In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus talks to the crowd about just such a thing. He said to beware of “practicing their righteousness before men to be seen of men.” Now of course, He wasn’t talking about being a true witness, or about “letting their Gospel light shine.” He was talking about being a phony.
He said that when you give, not to sound the trumpet and give in a haughty way. There are those who are big givers, but want everyone to know about it. They brag about the large sums and they ceremoniously display their generosity.
Then He said that when you pray, not to try to show off your scriptural understanding or your great ability to pray. It’s easy to understand what He is talking about here. You know how there are some who do know a lot of Word, but want to make sure that others know they know.
Finally He said that when you fast, not to put on a gloomy face and show off your spirituality by letting everyone know that you are fasting. (The same would apply when you are fasting your desires so that you could give to His causes).
What’s the big deal about letting others know what you are doing? Well Jesus knew that the real “you” is the one you are when you are alone- when no one is watching. When you want to give, pray, or fast – not because it makes you look good to others, but because it’s who you are. You want to be close to your Father God, and you want more of His operation in your life. You want to hear His voice and be obedient.
One of the problems about the “being seen of men” syndrome, is that you can actually even fool yourself by your displays. Think of the well-known ministers who have looked so magnificent to the church, and then have been exposed as phonies. I am sure that the very fact that they saw themselves displaying great spirituality even blinded them to their sin – or at least the seriousness of it. They thought of the good they were doing and excused the secret sins.
The real “you” is who you are when you are alone and no one is watching. Ultimately, as Christians, our accountability is to our Creator and no one else. He is looking at the real deal. His relationship is with the true person, not with a poser. And the success of our Christian walk depends on what is real in our lives, and not on what others think.
In fact, if “what others think of you” is predominant for you, a snare is sure to follow. One of the saddest passages in scripture to me is in John 12:42-43.
Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him,
lest they should be put out of the synagogue;
for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
Isn’t that sad? Many who believed in Jesus helped to crucify Him because they wanted man’s approval more than God’s.
That’s what can happen to any of us in smaller ways, if we live our lives to be seen of men. We will ultimately compromise our true beliefs. We will ultimately rationalize our bad decisions. We could ultimately find ourselves denying our Lord.
So, forget what men think. In your heart of hearts, establish that secret true, passionate journey of life with your Maker. Let your giving, your prayers, and your fasting be between you and Jesus. He is the one you answer to – and He is the one who rewards your life.
If your secret life is real, then others will know it. They will see the fruit of humility, compassion, and faith that comes with that life. When you do pray or speak in an assembly, the anointing of a true believer will shine through. Your words of witness will be strong, and the Holy Spirit will work with you with signs following.
And you will be a real Christian.