The Deal on Devotion

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

There was beaver and a rabbit who were standing together staring up at the immense wall of the Hoover Dam on the border of Arizona and Nevada. The beaver puffed out his chest and declared, "No, I didn't actually build this one myself. But it was based on an idea of mine."

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” - isn’t that the philosophy by which some people live their lives? If you have a great body, don’t hide it under modest clothing. Show yourself off for the world to see. If you have a brilliant mind, don’t be humble and unassuming. Expose the genius within. And if you have millions in your bank account, spend them in lavish style so that people know you’re loaded.

Isn’t that how it goes? I’m sure we’d all like to have great bodies, brilliant minds and even just one million in our bank account. But then as Christians we have something even better; something far more edifying and satisfying, which means we are even richer than any multi-billionaire: and that’s the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ - of which we are surely not ashamed because it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. And so, if we are going to flaunt anything – it’s going to be the Gospel; if we are going to boast about anything or anyone it’s going to be the Lord Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Saviour. We want to show and tell the Gospel, we are expected to show and tell the Gospel; that’s the great commission that Jesus has given us.

But that, of course, does not mean that we should show off every part of our Christian lives for all the world to see. Because to do so is to miss the point, and it can be detrimental to our walk with the Lord, and damaging to our Christian witness – which kinda defeats the purpose!

Matthew ch.6:1-18 takes us into the middle section of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus, as the one greater than Moses, is issuing God’s Word on how it is (and should be) for those who are His followers; Jesus is King and He wants us to understand what Kingdom life looks like. In ch.5 He declares that in order to enter the Kingdom and to live Kingdom lives we must constantly depend on His grace working in us from the inside out – it’s very much a matter of the heart. His grace should shape our character as we grow to be more humble and dependent upon Him, grieving over our sin and the sin of the world and striving therefore to be more pure and gentle and righteous and merciful, having a Godward salt and light influence on our society which is in the dark and ultimately decaying without Christ.

Also in chapter 5, Jesus picks up on a variety of key morality issues which are taught in the Law of Moses, (like murder, adultery, divorce, retaliation) and He corrects the inadequate (and even false) interpretations the Pharisees held on these matters providing greater clarity as to how we must live; essentially the key point is that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees – not by adding laying upon layer of extra rules and rituals and religiosity like they did but by living out God’s moral law from the inside out (which they didn’t do); working them through in our hearts and minds and not merely as an external performance.

This takes us rather nicely into chapter 6 where Jesus deals with 3 areas of personal devotion which were fundamental to Jews in His day (and still are for some now): giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting. These are great ways of drawing closer to God, expressing our dependence upon Him and certainly giving to the needy is a form of witness, showing mercy and compassion. Giving and sharing are ways of conveying the heart of God in the community, of loving our neighbour, and they potentially open up doors of opportunity to share the Gospel in word form as well.

Now, Jesus has already said, back in ch 5:16, that we are to “shine our light before others so that they may see our good deeds…” So, y’know, we could be forgiven for thinking that the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” idiom comes into play here. Clearly, the Pharisees believed that because they went to town in flaunting their expressions of devotion. They applied face paint and went around looking really miserable so people could know they were fasting; they would find the most conspicuous street corner to pray. They wanted to be seen giving to charity – even going as far as having a trumpeter give a few blasts of his instrument to draw attention to themselves – hence the phrase “blowing your own trumpet” – look at me.

How many of us can honestly say there has never been a time when we wanted other people to notice us – to recognise how good we are, how committed, how spiritual we are; haven’t we all, at some point, gone out of way to be noticed? And sometimes all we are looking for is a bit of love or encouragement in our walk with the Lord – and that’s fine. But as we all know, there are other motivations for wanting to be seen.

And that’s really what Jesus is getting at in this passage. Yes, He has said in chapter 5 that we must shine before others to be seen – but the motivation there was “glorifying our father in heaven”. But here in chapter 6 the motivation is glorifying ourselves; gaining the praise of others, bolstering our own egos. If that is our intention – then cut it out says Jesus – ‘cos that’s not worship; that’s not devotion. That’s not going to help you grow in your faith relationship with God – and it certainly doesn’t put Him first – as the number 1 in your life. Clearly we aren’t as devoted to the Lord as we think we are, if we are going to behave in a similar fashion to the Pharisees. Me, myself and I are obviously our first priority.

I think this challenges us; as simple and as clear as Jesus’ teaching is here, it brings a challenge to our hearts which are complicated by sin. His instruction compels us to do more soul searching; certainly to give more thought and prayer as to the extent of our surrender to God as King; singing worship songs that declare we are living for Him, but then using religious expressions in a way that reveals we are really living for ourselves – well clearly there is something wrong if that is the case. We are hypocrites. NOBODY likes to be called a hypocrite; as far as most people are concerned hypocrites are other people but not me. Yet a big part of being a disciple of Jesus is accepting the painful truth about ourselves so that we may repent and learn and grow to become more like Him. If all we want from this life is the praise and recognition of others then fine, we’ll probably get it but that’s all we’ll get. Praise is like yesterday’s newspapers - they come, they go, we forget most of what they said.

I remember a friend who went to Philadelphia on business, and he was telling us about a small chapel he attended for Sunday worship while he was there. Now, quite often in many churches there will be a passage of Scripture or a Christian saying painted, printed or embossed on a wall or somewhere above the preacher’s head. At Waterloo Road Church we, of course, have a wooden arch above the platform which reminds us that Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. But my friend told me that this particularly chapel in Philadelphia, had a banner on the wall facing the preacher, which simply read, “It’s so not about you!”

What Jesus wants is for us to invest in something more meaningful, that lasts much longer than the bolstering of our own egos; we should be investing in eternity, in the Kingdom – putting the glory of God at the centre of our thoughts and motivations. His glory is inextricably tied up with our wellbeing anyway – we were made to glorify God! So, it stands to reason that if we are not doing that we will miss out – spiritually, emotionally, mentally – and all these things can affect us physically too.

Our devotion to the Lord is crucial but the way to check the level of our devotion, the better way to nurture it and develop it is to do it away from the crowds (in the secret place) – or at least in a less conspicuous way so that the emphasis is less about our personal reputation and more about our personal righteousness. After all, that’s what we should be hungering and thirsting after says Jesus in ch.5:6. Working up a greater appetite for righteousness; living in obedience to God’s Word. Do you have you got an appetite for that?

Jesus does not want us to stop praying or fasting or giving to the needy or singing songs of worship or any other devotional exercise - anything but. He says in v.2 and 5 and v.16 “when” you do these things… But He also doesn’t want us to become masters of outward religiosity with no inward reality.

The Aberdonian missionary, Oswald Chambers, said “My worth to God in public is what I am in private.” Who are you when no one else is looking? ‘cos that’s the real you. The true measure of your (and my) devotion is not what you are doing or giving in public because you know other people expect it of you, or because you want to bolster your star rating or reputation. The true measure of your devotion is what you are giving, doing, thinking, saying in that secret place (and especially in and from your heart) for the audience of One – “our Father in Heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

So… if you’ve got it don’t necessarily flaunt it; just keep working it out in your heart - and in your life - and give God the glory.

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