2 Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will 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….
5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward….
16 Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
(3 Nephi 13:2, 5, 16, Matthew 6:2, 5, 16)
If we do something good, does it matter why we did it? In the passage above, the Savior indicates that our motives affect the blessings we receive from our good works. Why is that?
The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word ὑποκριτής (hupokrités), which refers to a stage actor. (See “The Origin of ‘Hypocrite’,” on merriam-webster.com, .) There’s obviously a difference between an actor playing the role of a banker and an actual banker or an actor playing a doctor and an actual doctor. You wouldn’t assume that, just because a person was able to “look the part,” that they actually have the skills to do the job.
Similarly, if our goal is to look good rather than to be good, we are likely to miss critical elements of our activities. For example:
- If our purpose in serving the needy is to impress other people, we are likely to emphasize the visible aspects of that service. Consequently, we may entirely fail to meet the actual needs of the people we are serving.
- If our goal in praying is to look like a spiritual person, we may fail to verbalize our true thoughts and feelings, and may therefore be unable to receive from God the answers we really need.
- If our objective in fasting is to show other people how much willpower or self-discipline we have, we may miss the fact that fasting involves trading physical nourishment for spiritual nourishment. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthin taught, “If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father” (“Law of the Fast,” General Conference, April 2001).
As the Savior teaches us in the passage above, the pursuit of praise may prevent us from enjoying the intrinsic blessings of our good decisions. Perhaps this is because those good decisions weren’t really what they seemed to be. They were a facade, a mask with no substance behind them. Our only goal was recognition, so we only did enough work to earn the recognition. It’s not surprising, then, that recognition is our only reward.
Today, I will strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, not just to look like a disciple of Jesus Christ. I will remember that the work required to impress others falls far short of the work required for true discipleship. I will strive to perform my duties authentically, remembering that the objective and the ultimate reward for fulfilling those duties is far greater than any recognition I might receive from other people.