Secrecy and Publicity in Christian Life

Last week I attended a special thanksgiving service at our church. At this service, everyone was invited to stand and offer public thanks to God for His good work in our lives.

One mother read a Psalm and thanked God for the health of her baby. A little boy thanked God for his mommy. An elder gave thanks for the spiritual health of our church. A young man thanked God for preserving him through a serious battle with depression. Our pastor thanked God and the congregation for supporting him and his family.

It was all good.

And I said nothing.

I had already prepared my thoughts and planned to speak, but in the moment, I chose, instead, to keep silent.

Dawn, who knows this was out of character for me, later asked me why.

It was because I didn’t trust my motives.

I can be vain. Vain as a peacock. In fact, vanity is my default state. Any exception to that rule is due to God’s grace in granting me a measure of self-awareness and repentance.

In the moment, I suddenly felt the urge to say something witty or profound. I wanted to say something that, when heard, would make others think well of me.

That pretty much kills the idea of thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

So, I resisted and kept still.


Next morning I read these words of Jesus:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.—Matthew 6:1

What struck me was the idea of beware. Beware is almost the opposite of behold. Where behold encourages you look and admire, beware warns you to look and fear.

Doing anything, even doing good things, because you want to be seen (or heard) and approved by others is a dangerous mistake.

Vanity, especially religious vanity (aka hypocrisy), pursues self-glory. It’s about getting others to pay more attention to us. But the spirit of Christ pursues God’s glory. He is about persuading others to pay more attention to God.

Therefore, Jesus also says,

…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.—Matthew 5:16


So, what should we learn from Jesus’ words?

Do good to others in the name of Jesus so they will learn to hope in God. But beware that vanity not twist those good deeds toward self-serving.

This means some good works may be best kept secret.

True, good deeds, by their nature, can’t always be anonymous. It’s hard, for example, to comfort the sick or grieving without being present. But whenever good deeds or religious duties can be performed secretly, it’s usually best to keep them so. We must often keep our charitable giving, prayers, fasting, and thanksgiving secret because of the constant temptation to direct attention to ourselves and away from God.

So, when no one needs to know…

And if you struggle with vanity like me…

Pray in secret, give in secret, fast in secret, and so your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

May our hope in Him inspire every heart to give Him thanks now and forever. Amen.

Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.—Matthew 6:2

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.—Matthew 6:5

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.—Matthew 6:16