Discipline of Secrecy
Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who
sees everything, will reward you (v.4).
I’m an exhibitionist,” said the surrealist artist Salvador
Dali. “Life is too short to remain unnoticed.” And
actress Marlene Dietrich once released an album
made entirely of the applause recorded at her
cabarets—which she frequently played for her friends.
The desire for praise is never far from any of us. We
want people to applaud our qualities and achievements.
We can be deeply disappointed when they don’t notice
the good things we’ve done for them.
Applause-seeking is most ugly when it’s tied to
religiosity. In Jesus’ day, prayer, fasting, and charity
were (and still are today) central to Jewish piety. But
Jesus saw how easily they could be wrongly used for
personal motivations. “Watch out!” He said. “Don’t do
your good deeds publicly” (Matthew 6:1). “When you
pray,” He said, “don’t be like the hypocrites who love
to pray publicly on street corners” (v.5). “And when you
fast,” He added, “don’t make it obvious” (v.16). Jesus’
reason was clear: When such spirituality is done to make
us look good, the applause we receive will be our only
reward. The One whose praise matters most will turn a
blind eye (vv.1,5,16).
Jesus said that true acts of faith would be hard to hide.
A city on a hill can’t be hidden (5:14). Our deeds are to
be seen by all (v.16). But these deeds flow from a heart
focused on our neighbor; a heart that prays and fasts for
God’s delight alone. It should go like this: We keep quiet
about our deeds, let our lives speak for themselves, and let God decide when
and if our deeds ever become known.
Let’s keep our good deeds quiet, knowing that “your Father, who sees
everything, will reward you” (6:4,6,18).
From whom and for what do you most want public praise? What good
deed can you do today that only God will know about?