Beware of Being a Spiritual Exhibitionist

Read Mt 6.1-18
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:1)

Jesus warns His listeners not to practice their spirituality in front of people to gain the honor of men. If they do, their reward will be the earthly applause from men rather than God’s reward.

Jesus is not telling us that spiritual disciplines are bad because they produce pride. No, spiritual arrogance is bad not the disciplines. Don’t ever mix the two. Secondly, this problem has more to do with motive than the action. Notice the reason for the exhibition in Jesus’ story was “to be honored by men” (vs2). But in Matthew 5.16 Jesus turns the teaching around and commands them to exhibit their good deeds. And for what purpose? To glorify the Father in Heaven. These are two different motives for practicing spirituality in front of men.
With proficiency comes the possibility of pride and spiritual proficiency is no different. Disciplemaking is very tricky in this area because we want people to become effective in the spiritual disciplines but there is always a risk of spiritual pride. But, as tricky as it may be to measure the heart, Jesus gives warnings to help us with our spiritual practices. The first place we need to go to help young disciples is to our very own hearts. Do we practice the spiritual disciplines to win men’s praise? Are we modeling and giving ample explanation (like Jesus did) in order to curb hypocrisy? The second place we need to go is to the heart of the one we are discipling. This is one of the most difficult components of discipleship (Jer 17.9, Prov 20.5) and yet Jesus spoke of heart issues often (Mt 15:18, Mk 12:30, Luk 6:45, Joh 14:27). At times, working on heart issues takes the finesse of a surgeon and others times the blunt force trauma of a baseball bat (Mt 11.21-22, Mt 23.15).
Here’s a tip: start with the scalpel! It would be a huge mistake to accuse someone of wrong motives. We need to gently explore with questions that would allow for self discovery and ownership. A reflective statement with a “Why” question is usually a good place to start. For example; “When you were quoting verses in the group, why did you feel the need to quote so many?” If the person is struggling with spiritual pride and answers the question with integrity, the door has been opened for further dialogue. On the other hand, a person may have very good reasons for their actions and just needs to be aware of how they are perceived by others.
A word on zeal. Often times zeal is mistaken for pride or legalism. Being zealous is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Be very careful not to throw a wet blanket on a budding disciple’s passion. You may be quenching the Spirit (1 Thes 5.19). Often, it’s a matter of teaching social skills and helping them manage their zeal in order to have greater impact on those around them. On the other hand, we cannot “dumb down” a person’s zeal for Christ so that others feel better about their mediocrity (Rev 3.15-16). Food for thought, your comments are welcome.
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Author: Chuck & Deb

Chuck & Deb love Jesus!

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