, but the ultimate reward from God is lost in the process.
Does that mean that any public prayer or gift is of no consequence? I don’t think so. It all depends on the attitude of the heart and mind. It depends on the things that only God sees. God searches our hearts and examines our minds to judge our deeds. If the heart and mind is right when we pray and when we give, our blessing comes from God.
It seems to me that the same principle must work in reverse: that a person who only prays alone and only gives when others are not looking, but does it out of a heart and mind of pride and self-righteousness, is no better off than the person who prays and gives in public to be recognized by others. Again, what matters is what God sees, not what other people see or do not see. What matters is the heart and mind. Our deeds will be judged and rewarded according to the attitudes of our hearts and minds.
If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we do not always do what we know we should do. We fail to do the right things sometimes even when we want to do the right things (or at least think we want to). We sometimes have a hard time recognizing the truth about ourselves. We condemn ourselves when Jesus says there is no condemnation. We judge others when we are quick to forget our own shortcomings. Frankly, we are not well equipped even to judge ourselves accurately. Who, then, are we to judge other people, let alone their motives?
If we are trusting in ourselves and the good things that we do and have done, we are trusting in the wrong things. Yes, God judges and rewards us according to the things we do, but God searches our hearts and examines our minds in order to reward us according to our conduct. It is not the conduct, itself; it is the heart and mind of the person that counts. We can’t even be certain of our own motivations. Thus, we must pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! … see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)
What a state we are in? But that is precisely where God wants us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) If we could judge ourselves accurately, wouldn’t we also become proud of that fact? The truth is that we are utterly dependent on God even for the most basic of things.
Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) Jesus suggests that we will be judged and measured by the same standard we judge and measure others. If we live our lives by that premise, we will give generously and forgive unconditionally and spend no time judging or condemning others.
If God is in the business of rewarding people according to their deeds, we can trust the judging to God. We are not in the position to judge even ourselves. That will free us up to get about the business of doing what God wants us to do: love God with all your heart and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no higher calling. It does not matter what is on the cover; the contents are all that matter.