Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

“Beware of practising your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honoured by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matt.6:1-4). Jesus used a hyperbole here – about the left hand not knowing what the right hand did – to emphasise how our giving should be in secret. Yet the focus in the passage is not about doing things in secret as such, but about our motive in doing them. Even acts of giving alms to people will not count with God if they were done for impressing people, even if we carried them out with sacrifice. The point Jesus makes is that if we were seeking to impress people with our good works, they would have no value before God. Of course, it is good to do these things in secret in order to avoid seeking or enjoying the impression before people. But there may be other times when we cannot avoid doing things without being noticed by people. Our goal still has to be to keep our heart pure. The focus is on our motive and our heart rather than the mechanics of how we do things.

Think of a preacher preparing a sermon and delivering it. Is it his desire in his heart to impress people or to bless them? If it was to impress people, the choice of the subject, the words and expressions he uses will all be designed to achieve this goal. There may even be exaggerations, falsehood, and attempts to deceive! People may go away thinking what a great preacher this was, but they have really not received any help for their personal lives. Everything about the sermon would have been different if his goal was to bless them in such a way that their lives would be transformed.

From the time Adam and Eve fell, we human beings are born with this sinful nature, one of the characteristics of which is to be concerned about what people think about us more than about God’s opinion. The words we speak and the things we do are many times cleverly planned to impress people, or to leave a good impression with them.

It is not just about impressing people, but the way we speak or behave may also be intended to gain something for ourselves in devious ways or ways that border around unrighteousness. We can become experts in doing this in such a way that no one catches on. We may ‘pull down’ others by spreading stories or pointing out their faults in order for us to climb on top, flatter those who can do things for us, drop hints here and there so that people will take notice of us, behave in such a way that our real attitudes do not get revealed, but the others get a good opinion about us, etc. When it comes to this kind of behaviour, we can be very clever and shrewd because we are not only helped by our sinful flesh, but also amply supported from behind the scenes by Satan’s suggestions.

There is an inherent desire in all of us to feel important and valued, and this keeps prompting us to project ourselves before people in a way that would bring appreciation and admiration and hide our actual struggles which come from our insecurity and low self-esteem. We try to achieve more and make sure that others recognise our skills and achievements so that they would value and respect us more. There is a pressure inside us to be seen as being greater than the others, at least in our immediate circles, and this tempts us to run others down and eliminate the competition. This happens not only in politics or in secular workplaces, but also in churches and Christian organisations.

Through various means like these we can build for ourselves an image of public opinion and think that we have ‘succeeded’ in life. But this kind of an image will be hollow and of little intrinsic value because true value can only come from what is within. God is concerned about the inner man rather than about what is seen before people. The way He judges us is to focus on our motives, and it is when our motives have been pleasing to Him that He will have praises for us (1Cor.4:5). Think of how it will be if our hollow images crumble down and the reality of our emptiness is seen by everyone (1Cor.3:12-15)!

This is the time to purify ourselves (1Jn.3:3). In order to become pure in this way, we will have to have a great desire to be pleasing to the Lord in the innermost part of our being, and in order to do that, we must put aside the primary desire to please people. The apostle Paul points out that we cannot do both at the same time (Gal.1:10). We are to live in such a way as to give an account to God for whom “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare” (Heb.4:13).

This is the way we can have ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ in the innermost parts (Psa.51:6). This is the way we can become men and women in whom there is no guile but instead, integrity. This is the way we can develop our inner, intrinsic worth that will give us confidence to hold our heads up when we walk before people.

One part of the way the Fall has affected our thinking is to imagine that since no one sees what we think, imagine and plan in our mind, we need to only make sure that what people see and hear from us is acceptable! In other words, we are careful about what we do and say, and not so worried about what goes on inside our head. But God can see into our heart and mind and see what is happening there, and He is not fooled by the ‘show’ that we put up for the benefit of the others (1Sam.16:7)! This is a lesson that we need to learn very quickly if we are to be truly transformed into God’s image and to serve Him to accomplish the work He has given to us (Eph.2:10).

If we are only thinking about whether what we want to say or do is right or wrong, we may miss looking at why we want to do it. It is when we start asking ourselves that question, and check whether what we want to do is going to be pleasing to the Lord and if it is going to glorify Him that our true transformation begins.

The way to divide between our thoughts and intentions is to let the word of God judge us (Heb.4:12). When we sincerely want to purify our motives and are willing to honestly let the light of God’s word expose the hidden things in our life, we can begin to experience the transformation the Holy Spirit wants to work in our life. As we move from walking before people to walking before God (Gen.17:1), He is able to cleanse us from all the defilements of our flesh and purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Tit.2:14). We will find ourselves growing in integrity, and boldness before God and man.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, June 2017

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