Ways of Seeing Meditations: 7. Secret Goodness?
Mt 6:2 “when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues”
Recap: We have been considering the ways we can get it wrong by the way we look at people, things or buildings and be impressed by outward appearances. Jesus warned that the temple would only be there for a limited time and the Bible reveals people who looked powerful on the outside but inside they were something else. So turning from observing others, we now come to instructions about how we see ourselves and what we convey to other people.
Good works versus spiritual works: It’s a funny thing, but there are two apparently contradictory instructions about what we do. We have our starter verse that is one of a number that basically says don’t display your goodness, your spirituality. And yet on the other hand Jesus taught, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) On one hand don’t be seen and on the other, be seen. How come?
Motivation and Effect: It’s all about why we do things and what those things achieve. In terms of giving, or any other ‘good’ act, do we do it for self-glory – that we be seen and praised – or do we do it simply to bless others. Our ‘good deeds’, are they for self-glory or do they glorify God?
A Matter of Self Esteem: But behind the matter of motivation is what we feel about ourselves. Perception of who and what we are is very important. Many people, in the struggles of life in the world, feel beaten up and have a low opinion of themselves and so are constantly trying to boost that self-opinion, that self-esteem, by outward actions that will bring about appreciative noises from others that will encourage and build us. We all of us, living in this fallen world, need encouragement, we need reassurance that we are getting it right. But then we come to the Faith.
If we know we are the loved children of God – really loved by Him – we will not have to try and impress ourselves or others. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were actually quite insecure and thus had to dress up their religion, making themselves the guardians of the Law, and be seen to be the moral paragons of society. But religious people like being seen to be ‘doing good works’ and that involves giving. It is good to do good and to give but Jesus teaches, ‘no public spirituality’, don’t dress up who you are. Just enjoy being a child of God and let all you do flow out of that.
Genuine Humility: But does this all imply we are, to quote a character out of one of the children’s books, to be a lowly worm? Or like one of Dicken’s characters, to display ourselves as “an ‘umble man, sir.” No, Uriah Heep of David Copperfield, in the words of the Internet, in reality is “notable for his cloying humility, unctuousness, obsequiousness, and insincerity.” What a condemnation. That is not our calling. So what is true humility? The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function.” (Rom 12:3,4) or as the Easy-to-Read version puts it, “You must see yourself just as you are. Decide what you are by the faith God has given each of us.” Being humble means be realistic about yourself, not erring on one side (pride) or the other (dismal self-effacement).
True humility recognizes on one side the amazing work of God that we are (our really good points) while on the other genuinely recognizing that we are works of God, we are what we are only by His grace. The Message version almost over-emphasizes this in those Romans verses: “it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”
And So? Remember, it’s about how we see ourselves. David wrote, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psa 40:2) I know this is taking it out of context but it is a good general description of the reality of what happens to us when we are saved. I was up to my neck in muck (although I didn’t recognise it, the muck being all my wrong understandings of myself and the world) but now I am in a secure and stable place and am able to say, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psa 40:3a) Salvation brings thanksgiving, praise and worship, and being a true work of God, he was able to go on, “Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” (v.3b) The natural outworking of our lives, the “good works” (Eph 2:10) He has designed us to do, will be a natural outworking of our relationship with Him, not something we do to dress ourselves up to look impressive. These ‘good works’ will come from the prompting of the Spirit, not the prompting of pride.