KEEP IT A SECRET
How to let your light shine by keeping your goodness a secret. (Matt. 6:1-18)
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (NIV)
Living freely and lightly in the easy yoke of Jesus is going to go directly against the grain of what feels natural and seems normal in any culture. The culture of heaven works differently. It is especially hard in religious circles where doing good and looking good sometimes overlap but often get confused.
Jesus said, “let your light shine before people that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16). Then later in the same sermon he says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before people to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Which is it Jesus?
On the one hand, we are called to shine in a way that reflects God’s goodness. Each of us bears the image of a beautiful God. Our Glory is his glory! I love when my kids shine in all their glory doing what they are great at – sports, music, school, work, whatever! It makes me happy. God loves it when you shine. Don’t stop!
The danger of people pleasing
But it is easy for shining to turn into a show. When you shine because you are being who God made you to be and doing good work from the heart, it is beautiful and it glorifies God! When you are doing good things in front of others to make yourself look good, not only doesn’t it glorify God, it looks pretty ugly.
Practicing spiritual disciplines like giving, prayer and fasting can all be ways of drawing attention to yourself. If you want people to say, “that was a great prayer!” then that’s all the effect that prayer will have. If you want to them to say, “You sure are generous!”, you are forfeiting the reaping that would normally come with sowing. If you are hoping people find out about your fast so they think you are really “spiritual”, you are missing the point entirely. Jesus says it’s better to keep it a secret.
What about social media?
Can you post that you gave to someone’s cause? Should we avoid public prayers like the national day of prayer? Can we share insights gained in our quiet time with God? Is it ok to announce what we are giving up for lent on Facebook? As a pastor, living a publicly Christian life of trying to lead others into relationship with God and each other, I have done all of these things. I don’t think they are automatically wrong, but they are very dangerous.
The danger is that our lives become a reality show. We become actors playing a part instead of servants living for an audience of one. Devotion to God practiced for the approval of others is the very definition of hypocrisy. Hypocrites in Jesus’ day were literally actors who wore a mask. The antidote to hypocrisy is secrecy. Come Sunday to learn how to cultivate goodness in secret.