Show And Tell

This post could also have been called "the way we want others to see us" or "how we love to be seen in a good light" or something along these lines; but I thought "Show and Tell" was shorter and sweeter... It is about what we SHOW others and what we TELL others about ourselves through what we do. I was reading Matthew 6 recently and it became clear to me that it was all about that beautiful image of ourselves we like to project to other people.

We, human beings - Christians or not - like to be seen in a good light and this deep desire within us is usually what motivates us to do the things we do. No one likes to be ignored or even despised by others, especially when we do something good. Selflessness - giving with no ulterior motive - doesn't come naturally to the human heart. All the good things we do are usually motivated by the need to be seen and admired by others and making ourselves look good.

I know people may be upset to hear (or rather read) that there is nothing good in ourselves, but this is the truth that the Bible reiterates time and time again. So unless you are THE exception that God was not aware of when He gave us the Scriptures, then let us accept like Paul in Romans 7:18 , that we cannot accomplish anything good of ourselves, without the Lord.

And let us thank God for the guidance and the warning He gives us in Matthew 6 about watching out the motivation behind our good deeds.

Be sure that you not do your charitable deeds before men to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Therefore, when you do your charitable deeds, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do your charitable deeds, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deeds may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
When you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, enter your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what things you have need of before you ask Him. [...]
Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces so they may appear to men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you will not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
(Matthew 6:1-8; 16-18)

So, in a nutshell:

  • When you give (food, clothing, money or anything else), do not show and do not tell anyone,
  • When you pray, do not show and do not tell anyone,
  • When you fast, do not show and do not tell anyone,

If you do show or if you do tell, you behave like a hypocrite!

Service from the Heart

Well, our motivation seems to make all the difference to Jesus! It looks like God cares much more about HOW we do things than the greatness or even the quality of what we actually do... It is about having the right motivation. He wants our good deeds - our giving, our praying, our fasting, etc.. - to be secret rather than public, so that no one can see us. And so that no one can admire us or applaud us for it!

I know, it feels so good when people see us as good persons, when they see how nice, how godly and spiritual we are! But because the Lord knows what is in our heart, He tells us to beware and keep our good deeds secret so only He would know. Our charitable giving - which represents our practical service - and our prayer and fasting - which represent our spiritual service to God - have to be kept secret.

If we serve to be seen and admired by others, our reward is immediate and earthly - we get the praise of men (or women). On the other hand, if we serve in secret, when God alone sees us, our reward may be delayed but it is heavenly - we receive God's blessing.

When we do good deeds to be seen by other people (maybe unconsciously), to impress people, to show ourselves in a good light; we get what we wanted - people see us as good and successful persons - but God sees us acting as hypocrites. According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to have qualities, beliefs, or feelings that they do not really have. Therefore it is someone who majors in appearance, but hides the truth of who they really are.

So by our good deeds, we can pretend to be someone we are not, we can lie about ourselves. Doing good deeds publicly has the potential to beautify us in the eyes of others in such a way that we put ourselves on a pedestal. A hypocrite does good deeds in order to be seen as good, rather than from a heart of love for God and others. And even if what we do comes from the compassion that God put in our heart, we can still do it in a way that would promote ourselves rather than God. Our behaviour can mislead people into believing that the goodness that we are displaying came from us (remember Romans 7:18, nothing good comes from us).

You see, the danger here is that we take what belongs to God for ourselves. It is that we put the spotlight on ourselves and rob God of His glory. Either we receive for ourselves the praise that is due to God by allowing people to view us as good, or we do not let them see, so that we do not receive any praise for what we do. After all, any good thing we do is only by the grace of God. If we can do something good, it is because He has enabled us to; so what glory is there for us?

When instead we do these good deeds secretly, without anyone knowing, people may despise us and not think much about us, but God sees our humility and "sacrifice" unto Him and He blesses us. It is not clear what His reward is, whether it is material or spiritual or whether it is in this life or the one to come. But whatever the reward is, we know God's reward cannot compare to any reward from men - it will always be much more valuable. And if nothing else, it teaches us humility which is priceless ("Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." - Matt. 5:5).

Let your Light Shine

But hold on one second, someone may say. Just in the previous chapter - in Matthew chapter 5 - the Lord Jesus was telling us, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). So how can we let our light shine so that people may see our good deeds and at the same time keep our good deeds secret?

Well, I asked myself the same question... In fact, the phrase "let your light so shine" could also be translated "this is the way your light should shine" before others. The word "so" does not mean that the light should shine so much so that people cannot help but glorify God, but rather that it should shine in such a way that people would glorify God. So the emphasis is not on doing so many good works and turning it into a show to make sure we are being seen by people, but it is on the way we do our good works.

And the right way should be to glorify God. We are called to do our good works and shine our light in such a way that, not us, but God alone is glorified. People must be able to see what we do and praise God as a result. This cannot happen if they see us in it. We cannot be in the equation! It is our good works that people need to see, not us! This is why the Lord later explains that we should do our good deeds in secret. Because if they thank us and if they see us as the person who has blessed them or helped them in any way, the fact that it is God who is at the origin of that blessing is hidden from them. This is God's logic, not mine!... We must not take the glory and the honour that are due to God alone.

Obviously, there will be times when people will see us as we do our good deeds, and this is fine. Some good deeds can stay completely secret, and some may have to be displayed or partly displayed, just due to the nature of the good deed (eg. visit someone or call someone etc..). I believe that the point that Jesus was making is that we should not do our good works in order to be seen and admired by others. But if God leads you to bless someone and there is no way you can obey without being seen, then by all means do it! However, more often than not, you will find that there are ways to do the same thing without being seen. Just ask God and be creative!...

Earthly Reward or Eternal Reward

The problem is that it feels good to our flesh when people admire us and the good things we do; when people flatter us, comment on our gifts and talents and speak our praises. The praise that comes from people always rewards the flesh.

On the other hand, the flesh hates it when I do something good and loving and even sacrificial, and there is zero recognition of it (by others) - even including the recipients of the good deeds sometimes. It may just be a simple "thank you" that we were expecting for helping someone or working hard at something. It is so hard to do something good without our flesh being rewarded! It feels so unfair!

That is why the Lord tells us that when we deprive the flesh of its reward, there is a greater reward for us. Somehow, our spirit gets rewarded. We are not simply deprived of something, we get something else instead. We get a better deal, because God is good. So it is for us to choose what we value most, and where we want to invest. We can invest in our earthly account or we can invest in our heavenly account.

Serving the Father

In this passage, Jesus teaches us about our relationship with our heavenly Father. There are 2 key words here about our Father: He "sees" and He "knows". He sees everything we do, even when no one else does. He knows how much it costs us to do what we do and that sacrifice is valuable to Him. He is aware of every single detail of our lives and everything gets recorded.

And what matters to God is the motivation behind what we do. He always looks at the heart. His desire is for our good deeds to be as unto Him and Him alone. Everything we do should be to Him, through Him and for Him. Nothing should be for the satisfaction of our flesh. If the flesh gets any credit, then we are serving ourselves, not God.

Do you know that we can be "disguised" as a servant of God but actually all we do is serve ourselves? It seems contradictory, but it happens all the time. People think they are serving the Lord, but what they do profits them one way or another: they gain in popularity, wealth, influence, etc.. There is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But if our "service" for the Lord is done to acquire more popularity, wealth or influence or if we use these to build our own fleshly empire, then something is obviously wrong.

If our motives are to promote ourselves, then it would be better to not do anything until we take the issue to God in prayer, believing that He can deal with it. He is able to change our motives as we repent and acknowledge our faults to Him, so that we are able to serve Him from a pure heart and exalt Him, not ourselves in the process. Clearly the Lord does not tell us to avoid doing good deeds because we may do them the wrong way, but to check our motives when (not if) we do these.

Good in Us?

So why do many some of us persist in trying to get some of the credit or some of the profit? Why do we want to get something out of what we supposedly do for God?

Because deep down, we believe the lie that there is some good in us, even though it may be little - there is still a little good in us that deserves some kind of recognition. This is a lie that contradicts what the Bible clearly says in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" There is not an ounce of goodness in us. Our flesh is completely and utterly corrupt and deceives us. If this is not getting in, maybe we need to personalise the verse, "My heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked..." Ouch!!

James 1:21, "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls." That wickedness which keeps on raising its ugly head and refuses to submit to God has to be put to death again and again, so we can make more and more room for God's word which has been planted in our hearts. This is the word that sanctifies us and transforms our soul to enable us to become more and more like Jesus.

Jesus' Example

Jesus didn't do anything He did to get the glory. He always gave the glory to His Father. To the contrary, He abased and humbled himself - even to the point of death (see Phil. 2:8)

When He prayed, he went to solitary places on his own. When He fasted, he was in the wilderness. When He gave - to the point of giving his life away - he was despised and mocked by men...

Jesus did everything He did for the glory of God and the good of others, not for himself. He is our example. Let us follow in His footsteps.

May our actions never say "look at me!". May they always point to Jesus and say "look to Him!"

Friends, SHOWING and TELLING about ourselves will prevent people from SEEING and HEARING the Lord. If we want Him to shine through what we do, we will need to get out of the way!

God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.
(Galatians 6:14)

Tags: Discipleship, The flesh