A selfie is a picture taken of yourself by yourself. It can be just you, you and another person, you and a group of people; what makes a selfie a selfie is that you are in the picture, often in the center. While there may not be anything wrong with taking a picture of yourself, there seems to be a mindset behind the selfie – self in the center – or self-centeredness. Rather than taking a picture of others or just a picture of the scenery, I have to be in the picture, I have to be seen. Again, the issue is not taking a picture of yourself. The real issue is the dangerous trap we can easily fall into of a self-centered mindset.
Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 6:1-18. Here Jesus is teaching on righteous living, and how the pursuit of righteousness can easily change to the pursuit of self-righteousness. These good, pure, righteous practices become perverted when self gets in the way.
He spoke about giving to the poor (v. 2-4), which was a sacred duty under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 15:11). Jesus said the hypocrites sound the trumpet before them as they go to give – they’re tooting their own horn! They are calling attention to their giving, their charitable deeds. Is what they were doing good? Yes! They were giving to the poor. The problem was how they were giving. They weren’t giving to help the poor, or even to honor and obey the Lord. They were giving to be noticed, to be praised by others.
He spoke about worship through prayer (v. 5-8), which is our way of drawing near to the Lord, communicating to Him. Jesus said the hypocrites pray to be heard, praying in public places where lots of people can hear how devout they are. They also use repetitive words, meaningless repetition, useless chatter – filling a prayer with empty words that aren’t coming from the heart. Is what they were doing good? Yes, in that it’s good to pray. The problem is that they weren’t really praying. They weren’t praying to God. They were using prayer to be noticed and praised by others.
He spoke about devotion to God through fasting (v. 16-18). Fasting is when one demonstrates self-control by abstaining most commonly from food or drink. It was a way to focus more on God, to draw near in humility (Psalm 35:13). By the time Jesus arrived the Pharisees were fasting twice a week (Luke 18:12). Jesus said the hypocrites walk around with a gloomy face, unkempt appearance, drawing attention to the fact they were fasting. Is what they were doing good? It is right to devote time to serious thought, prayer, and devotion to God. However, they weren’t fasting to draw closer to God. They were fasting to appear religious, more godly – to be noticed and praised by others.
Do you see the common thread? Good, godly, honorable acts of righteousness become corrupted when self is in the center.
Can you imagine going to the Grand Canyon, a sight that is purely breathtaking? While there you want to take a picture to show your loved ones back home. So you whip out your cell phone and take a selfie. The very sight which ought to cause awe and wonder is blocked by you.
The acts of righteousness (giving, praying, fasting) are designed to bring honor and glory to God. But when I use them as a way to be noticed and praised by men, we are blocking the glory of God to where even in these good deeds, the only thing people can see is me.
And we see this today. When it comes to giving, some are quick to announce who they’ve helped, how they’ve served, and where their money has gone. When it comes to worship, what’s on my mind? As I’m singing, am I thinking about how others think I sound, or the words I’m singing to God? As men leading the congregation, are we thinking about how to impress the members (if I say certain phrases in my prayer it will make me sound more righteous)? What about fasting, your personal relationship to God? If I share my devotion (taking a picture of what I’ve studied and sharing it online) is it because I want to encourage others, is it to have accountability, or is it because I want others to see what I’ve done?
Who is in the center of my life? In all that I do, do people see God or do they only see me? Here’s a few thoughts I have about the selfless life we’re called to, and the good righteous deeds:
Righteous deeds are to be done because they are right. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t tell them to simply stop giving, stop praying, and stop fasting.
- 3 – when you give to the poor
- 6 – when you pray
- 17 – when you fast
We need to be giving – generous towards the poor. We need to be people who pray, people who have built the habit of connecting with God regularly in prayer. We need to be people who unplug from the world and spend some serious time drawing closer to God; time in devotion – reading, meditating, praying; time where we reflect upon God and realign our thoughts and will with His.
This is something we need to be reminded of from Matthew 6:1: righteousness is not merely something taught, it is something that is practiced, something that is lived (Titus 2:11-12). Righteousness is not something that is turned on and turned off. It is the byproduct, the result of a people who have surrendered to the righteous God and want more than anything to be like Him.
What the hypocrites in Matthew 6 were doing was wrong. It is just as wrong to forsake the righteous life.
Righteous deeds are to be done to the glory of God. Matthew 5:16 speaks of letting our light shine in such a way that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. There is a difference between doing something that is seen and doing something to be seen. There’s a difference between doing something and telling others what I’m doing.
If we’re living the zealous, righteous life, we will be active and obedient whether we are in public or in private. The difference is we’re not going to call attention to our works because to do so is to call attention to me! Jesus said we are to let our light shine in such a way that they may see our good works and glorify God. From our good works they don’t see a people seeking glory, they see a people transformed into the image of God. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:31 – do all to the glory of God. Who’s glory are you shining forth? Who’s kingdom are you seeking to expand?
Righteous deeds are to be done in secret. That’s how Jesus ended each section:
- 3-4 – do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
- 6 – pray in secret, in the inner room
- 18 – sees what is done in secret
This brings us to some questions: who am I in secret? In the privacy of my home, when no one is around, who am I? Am I just as righteous, just as zealous, in secret as I am in public? Do I pray just as fervently in secret as I do in public? Do I give much attention to God in secret, compared to what I do in public?
That’s the question, who’s the real you? Does Jesus’ instruction to let your life be lived in secret bother you? But no one will know what I’m doing? God will. But no one will hear my fervent prayers? God will. No one will see all the ways I’m caring for others. God will. No one will see what I’m learning, the time I’m devoting to drawing closer to the Lord. God will. So who’s approval matters more? Your peers? Your brethren? Or the Lord’s?
The God who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life (1 Thessalonians 4:11). What a foreign thought in a world so public, so open, so social, but what a necessary reminder – keep to your business, focus on what’s important. Maybe for some of us we need to unplug, withdraw for a bit, and in secret draw closer to God; time where it’s just me and God. Take a selfie of your life – of your heart and ask yourself – who’s in the center?
by Jordan Shouse