We close out this chapter of Kempis (1,24) with an all-encompassing message: all we do must be done for the love of God. If we sincerely try to do this and have sorrow, repent, and do penance when we do fall short, fear of judgment will not be in us.
Jesus’ long message to the Jewish religious leaders, after His healing on the sabbath of the man at the Bethesda pool, takes up the remainder of the chapter, with a long excerpt proclaimed today (Jn 5:31-47). This comes immediately after Scripture tells us that “the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God” (v. 18). Jesus’ words are strong and pointed as He hopes to shake these men out of their biases, misconceptions, egocentrism, and envy. In the quote at top, the Messiah calls them out for what is truly important to them: praise from men rather than the approval of God.
The Jews are guilty of what Kempis highlights: vanity. They lost perspective (if they ever even had it) regarding who they were supposed to be serving primarily. For these men it was themselves first and everyone else (including Yahweh) somewhere down the line, if at all in their thinking. Over and over Jesus attempts to instill the fear of judgment in them (see for example Mt 21:28-32), but few seem to interiorize these warnings; rather they harden their hearts against Jesus all the more.
So, in the service of God, we are not to seek the approval of anyone but our Lord. From those persons who understand this, we will get affirmation (praise God), but we shouldn’t count on receiving comfort in this world. From the rest of secular society and its worldliness we don’t expect accolades and often get condemnation. Let us always seek the praise of God and let the chips fall where they may.