STRENGTH FOR THE WEEK: Flood Church’s Weekly Devotional
SERIES 3: Pried Out With A Cross
The Pride of Privacy
“Whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” – John 3:21
There is nothing wrong with privacy in and of itself. The Lord teaches us the merits of privacy in some of our works. A case in point is when he says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them”. Even so, this should not be taken to mean that he is forbidding any righteous works done in public, for not only did he himself engage in such activities publicly on a number of occasions, but he also taught the disciple the merits of bringing his deeds to places where “it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God”. The tension between these two teachings is a prime example of how careful we must be not to stretch the intention behind what the Lord teaches so much that it contradicts what he teaches elsewhere.
What our Lord forbids in the first imperative is approaching God with outward ostentation at the expense of inward authenticity. In other words, knowing our frailty and how hard it is for us to approach God publicly without compromising the authenticity of the approach, the Lord warns us against public shows of spirituality. These are words of admonition, not prohibition. As a counterbalance, what he forbids in the second imperative is being so private with our good works that our allegiance to him in a world of dark forces is unknown, or irrelevant, or even questionable.
The place where the two imperatives meet is in our hearts, where the motives are. In both cases, our motive for going public and staying private must be the same, namely to safeguard the integrity of our souls. If publicity exposes us to self-aggrandizing forms of pride, then publicity damages the integrity of our souls. If, however, privacy exposes us to self-preserving forms of fear, then privacy becomes the enemy of our souls. Similarly, there is a place where the two imperatives differ. It is true that our works are capable of being made visible to other people, while the condition of our souls before God is not, and it is true that it is the latter that we are to concern ourselves with. The difference is that publicity is bad if it damages the condition of your soul on the inside, and privacy is bad if it hides the condition of your soul on the outside. In other words, our works must not be private or public as a way of manipulating what we look like before others, but as a way of presenting and preserving what God has made us before him.