Pay Day

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 NASB

No reward – The biblical idea of reward went through some development from Moses to Yeshua. Some of its development incorporated ideas from sources outside the Bible. But we should not make the mistake of concluding that the Western ideas of reward and punishment are the same as the biblical ideas. The difference is important, especially since our world is typically Greek in its thinking about reward.

The Greek word used in this passage is misthos. In Greek culture, this word implied almost all forms of payment or recompense for effort. But Greek philosophers rejected the idea that we should be motivated by rewards. Instead, they taught that the ultimate end of human effort is the experience of happiness for its own sake. Therefore, virtuous people are not motivated by reward for their efforts but rather by the law that harmony, the essence of happiness, is the only true good. Today we still incorporate to this thought when we complain that someone did something good only for the reward. Like the Greeks, we often think goodness itself should be the real motivator. Of course, our Greek cultural heritage is also laced with other ideas about reward, so we often find ourselves conflicted about what really matters.

The Hebrew idea is different. The Bible offers reward and punishment as clear motivators of human actions. God rewards the righteous, not just with some eternal blessing in a world to come, but here and now in this present reality. He also punishes here and now. There is, of course, a longer view than simply today and tomorrow, but the Bible does not dismiss the idea that we obey in order to be rewarded. Self-interest is not depreciated. By the time Yeshua taught, rabbinic Judaism expanded this idea to include the reward of the ‘olam ha’ba. It also viewed death as both punishment and atonement. But it never lost the sense that reward and punishment act as strong motivators in human affairs. The Bible simply does not have a Platonic view of goodness for goodness sake.

This helps us understand the apparent severity of Yeshua’s comment. Yeshua decries hypocrisy. He defines it as practicing what appears to be righteousness only for the sake of reward. His explanation makes it clear that there is a kind of reward that accompanies such acts. It is the reward of human recognition. But in Yeshua’s view, this amounts to nothing! It is misthos ouk echete (“reward not you will have”). The pay day of human acknowledgement doesn’t really count, no matter how noble the act appears. Yeshua asks for heart, not simply hand. That, by the way doesn’t mean a “spiritual” commitment is enough. Spiritual commitments do not feed the poor. But in a world where we often measure godly actions according to what we observe, Yeshua directs us to examine the action and the motivation.


We’ve heard all of this before. It isn’t hearing it again that makes the difference. The only difference is whether or not we will really examine why we do what we do. First, we don’t need to fret over the idea that rewards aren’t spiritual. Put aside that Greek notion. It’s perfectly proper to be motivated by rewards or punishments. But secondly, once we acknowledge that rewards do matter, the issue is one of true motivation. What reward are we really seeking? Where do we look for affirmation that we have done what we were asked to do? If we are motivated by self-interest, does that self-interest align with the Father’s will or are we seeking recognition from another source? This is not a simple matter to determine. The yetzer ha’ra is quite clever, capable of tinting even our purest motives with a hint of self-satisfaction. That’s where the instruction and guidance of our Rabbi Yeshua become essential. He pushes us to take the deepest look. And he does so by revealing a truly frightening possibility—that God will not acknowledge what we would use for self-glory.

Think about the last act of rightouesness you preformed. Think about your motivation. Was there any desire for recognition except from God? If you find something amiss, maybe that act will be a zero on the record and you will have to start over.

Topical Index: hypocrisy, recognition, reward, motivation, Matthew 6:1, misthos


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laurita hayes

I attempted righteousness in my own strength and defined by my own understanding. I felt very alone the entire time (not that I was). I was also very tired, and my batteries only got recharged by higher and ever higher levels of desperation. I was performing for love, and I used adrenaline to drive myself toward the goal of being loved. Noble goal, right? I almost died with a heart attack and chronic fatigue. What was wrong with my goal? What was wrong with pushing myself toward it with everything I did and didn’t have? I was trying to avoid sin with everything I possessed! I wanted to ‘do right’ ( and I thought I knew what that right was) with my whole heart. I was trying to love with everything I had, little as it may have been. And I was failing in every way. What was missing?

I had a broken heart, and because I did, I lacked faith and trust and a true connection with heaven. I looked around and saw that I was all alone, so I thought I was being tested. I thought I didn’t deserve to be loved until I got it perfect, somehow, or at least had paid for not getting it perfect, somehow. What else could I conclude? I was alone!

Before I can do the acts of righteousness, I have to accept my Father’s love, just as I am. A broken heart will not let you give or receive love without fear. In that place, if you do not trust God, yourself and others, you will have fear, guilt or shame, and that fear, guilt or shame is what you will use to motivate you. There is the adrenaline rush of perceived rejection from heaven, self or others which drives a person to attempt to earn the recognition of heaven, self and others. Guilt is a great motivator, but it is like sugar in the tank: it ruins the engine. Shame, likewise, can produce what may be the single biggest motivator on this planet, at least according to heaven, and that motivation is pride. Pride is the fig leaf we manufacture to cover the deepest sense of our unworthiness. Fear, likewise, turns on the afterburners of the flesh, which is that adrenaline. How many times did I perform acts of righteousness out of fear? Always. Trust was just a dream. In my shame, the knowledge of my worthiness was completely nonexistent, and the guilt of my sins was ever before me.

Why did I have that fear, guilt and shame? Because I was not trusting my Father in that place to accept, forgive and love me in those places. I was hanging on to the sin of that lack of trust because I still had that broken heart. I was like a helpless lamb on a ledge, needing the Hound of Heaven to pursue me all the way to the bottom of my inability to turn myself around. (I found the poem The Hound Of Heaven by Francis Thompson yesterday, y’all, and it is my new favorite poem!) I plumbed the depths of the adrenaline rush of the misery of my unworthiness, and what did I find at the very bottom? Pride. I had to see it to believe it! All that shame was being held in place by pride! I was furious! All that suffering! Pride was motivating it all. Time to repent.

A broken heart is a shamed heart, because you no longer can feel worthy of love. Pride shows up in that place and gives you the strength to cover the shame. Guilt shows up in that place and gives you the strength to try harder. Fear shows up in that place and, voila! introduces both acute and chronic stress, which is a body response to the sense of not feeling safe. These realities exist in our lives in all the places where we have lost, or never had, trust. Here, where we lost our joy, which is the strength heaven has to give us, we turned to unholy motivations and seek out many “strange inventions”. We make up stuff that does not exist in God’s creation, because we are running from the Hound like a kid lost in the wilderness.

Amber P

I was studying a similar thought process the other day. The goal in life is to be successful, so as to earn a reward. The difference between our cultural definition of what success is and the Hebraic definition of that word, are very different. Our definition for success is “a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity”. From what I could find, the Hebraic definition was “sound wisdom working”. Succes born of selfish ambition seems hollow and it doesn’t last. Once you’ve achieved your goal, then what? Whereas, sound wisdom working implies that it is a way of being continually. Is this what it means to be righteous?

Pam Custer

“Righteousness in Hebraic thought seems to be a tenacious grip on trust in YHVH. The actions that result from this are in alignment with Torah.”

I’m learning to trust that His Torah is the way of life and that in guarding it I will live it enduring tremendous opposition from all sides. I’m hated by the Church, I’m hated by the Jews, and I’m hated by the world.

But who will ever see the beauty of it if no one stands as a standard in it? There is a reward for being the standard. But one must be willing to deny their flesh and stand with endurance for the sake of delayed gratification.

I believe that this is what John means when he says that those who overcome the beast are those who keep the commandments of God, AND the testimony of Yeshua.

My comment below explains how I’m learning to manifest that.

Craig Borden

To check my motivationn, I was told to daily seek to do something good for someone who cannot repay me and tell no one. And I’m not very good at it!!!!!

Pam Custer

I’ve been experiencing some serious life lessons in overcoming evil with good, blessing my enemies, and rewarding good with good. Here are a few things that I’m learning with great difficulty.

A brother offended is more difficult to win than a walled city. Therefore when your brother (or sister) does good to you reward and honor them with your gratitude. When they accomplish a task that you hired them to do, reward them with their wages. When they enrich your life in any way, let them know that they brought you a gift even (or maybe especially) when they don’t realize what they did for you. Take care of their needs when ever it is possible for you to do so expecting a blessing from YHVH in return.

When someone offends you seek peace with them. The dynamic that caused the offence is most likely a result of not having rewarded, appreciated, or honored them in the first place. Meet with them and work out your differences in the fear of YHVH. Speak truth in love that leaves their respect, honor and dignity intact.

And lastly what I’m learning is that the covenant that I have been brought into is one of blessing my enemies. I bless them so that they might bless me and be blessed as a reward. To do this in hope of gaining my enemy so that they may be grafted into the tree of life and become my brother. And once they are my brother the desire is to retain them in the Shalom of the covenant so that they may not be broken off.

And today while I was reading this to my husband I had to stop and write this thought down which is;
when we bear the Name YHVH and Yeshua but then reward good with evil by even a thoughtless act of ingratitude or disrespect of any kind, then we rob a person of that which they should rightfully expect. So who is our father when we do that?

And that is why rewarding good with evil is such a heinous crime when we claim to come in His name. In doing it we bring slander to and profane the name of our Messiah and our Father who promises reward for good.

Our Father in heaven as well as our father Abraham would never do that. We profane the Name of our Father by misrepresenting the behavior and commandments of our Messiah Yeshua who came in the name YHVH.

What a weighty calling. Who is sufficient?

Yochanan Schnabl

Shabbat Shalom Skip! 🙂 Thank you so much for realizing the difference here about blessings. I had this so wrong. You are so amazing to teach such things. I’ve not learned this at my shul. I go on Shabbat and learn with my Rabbi Parsha on Thursdays and still so much of what you teach I don’t know yet. Thank you for your daily giving of yourself to help save us from us to be more understanding in G-d’s mind. You were the best professor I sat under and I love you and appreciate you much always.This really helped…Thanks!!!!