Message: Matthew 6 is a reminder to me that although my character is on display, it is not for show! On one hand this sounds obvious, but it can almost sound contradictory in contrast with this passage from yesterday’s reading in chapter 5 where it says “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” The difference is in the motive and that motive is what defines my actions as genuine or religious. To be genuine is to live for an audience of one- that one being Jesus. When I live only to please Jesus it simplifies everything else, because I am not motivated to perform for anyone. I am walking out my obedience with the understanding that he can see any impurity in my motives. Who I am in secret, and in my thoughts is who I am period. There is no PR strategy to frame my actions, and even if I tried to frame them to fool myself, there is no way I could hide an impure motive from Jesus- even if I did manage to fool myself! The other difference here is that our “good works” as described in Matthew 5 are meant to glorify our Father in Heaven. It’s not about me looking good at all!
Like anything else, there is always an opposite extreme. Something we might categorize as a method of reverse psychology. Verse 16 addresses this opposite extreme by calling out the people who were putting their fasting on display by intentionally making themselves look unattractive and distressed so people would see them in a mess and know that they were fasting without them being guilty of tooting their own horn of spirituality! That’s not obvious at all right?? Jesus called this out too and told them to wash their faces and put oil on their heads and allow their fasting be a private sacrifice between them and God.
As silly as that sounds, we see a similar phenomenon in our own culture because the internet and social media has given us a hyper-awareness of our ability to deceive with a polished image. There is this counter-culture of trying to be more authentic or real by posting selfies with no makeup, or intentional pics of our piles of laundry, or the shocking details of our failed personal relationships or declining mental health, and other self-defaming things we could make public to prove we aren’t being fake. I like to joke by saying “why stop there? Why not show up in public with bed head and without brushing our teeth?!” Besides the same obvious theme as we read in verse 16, the truth is, not everyone is a safe audience for our vulnerable parts, and displaying them publicly doesn’t make us more real or authentic. To the wrong audience it is emotional exploitation at it’s worst! (Not only for themselves, but for their family members who are exploited with them!) Since our emotional vulnerability is what brings intimacy in our closest relationships, sharing those things with a public stage is as inappropriate as it would be to expose our physical nakedness on a public stage. That is not to say that there are not times when sharing our vulnerabilities and shortcomings with a person or small audience of people who share the same struggle can be beneficial. But in a situation like that, the purpose is mutual vulnerability with the intent to encourage and heal- not an effort to fabricate an image of authenticity.
Command: Live genuinely and authentically only to please God, not for the applause or the approval of men.
Promise: When I please God with my obedience and my sacrifice in secret, he rewards me openly. (Better than anything I could orchestrate on my own!)
Warning: If I manipulate or frame things to shine a light on my “good behavior” or sacrifice, the only reward or approval I will receive is the audience I performed for. Additionally, I don’t become more authentic, real or approved by exploiting myself with self-defaming behavior.
Application: Who I am in secret is who I really am. Not just what I do, but what I think- both good and bad. I can’t always control the thoughts from coming in, but my decision to acknowledge them and ask God to make them right is my obedience to him. That is what he is after and reading through the ways that we are so ridiculously and shamelessly guilty of trying to manipulate in either direction to try to portray a fixed image reminds me of how important it is for me to constantly do a heart check and shut out everyone except Jesus. I have even asked myself (while picking up a piece of litter on the ground) if I am doing it because it’s right or because I hope someone sees it. That doesn’t excuse me from the responsibility of doing it if I am found with a motive, but being self-aware of my desire to look good curbs my vanity. There are so many other applications for this. As a singer I have even asked myself (while alone) if I am singing to worship God, or to hear myself sing! I should not stop singing, (or even enjoying the gift God gave me) but use those opportunities to adjust my motive and the object of my worship. Am I doing this favor for someone to look good, or because it is good? (Don’t stop doing the favors if a people-pleasing motive is found! But do it secretly AND adjust the motive!)