Of the many dangers in the world, there are many that lurk within our own hearts.
Wily and deadly, these “creatures” dwell inside us, dormant perhaps when it is dangerous to reveal their presence deep within us, but subtly involving themselves in our attitudes, speech and actions as they seek to increase their influence into all other areas of our lives.
Pride is one such foe. So are bitterness, discouragement and envy. One particularly ugly but devious fiend is the one called hypocrisy. A bane of real spiritual life and fruitfulness, this cousin of Pride covers our cankered hearts with pretense, and seeks to thwart the cleansing effect of God’s forgiveness and the healing power of His grace.
Hypocrisy can set up within us a stronghold with walls that are mortared with satisfaction over our accomplishments, our deeming them as evidences of our worth. Its roof is an overarching sense of having achieved our own righteousness as if we have somehow placated God with our own “goodness”. Yet far too many “good deeds” that we have done are NOT the “crowns of glory” we had hoped that they were, but are in reality “headdresses of shame” because we do not recognize within ourselves hidden agendas and false motives in our actions.
Hypocrisy is revolting to God because it robs God of His glory (focusing on our righteousness and not God’s) and because it thwarts the progress of others in their pilgrimage to know God. Hypocrisy distorts our perception of God and paints Him with unholy hues that turn off and turn away others who do not yet know Him. Further, it wearies other Believers who genuinely seek after God with the ugly litter of inconsistencies that it dumps on to their paths.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father Who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV).
That the Scriptures encourage and exhort us towards the doing of good deeds, it cannot be denied. But they pointedly remind us that we are doing them for an audience of only One… the One Who has promised to take note and remember our sincere pursuit to please Him as we quietly and humbly serve Him in the serving of others.
So in the good deeds we do, we care not that we get credit for them if we are sincerely doing them for God’s glory. Nor do we run about “tooting our own horns” as we settle for the “rush” of “pats on the back” that others may give us which rapidly fade like smoke.
God forbid that we settle for such infantile spirituality by hungering for the immediate gratification of others’ praise and acclamation. Yes, it is VERY good to give affirmations and praise to others, knowing that such encouragement may help strengthen weary backs for the difficult path of life. But it is NOT good to hinge our own faithfulness to God on whether or not we’re constantly getting recognition. And it is especially contemptible when we set up the idols of self in our lives by magnifying our own “goodness” or accomplishments in order to reap the good feeling it gives us as it undermines the work of God in others’ lives (through criticism and belittlement) or sets their feet on paths that lead them into similar idol making (as they emulate those they may mistakenly believe are more spiritually mature).
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret. And your Father Who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV).
This does not, of course, prevent one from praying in public when such prayer is called for as, when in corporate settings one voice is lifted up to represent and focus the prayers of many. Nonetheless, such public prayer is NOT the benchmark of spirituality, nor does it endear us to our Maker. In a similar way, if one must help another in a forum that makes their deed be seen by all or not help him at all, the choice is clear: the help must be offered. The point isn’t necessarily that we obsessively run from having witnesses, but that we take care to not do them FOR any witness but our God. If we don’t sincerely serve God when others aren’t looking or we’re not praying in our own quiet “prayer closets” when others can’t hear, then we are not really serving or worshiping Him; we are serving ourselves.
The service or act of worship that helps to usher us into a deeper and more fruitful relationship with God is the one that is done whether or not anyone else ever learns of it. Just know that the bottom line for spiritual integrity is this, “If no one else were to ever know that I prayed or gave or did this thing to help another, would I still do it? Is God truly so enthroned in my life that His favor and the hope of His reward in the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’, moves my heart towards faithfulness and obedience (see Matthew 25:21 & 23)?”
“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). Be renewed today with a true desire to know God and to seek His good will above the mundane praises and rewards on which the world thrives.
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.