It all began with a conversation around the dinner table. I had mentioned an incident of public confession at a church we had visited a few years ago. This then led to a question from my 17-year old son: “We’re not supposed to do that; doesn’t the Bible say that the right hand shouldn’t know what the left one does?” This then turned into a discussion about the natures of pride and humility. There we sat, with a table full dirty dishes between us, engaging in a conversation about the revolutionary demands of following Christ.
My son was right. The Bible does say:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…. Matthew 6:3
We shouldn’t let one hand know what the other is doing. However, the context of this verse is explicit: we do this when we give to the needy. Jesus, as part of his Sermon on the Mount, commanded his followers to maintain no memory of the good things we do. We must not let ourselves know what we’ve done, let alone others. We are to practice humility when it comes to acts of good will.
My son was also mistaken. The Bible also says:
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16
We should be confessing our sins to each other, in proportion to the breadth of the offense and the depth of our relationship. James commands Christ’s followers to maintain accountability for the bad things we do, otherwise we are in danger of damaging our souls and dropping into prideful arrogance. We need to practice humility when it comes to acts of ill will.
All this caused my son, in resignation, to say that what we were saying was messed up. But the fact remains that the ways of the world – celebrating our altruism publicly and covering our mistakes privately – are diametrically opposed to the ways of the Lord – admitting our mistakes publicly and allowing our acts of kindness to remain private. All who follow Jesus cannot follow the patterns of the culture, and instead of ‘cleaners’ and ‘plausible deniability’ we must embrace confession and transparency.
This is truly a revolutionary lifestyle. While everyone around us might tell us to take pride in our positive accomplishments, we need to remain humble. While everyone around us might tell us not to dwell on our mistakes, we need to deal with our sin. This requires us to rely on God’s Spirit to lead us – to trust that He sees the good that we do (even when no one else does) and will reward us and to know that He sees the bad that we do (even though no one else might) and will forgive us.
So, we who know Jesus as Lord and Savior must admit our weaknesses to someone and expect no one to know our goodness. In a world drenched in abuse and aggression, a posture of humility like this would go a long way to addressing some of the pain.
270. It is the number of calories in a Dunkin’ Donuts© jelly doughnut. I know this because my coffee provider of choice is required to post the calorie count of each item on their menus. I know this because I have had occasion to indulge in a mid-afternoon snack only to be blind-sided by the knowledge that a couple of jelly doughnuts has a greater caloric content than any meal a healthy man of my size should consume (let alone a 5-minute indulgence into joys of circular pastries). Plus, a quick scan of the shelves reveals that the jelly doughnut is some of the lighter fare offered. My favorite – the blueberry cake doughnut – is about 400 calories. Now that I know, I’ve begun changing my actions and eating only one doughnut as a snack.
This dose of reality made me wonder: if I knew the full cost of my other indulgences, would I engage in them less frequently? If I saw on a crawl at the bottom of the television screen that every 23 minutes of the “Bachelorette” killed 3 brain cells (N.B.: there is no scientific proof that this is true, just anecdotal evidence), would I reduce my consumption of these sorts of programs? If I was handed a list of the damages careless words will cause to others, would I be more conscious of what I say to those with whom I interact? Life would be quite different if I were instantly aware of the consequences of every unhealthy action in which I engage.
“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” Proverbs 14:8 (NIV)
There is wisdom in knowing, whether it is written on a menu board or on the tablet of the heart, what is profitable and what is detrimental. I shouldn’t really need a number under a doughnut to know that an apple is a better choice. I shouldn’t need a dimple in the sofa cushion to serve as a reminder that I ought to exercise more than my eyeballs. If we have the Spirit of God (also known as the Spirit of Truth and the Counselor) because we know Jesus as Lord and Savior, we also have the silent whisperings He gives to guide us in wholeness and health, for our well-being and for the well-being of those around us.
So, with the help of the Holy Spirit I am trying to see the “calorie count” in everything now. I am seeking to count the costs for not only gluttony and sloth, but also for pride, wrath, lust, greed and envy. When I cannot see the dangers I may be bringing upon myself or others, I know that trusting in the Spirit’s leading will serve me well. I am grateful that the Lord does not leave us to our own devices in navigating around the therapeutic and the treacherous things of life; He helps us by ordering our steps.
Now, if someone could just discover a recipe for the healthy doughnut; for that, too, I would be grateful.