Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 4 January 21:
Matthew 6:3-4 — But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:6 — But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:17 — But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Today, Jesus teaches on the secret life of the Christian which worships, gives, prays and fasts without anyone other than God knowing. Today’s teachings seem to contradict what Jesus taught in our readings yesterday – “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 which is it? Is our devotion to be public or private? The answer is both.
Jesus is addressing both the fruit of the Christian life, which is observable to all, and the roots of the Christian life which is unseen by others. You can’t have real fruit unless you are truly united to the life of Christ and His love is producing genuine fruit through you. In John, Jesus says it this way –
— John 15:1-12 — I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
John later reiterates – “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
Today’s verses address Christian character, who we really are rather than just who we say we are or who we appear to be to others externally. Someone once said, reputation is what others say about you, but character is what God sees in you. Are we truly abiding in Christ, or are we merely hypocrites, which means ‘stage actors’? Are our good deeds truly acts of love or merely performances to receive the applause of others? As we examine ourselves, Jesus challenges us to be root inspectors rather than just fruit inspectors.
Today’s verses are a reminder that we are fully exposed before God, and we can trust Him in our nakedness – there is no need to hide from Him as Adam and Eve did in the garden (Genesis 3:10). He knows the truth of us we often attempt to hide from others and loves us perfectly just the same. We can stop trying to perform for Him – He knows the true thoughts and feelings behind the prayers we utter, He knows the true motives behind our actions, and we can live openly and honestly before Him in full confidence of His love and grace as He completes in us the work He started – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29) Abide in Jesus privately, and Christ will be revealed naturally (not artificially) through you publicly.
Jesus’ last words to us in today’s readings are, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Many people today are anxious about what God thinks about them (guilt), what others think about them, and about their futures. However, Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:36) If you are a Christian, you have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by your efforts (Ephesians 2:8), through Christ you have been made righteous (right with God; Romans 1:17; Romans 5:17-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21), a genuine child of God (1 John 3:1). God, the Creator, the Sovereign, the Almighty loves you perfectly and endlessly, and nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:31-39). In Christ, you no longer have to struggle for approval, and you no longer have worry about your future – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Did you notice in today’s Genesis readings that after God said to Abram, “Fear not,” God foretold the Jews’ future slavery in Egypt (Genesis 15:13) and the continuous conflict in the Middle East we still experience today (Genesis 16:11, 12)? God knows what you are going through and what you will go through, and He knows that you won’t handle your circumstances perfectly. God says, “Fear not…. Trust me…. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)…. I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5) Rejoice in the knowledge that you can stop performing, and it doesn’t all depend on you.
- Matthew 11:28-30 — Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
- Mark 5:34 — And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
- John 14:27 — Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 4 January 21: Today, devote yourself to your private life with the Lord, and let it be revealed naturally to others.