When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Matthew 6:5
Whenever I speak at some function, there’s always one or two encouragers who approach me after to tell me what a nice job I did. I’m pretty sure I could just stand up there and read the phone book and that at least one kind person would still try to find something nice to say. Still though, it’s rewarding to be praised for being up front. I don’t love speaking, but the applause feels good on the ego. I may be in recovery from drug addiction, but pride is an ever-present temptation. I did do a good job. I’ve got an important message. I’m kind of a big deal. The transition from pointing towards Christ, to pointing towards self, is a subtle, yet deadly turn.
In today’s passage, Jesus warned against using religion as a tool for self-promotion. Not completely unlike ours, the religious in Jesus’ society afforded a high status to those who served as its leaders. Some took advantage of this, not to elevate God, but themselves. These hypocrites pretended to be practicing the faith, when in reality, they were just living for their own ego. Look at me. Listen to me pray. I’m a wonderful man of God.
Addiction to the spotlight is no less destructive than drug addiction, it’s just more subtle and acceptable. A drunk stands out like a leper in church. Pride and self-promotion however, can often hide in plain sight on Sunday mornings. The one addicted to his ego, like the drug addict, cannot truly seek God as he seeks himself above all. At least the drug addict knows he’s a mess. The one who uses faith to promote himself usually thinks he’s doing God’s will.
God never asks us to sin for him though and any justification at doing so is from hell itself. Unlike drug addiction, the sin of pride is tremendously difficult to recognize. If we would avoid it, we must be painfully honest. Why am I doing this? Am I pointing to God or promoting myself? As in all things, if we want to know authentic faith, we must daily abandon our will to follow Christ’s.