Jesus cautioned us against practicing our righteousness before others so that we could win their approval or praise. He said we should pray in secret, not on street corners. He said we should do our charitable giving in private, not with pomp and circumstance. He said we should fast without letting on, not so that others will notice how spiritual we are. He knows that this sort of behavior leads to hypocrisy. It was the hallmark of the Pharisees.
Even though we may fully obey Jesus in this regard, however, it is ultimately impossible to conceal from people the fact that we are living for God…if we are truly doing so. He knows this, and His warning is all the more important for precisely this reason.
Because Jesus practiced everything He preached, we may look to His life to see how He reconciled the private practices of peity with the public acknowledgement of God. His disciples noted that He would retire to solitary places to pray. We also read that He prayed at night. Obviously, He was practicing His admonition to avoid drawing attention to Himself. Yet when He went out to teach and heal, He was swarmed by crowds. And to those crowds He incessantly testified that His teaching and power did not come from within Himself, but rather from God in heaven. Thus we have His demonstration of how one practices what otherwise might be considered contradictory advice: keeping your piety private while glorifying God with your daily behavior.
This leads us also to see an amazing contrast. The Pharisees, who practiced public piety but who had no private relationship with God, were honored by the crowds as being God’s people. Jesus, on the other hand, practiced His piety privately while publicly showering praise on God, performing deeds of kindness in His name, and was crucified by the same crowds as a blasphemer and one cursed by God! This great irony demonstrates how mixed up the world is. And it is every bit as mixed up today.
I wish I could tell you that the world doesn’t hate God…but it does. And if you live as Jesus did, you will similarly be persecuted. I am not saying that you will be crucified, but I am saying that persecution is an inevitable experience of this path. Most persecution in our day consists of name-calling, whether to your face or behind your back. Regardless of its degree, the question for you is, “Are you willing to endure it?” The answer lies in the depth of the love you have for Him who died for you. If your love for Him is shallow, you give one answer; if your love for Him is deep, you give another.
Many will not walk the path of God because they recoil at this suffering for His name. Whether you’re called “Jesus freak,” or “holy roller,” or “Bible thumper,” or “born again” (every generation invents new terms of derision so the list will never be complete), the reason is the same: you are calling attention to God’s rightful place of honor in this life and the world doesn’t like it.
As you contemplate your choice, keep in mind that God rewards those who suffer for His name. In fact, His kindnesses in this regard will make you forget whatever pain persecution has caused you. There is no comparison, for the glory He gives far outweighs any suffering you may receive. As He Himself promised, blessed are those who are persecuted for doing what is right. Receive His blessing.