Skip to main content

Should We Worship in Secret?

Q: Shouldn’t our prayer, giving, serving, and worship of God be primarily done in secret while recognizing that there are times we jointly do it? Does God in a sense turn his back to our prayer and worship if we do otherwise? When individually or jointly doing it we should not be zealous so that we let others see we are zealous. I heard a sermon once about not being a Pharisee as they liked to let men see that they prayed and worshiped God. For some references I use Mt 5:3 and 5, Mt 6:3 and 5, and Mt 23.

A: One of the biggest misunderstandings about Christianity is that it is a religion about “externals.” In reality, the Scriptures are much less concerned about what we do than who we are. It’s easy to flip through the pages of the Bible and point to passages that refer to our external conduct and say, “See! Christianity is all about what we do!”

It cannot be denied that the Bible talks about our conduct. However, we shouldn’t miss that who we are has a real and significant impact on what we do. The primary focus of New Testament Christianity is on becoming a child of God through the completed work of Christ – being born again into the family of God by grace through faith.

It is good and right for those who have experienced the transformative grace of God in their lives to begin living in accordance with this truth. The two are intimately tied together, but the order is very important. We do not – and cannot – become children of God by acting the right way. But, children of God ought to behave in accordance with the will of their Father!

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the above question? The fact is that in the passages cited, Jesus is addressing this common misconception that God is simply interested in our external acts of righteousness … but have we not read, For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6, NASB)?

The Pharisees had perfected the act of putting on a show of righteousness while they were still living outside of the will of God. Jesus confronts this reality directly saying in Matthew 15, "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" (Matthew 15:7-9, NASB)

God isn’t interested in our self-righteous acts of piety. He is interested in our hearts being rightly inclined towards Him. If our prayer, giving, service and worship are actually for God, then we should have no problem doing it all in secret so that only God is aware. After all, we should be seeking His will and His favor, not the favor of spectators.

It comes down to our motivations. Is our motivation in praying, giving, serving and worshipping to please the Lord and to do right in His eyes out of devotion to Him? Or, are we seeking the approval and rewards of the approval of man? Jesus points out the wrong motives of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:

"But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (Matthew 23:5-7, NASB)

Notice that Jesus says they do their deeds to be noticed by men. It’s not that their deeds are seen by men that is the problem … it’s that they do their deeds in order to be seen by men that is drawing such severe rebuke by Jesus (notice the “woes” that follow!).

Jesus’ word of correction is to stop focusing on the externals (“being noticed by men”) and fix their motivation for doing such works:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25-28, NASB)

If our motives are right before God, it won’t be a problem if our deeds are noticed by men or if they are done in secret, because God sees all things and judges justly.

If we misunderstand the focus of Scriptures on the internal reality of our hearts being either properly or improperly oriented towards God (and the effect this orientation has on our external actions, making even “righteous deeds” done with impure motives like filthy rags before a holy God) then we may find a contradiction with other passages like the following (also from Jesus in Matthew 5):

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NASB, emphasis added)

The Apostle Peter declares a similar truth:

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12, NASB, emphasis added)

To those who seek to gain praise from men, the Lord says do your deeds in secret. To those who seek to gain praise for the Lord, He says do your deeds before men that they may glorify your Father in heaven! The motivations behind our actions are the most important aspect, as God is interested in our hearts because He knows that if we are rightly oriented towards Him we will act rightly in the world (see 2 Corinthians 5:12).

To sum up: Christians should be obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit in all things, and in all things should seek to glorify God. Our motivation should always be to receive praise from our Lord and Master. If we act to be seen by men, we’ve received our reward in full. If we never shine in the darkness by letting our generosity be seen, then we are hiding our light under a basket. In all things, seek to follow the lead of the Spirit – against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:16-26)!

Comments

Popular Posts

Prayer vs. Petition

Q: What's the difference between prayer and petition? Phil 4:6 for example.

A: An excellent word study question! When attempting to study words from the text it is necessary to analyze the word being studied in the original language (in this case Greek) as attempting to look up the words in English will often produce erroneous results.

For example, in English the word petition has within its range of meanings things that are certainly not within the scope of meanings for the Greek word (i.e. “a sheet that is signed to demonstrate agreement with some principle or desire for some social action to be taken” is part of the range of “petition” but not of the Greek deesis from which “petition” is translated).

The word most commonly translated as “prayer” in our English Bibles is proseuche, which appears 36 times in the New Testament (NT) in one form or another (for the purposes of this study, we are only examining the usage of these words as nouns – the verbal forms will not be included…

10 Things An Evangelist Is Not

You've probably heard the term Evangelist before.Most people have. The term most likely brings something to mind. Sometimes positive. Often negative.

Does your idea match what other people think of when they hear the term evangelist?

More importantly, do any of these ideas match what the Bible tells us an evangelist is?

The truth is that most of the popular ideas about what an evangelist is and does are based on the culture, not the Bible.This is a problem.

The cultural idea of an evangelist is so popular that it is beginning to be used by companies. If you go to popular job sites and put the term evangelist into the search bar you will find many non-church jobs looking for evangelists. Many of these positions include the duties of spreading knowledge about a particular company, product, service, or idea.

The Bible tells us that Jesus gave some Evangelists for His church.And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (Ephe…

5 Keys To Effective Witness

Content is important. But it's not the only thing. Some evangelistic methods are presented as if they are the perfect witnessing method. Some think memorizing a method and mechanically delivering the content means you have effectively witnessed.

Witness throughout the New Testament demonstrates this is not accurate. There is not a cookie-cutter approach that is applied the same way every time.
Content is extremely important. Without the right content our witness cannot be effective. Messing with the content of the gospel voids its power. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17) Focusing only on content fails to recognize that we are not preaching to the air. We are preaching to persons.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel,…

Lift Up The Son, Part 2

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
(Romans 15:4)


(If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.)

The Apostle Paul quoted a verse from Psalm 69 before making his comment in Romans 15:4. When he speaks of whatever was written before he means what we have recorded in the Old Testament. He simply called them the Scriptures.

God inspired the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. Paul said they were written for the instruction of New Testament believers. Through perseverance and encouragement in the Scriptures we can have hope. The Old Testament is not supposed to be ignored by Christians.

As we apply this to our task of lifting up the Son, that in and through Christ our Father may be glorified, we encounter a word of caution.

It is easy to agree on the surface that the church ought to talk about Jesus. That's a given. But are we aware that not everyone means th…

Fullness By Design

My wife and I are expecting our 8th child this year. I want my children to grow to full maturity. That's not to say that I want to skip the fun things that accompany young kids. I don't want to skip any of it. As each day passes I realize how quickly these moments are gone.

The march toward adulthood is inevitable. Every day, we all get older. I must be aware that my children are growing up, whether I like it or not.

But maturity is not the same as age. It is possible to get older while never really growing up.

When I say that I want my children to grow to full maturity what I mean is: I desire my children to realize their potential. I want them to grow into responsible adults.

I don't want my three sons to live in my house indefinitely. They shouldn't be expecting their mother to cook and clean for them into their thirties. Part of my responsibility as a father is to steward the children God has so graciously given us. We are to raise them so that they can be delivere…