I love Matthew 6—it’s one of those verses which thrives in blatant contradiction to Western culture. The issue is from whom your glory is coming. I’ll be honest here. It’s hard to truly do good things in secret, but it’s the way of the Kingdom. If we do things to be seen by others, we trade our heavenly reward for a sucky, Earthly one. (Say that ten times fast… ;-)
1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 6But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:1-6 KJV
But the truth is that I have no idea what that ‘heavenly reward’ is. The passage doesn’t really go into it, and things here seem far more important than things going on in the magical kingdom of heaven — that’s how we tend to think. The Western culture is a culture of media and fame. We all want to be someone else, and we all have an amalgamation of ourselves and someone else we’re projecting onto others. We want to control what people think of us, and most of us wouldn’t admit to the amount of effort we put into doing it. In fact, a lot of it happens subconsciously. We don’t even know we’re doing it.
Christian Culture and Western Culture: Dual Citizenship?
The problem is a cultural one. In The West, impressions reign supreme—it’s all about who others think you are, rather than who you truly are. We have learned this from decades of being fed dishonest marketing and an endless barrage of rock stars and tabloids promising closeness to that holy-grail of Western civilisation: fame. But our residency in The Kingdom demands pureness of heart.
Obviously, though, something’s all wrong. Let’s break it down.
As Christians, we can’t help but be stuck in the middle. On one hand, we [some of us] work in ‘secular’ jobs (in the real world) which means we’re surrounded by Western Culture—submerged in it for better or worse. There are some of us, however, who have managed to architect our lives so as to avoid as much of this ‘secularism’ as possible. Our kids watch Veggietales and we listen to Matt Redman in the car so that our kids don’t have to see any abomination from Seth MacFarlane on TV and we don’t have to hear Alanis Morissette calling God a girl or Ian MacKaye screaming in our ears about government corruption. We’re always surrounded by culture, but unless we choose these seemingly appropriate ‘alternatives’, it’s not the culture of The Kingdom of which we’re supposed to be citizens.
Especially since Christendom’s movement of ‘relevance’ in the 90’s which said we have to be more like ‘the world’ so we can more effectively convert them, some of us modern Christians are firmly positioned in the middle of the crossfire; are we IN the world? Yes. Are we OF the world? Well, our Father is not from around here, but we’ve grown up here our whole lives, and it’s all we’ve known. So yes— in a way, we’re from here, too. But we’re not supposed to act like it, right? I’m supposed to say “no” to that right?
This way of thinking is not just fundamentalistic, but blatantly religious. Sure, Jesus did things very differently. I’d wager that Jesus, in His day, was more different to the culture around Him than we are to the culture around us. In fact, we’ve attempted to bypass the problem altogether by creating our very own culture-bubble which promises us freedom from the ‘sinful, secular world’ and endless supplies of prescriptive, smug media and gear designed to ape the good stuff from secular culture. We’ve got Christian clothes, Christian skateboards, even Christian apps. We’ve done it very badly, though, to say the least. And it wasn’t a good idea to begin with. We’ve attempted to build a wall around our city so we don’t have to deal with the scary stuff outside those walls. That stuff makes it too hard to be a Christian (on the outside).
We’ve spent decades inside The culture of Western Christianity. And even though we’re all from around here, we kept getting told we’re not supposed to act like it, at least. This is Matthew 6 which calls us to live as if from another world; The Kingdom of Heaven. Things are ran a bit differently there, and when you look at the situation, it’s clear there is a conflict. Our Christian culture-bubble, designed to replicate popular culture, has not only done a poor job of it, but it’s missed the point altogether. Jesus is not calling us to create a squeaky-clean environment for Him and Dad to visit like a holiday-home. I don’t remember Him mentioning a veritable Christian amusement park in The Great Commission.
We are an indigenous people—[most of us we were] born and raised here but with a destiny that demands we stand out from the crowd, or at least, that we don’t fit in. So what do we do? Not much really—we talk about it, but there’s not much we actually do differently. Wait a second, there’s a lot of things we don’t do, but that wasn’t the question was it? Members of Christian Culture—voluntary or not—have some reconciling to do.
We have a call to be truly different
Our calling and citizenship of The Kingdom of Heaven demands a lot more than Christian t-shirts and an appearance of cleanliness. It goes much, much deeper than that. The Kingdom has been called ‘The Upside-Down Kingdom’ because things work so differently there compared to here, almost opposite, like everything’s upside-down.
Along these lines, how we appear to others is not so much of a concern as what is in our hearts. Gone are the days of the appearance of holiness being the top priority—here in The Kingdom, what is in the heart is what matters, because invariably, what’s in the heart will always make an outside appearance one day.
The bubble of Christian culture is synthetic. Popular culture is organic—however unholy it may be. We live on Earth and are destined for Heavenly realms—we are truly dual-citizens of two kingdoms. There’s no use trying to live in a bubble because it’s not real. The culture we should be seeking is God’s—The Culture of The Kingdom. However, this culture is firstly evinced in a way of the heart rather than Kingdom t-shirts, music, television stations and the appearance of holiness. Don’t waste your time investing into the synthetic bubble of Christian culture. Instead,
“…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33 KJV