“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. . . . They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” (Matthew 23:5–7)
The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval. If we are getting our pleasure from feeling self-sufficient, we will not be satisfied without others seeing and applauding our self-sufficiency.
Hence Jesus’s description of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”
This is ironic. Wouldn’t you think that self-sufficiency should free the proud person from the need to be made much of by others? That’s what “sufficient” means. But evidently there is an emptiness in this so-called self-sufficiency.
The self was never designed to satisfy itself or rely upon itself. It never can be self-sufficient. We are not God. We are in the image of God. And what makes us “like” God is not our self-sufficiency. We are shadows and echoes. So, there will always be an emptiness in the soul that struggles to be satisfied with the resources of self.
This empty craving for the praise of others signals the failure of pride and the absence of faith in God’s ongoing grace. Jesus saw the terrible effect of this itch for human glory. He named it in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The answer is, you can’t. Itching for glory from other people makes faith impossible. Why?
Because faith looks away from self to God. Faith is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. And if you are bent on getting the satisfaction of your itch from the scratch of others’ praise, you will turn away from Jesus. That is not what he is like. He lives for the glory of his Father. And calls us to do the same.
But if you would turn from self as the source of satisfaction (repentance), and come to Jesus for the enjoyment of all that God is for us in him (faith), then the itch of emptiness would be replaced by a fullness — what Jesus calls “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).