Speaking of honor and fame, Jesus warned his followers not to confuse the finger with the moon, so to speak. He said,
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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 in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mt 6:1-4)
Acts of righteousness beget rewards from the Father in heaven. The honor of men is a poor substitute for that.
Following is an illustration of why honor and fame cannot be what brings ultimate happiness.
Imagine there was a man named Joe. Joe was extremely lazy and always made bad grades in high school, but he was mistakenly accepted into Wake Forest as a freshman undergrad. Joe’s dorm mates and professors quickly found out that Joe really didn’t belong at Wake because he slept all the time and never studied.
However, they got together when Joe wasn’t around and decided to pretend that Joe was really a brilliant pre-law student. In every class, Joe would ask really dumb questions but the professors would say, “What a great question, Joe! I had never thought of that before.” His dorm mates would drop by his room and tell him that he was the most gifted student they had ever seen at Wake. He was given “A’s” in every single class. When he graduated, the school arranged for him to graduate with high honors.
It didn’t stop there, because Joe still wanted to be a lawyer and his professors encouraged him to apply to the most prestigious law schools around the country. The law schools Joe applied to were secretly asked to play along and so Harvard eventually accepted him. Once he was in Harvard, he was given the opportunity to clerk for a supreme court justice, to study under the most brilliant law professors, and he continued to receive nothing but “A’s” on every assignment, even though he never learned anything and continued in his lazy ways. Eventually Joe received his law degree and again graduated with honors.
When he applied to find a job, his professors secretly convinced potential employers to go along with the charade, and he received numerous job offers to law firms around the country. Joe accepted a position at one of the law firms and was quickly promoted to be a senior partner.
What do you think of Joe’s life? Do you want to be like him?
Joe received abundant honor and fame in school and in his profession even though he hadn’t earned any of it. Joe didn’t know the first thing about law. He was completely clueless and deserved to flunk out of Wake Forest his first semester. It was all a sham. Do you think Joe led a meaningful life?
I think the answer is obvious. Joe’s life wasn’t meaningful at all. It was a waste. All of the honor and fame he received didn’t amount to anything because Joe didn’t deserve any of it. Joe’s whole existence consisted of confusing the finger for the moon. Happiness does not consist in honor and fame.