09 April 2021

Good Done in Secret

The Gnostics of the first and second centuries believed that salvation came by way of knowing the "secret teachings" of Jesus. While Jesus did not, at least in Matthew's gospel, appear to value secret teachings, that is not to say he placed no value on secrets. In fact, secrecy is largely what preserved the Christian religion through Roman persecution. By the direction of Christ himself, Christian teachings were made public, but their actions, both good (Matt 6:1-4) and bad (Matt 18:15-20), were kept private.

Jesus advocated for this kind of secrecy, that his followers not be "as the hypocrites," but perform works of charity for God's pleasure alone. Similarly, Jesus directs that prayer is between each person and God, not for the ears of others. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus focuses every sentence on God, asking for God's will to be revealed in, for the basics of life, and for the justice that comes from being forgiven as well as we forgive (6:5-15).

Although rarely practiced today, fasting was a common religious practice in the first century. Jesus tells his followers to hide that they are fasting so that no one will notice that they are dedicating themselves to God (6:16-18).

But what is the payoff to all these good deeds done in secret? What is the point? Jesus places this on two levels. Firstly, is to store up "treasure in heaven" (6:19-24). By doing these things, we are not banking on human kindness, charity, or even forgiveness, but on God's kindness, charity, and forgiveness. As Jesus says, "you cannot serve both God and money."

Secondly, is the assurance that God will not forget those who do good deeds in his name. God is like a Father who is responsible for his children. He knows what each one needs and provides generously (6:25-34). Jesus assures us that God provides for the flowers and the sparrows, and also for the pagans who greedily consume all they receive. God provides for every one of them, and certainly for his own children whom he called by name.

Because God provides, "therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." God will see to the troubles of tomorrow just as he sees to today, for "each day has enough trouble of its own" (6:34).

God is not far away, but is near. God is not distant, but provides. That is why we can give without expecting any return, why we can forgive debts before being forgiven our own, why we can pray in secret and go unrecognized for the good we do. All these things we do for God, and God provides in abundance.

God's abundance is why we can live our lives as if we did no good deeds at all. Of course, not all of us have such abundance, but Jesus tells us that the needy are even more blessed (5:3-11), because they can receive the abundance that God calls every Christian to give.

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