May 27, 2007

The Discipline of Secrecy

I have been working my way through Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy over the past weeks, and have been continually struck by the depth of his insight. This book is a prolonged reflection on and interpretation of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and in many places Willard turns Christian assumptions and common interpretations on their heads. But through it all is a constant challenge to deepen our understanding and practice of the Christian life, the new life, that we have been given.

One place where his comments resonated deeply was in his discussion of Jesus' instructions about giving in Matthew 6:3-4: "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Willard comments on this "discipline of secrecy":

The discipline of secrecy will help us break the grip of human opinion over our souls and our actions. A discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. Jesus is here leading us into the discipline of secrecy. We from time to time practice doing things approved of in our religious circles—giving, praying, fasting, attending services of the church, and so on—but in such a way that no one knows. Thus our motivation and reward for doing these things cannot come from human beings. We are liberated from slavery to eyes, and then it does not matter whether people know or not. We learn to live constantly in this way.

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