photo by j.a. holland
photo by j.a. holland

Reading: Matthew 6:1-8

There is a fine line between avoiding hypocrisy and retreating into an overly privatized practice of faith.

In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is warning his followers to avoid the pitfalls of the “hypocrites” who go to great lengths to make their expressions of faith known to the public. In contemporary parlance we talk about people who “wear their religion on their sleeve.” Sometimes such people are sincere; sometimes they are only using public expressions of Christian faith to advance an agenda.

While we are right to avoid this kind of showy faith, especially when it is disingenuous, we shouldn’t make the common mistake of concluding that faith is therefore a private matter that only involves an individual and God. The entirety of the Bible bears witness to a kind of faith that is at the same time deeply personal and deeply integrated into how we engage our shared experience of the public arena. Sincere faith should always inform how we interact with others and how we participate in the public nature of a democratic society like ours.

Jesus was clearly committed to encouraging us to live public lives that reflect the gospel and God’s love for the world. Here he counsels us to support our public acts of witness with private and sincere acts of spiritual devotion.

Loving God, strip me of religious pride and acts of “faith” that only draw attention to myself. Fill me instead, in the secret moments we share, with wisdom and courage to live as Christ lived. Amen.

This appears as today’s Fourth Church Daily Devotion.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

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