Who Will Win the Oscar?
Dr. Jim Denison
Last Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for this year’s Academy Awards. The winners will each receive something called an “Oscar,” though no one knows why. One possible answer is that early on, the Academy librarian said the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar.
An Oscar weighs 8.5 pounds and stands 13.5 inches tall. It depicts a knight holding a crusader’s sword, standing on a reel of film. It takes twelve people twenty hours to make one of the 50 statuettes produced each year. The Oscars are then shipped in unmarked cardboard boxes for security reasons, though they were stolen three years ago and found nine days later next to a dumpster.
Last year, 41 million people watched to see who would win an Oscar. On March 23, we’ll watch again. And then forget what we saw. Who won last year? The year before? Who really cares?
However, another performance is being watched every day by an audience of One. You’re on his stage right now. And his judgment will last forever.
This morning we’ll learn that God cares more about our hearts than our hands, our motives more than our methods. His is the only reward which can give us joy, peace, and significance, long after the world’s awards have faded. So, how do we receive his reward, in this life and for all eternity? How do we please our audience of One?
Who is our audience?
Jesus begins: “Be careful.” The words in the original are much stronger; they mean to be on your guard now, to take heed immediately. Jesus sets up a sign along the highway: Don’t go here! Bridge out—falling rock—dead end. Turn back now! When the all-knowing, all-seeing God of the universe warns us not to travel down a road, we want to “be careful.”
Of what? “Not to do your acts of righteousness….”
Jesus refers to the religious activities he’ll address shortly: giving, praying, fasting. But he also means the issues he has just addressed: giving to those who ask, loving our enemy.
He assumes that we’ll do these “acts of righteousness.” The issue is not the action, but the motive. Not the “what” but the “why.”
So here are the key words: “before men, to be seen by them.”
The syntax means, “for the purpose of being seen by men.”
Now the Oscar comes into view: “to be seen by” translates the word theathenai, from which we get “theatrical.” The phrase means “to be theatrical before men” and is best translated, “do not do your acts of righteousness as an actor on a stage, seeking the applause of men as your audience.”
His concern is not with our methods, but our motives. He wants us to work hard and well, so that our world will praise the God whom we serve. Not for our glory, but for his. Not for our applause, but for his alone. Why does he warn us so strongly about this “desire for glory”?
Such pride can corrupt us morally, as we compromise for applause. The Chinese have a proverb, “He who sacrifices his conscience to ambition burns a picture to obtain the ashes.” How many in public life have done this in recent years?
Ego steals our peace and joy. As the story goes, a monk in a wilderness cave was so famous for his holiness that even demons tempting him with great wealth and sensuous pleasure failed. He just sat serenely. So the devil barked, “Step aside, and I will show you what has never failed.” He leaned over to the monk and whispered, “Have you heard the news? Your classmate Makarios has just been named bishop of Alexandria.” And the monk scowled.
Pride causes us to hurt others for our sake. T. S. Eliot was right: “Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people who want to be important.”
Pride hurts us with God, not just with people.
God’s word is clear: “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8); “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17); “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Pride keeps God from using us fully. Martin Luther: “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.”
Kenneth Blanchard, co-author of the business classic The One-Minute Manager, says, “I define ego as Edging God Out.”
And Jesus taught us that when we live for the applause of the world more than for God’s glory, “you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (6.1b). His reward is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). His is the reward for which we were made. It alone satisfies the hunger in our souls, the longing for significance and meaning in our hearts. The world’s applause will die as quickly in our lives as at the Oscars. But the reward Jesus gives to those who live for his glory, to please him, is for now and forever.
My favorite story about humility comes from the time Muhammad Ali was about to take off on an airplane. He was in his prime, on top of the world. The flight attendant reminded him to fasten his seat belt, and he said brashly, “Superman don’t need no seat belt.” She came back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, either.” He fasted his belt.
That was then; this is now. The former heavyweight champion of the world was interviewed not long ago. The reporter met him in the barn on his property. His awards, trophies, posters were lying against the barn walls, bird droppings running down them. He could barely speak, and his hands quivered constantly. He gestured to the awards around him and whispered, “Look at all that. It don’t mean nothin’ now.”