A few years ago, I attended a birthday celebration for a loved one with family and friends. One of the women at the party was known to have been battling a serious case of breast cancer. At one point during the party, I gathered a couple of trusted people (including the individual we were celebrating), to suggest that we should pray for her devastating diagnosis. We all agreed that it was a good idea. A few moments later, one of the trusted people called everyone’s attention to the idea, saying, “I thought it would be a good idea to pray for her.” That person said it was their idea, prayed for her, and received a crying “thank you” from the woman battling cancer. It was a beautiful moment for everyone except me because I secretly wanted credit. After all, the one who received credit lied. Later, the Holy Spirit confronted me with the convicting question, “Did you want her healed or did you want credit?”
In Luke 9, right after an argument among Jesus’s disciples about who among them is the greatest, John tells Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow with us.” Jesus responded, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” Jesus’s disciples wanted credit. They wanted to be the ones that changed the world. They wanted the crowds to congratulate them for their impressive powers. They wanted to be “the greatest” at casting out demons.
Even though these disciples walked with the historical Jesus day after day, they struggled to curb their desire for praise, recognition, and credit. In fact, they had the exact same “who is the greatest argument” thirteen chapters later. Here is Jesus’s response in Luke 22:25-27:
The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
Here is Jesus, whom they call Lord, saying that He is the one who serves. Previously, the only lords they have heard of were power-hungry dictators who ruthlessly ruled and commanded the poor and unfortunate to serve the selfish desires of the empire. If Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not, everything is now upside-down.
Mistakenly, since the church was institutionalized—especially since the beginning of the internet—our churches function this way, too. To attract more people, more giving, and generate more excitement, churches consistently share photos and videos of the needs they meet, salvations they generate, baptisms that take place, and why they are “the greatest.” Of course, there is a time and place for everything, and the New Testament was not shy in proclaiming the good things the Holy Spirit was doing. But we have to be VERY careful of our intention.
In my earlier story, I had to answer, “Do you want her healed or do you want the credit?” Similarly, our churches need to ask themselves, “Are we trying to make disciples or are we trying to grow our business?” We cannot be selfish and selfless simultaneously. We are either all in on the kingdom or ourselves.
Recently, I saw a TikTok video of two young women pulling up to a Starbucks and giving the barista $1,000 after hearing that he needs to buy a car. The video went viral because the generous gift made a visual impact on the barista. It was touching to me as well, however, I also felt that the act of kindness was cheapened by the credit that was garnered by sharing the video online.
There is a myriad of examples of Jesus speaking to this very thing in His time. Here is another example:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)
It is not hard, then, to surmise what Jesus would say to the two girls, “Whenever you give, do not share it to TikTok, in order to be seen by others. You have received your reward by the credit you have received, but next time, let your giving be done in secret, and the Father will reward you.”
This is a hard teaching to accept, then and now. Thankfully, we have a God who is merciful and patient toward us. In King Jesus’s rule, it’s those who serve—without desire for credit and recognition—who are “poor in Spirit” that will inherit the Kingdom of God.
Image credit: Pamela Reynoso