Big-God Living in a Man-Pleasing World

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My wife and I are expecting a son in the next seven weeks. We’ve named him Walter Wynn Holmes, and my emotions are countless in anticipation of his arrival.

Naturally I have doubts about my ability and readiness to be a good father. Still I’m filled with joy that I get to share in Wynn’s growth by teaching him about Jesus and true manhood, as well as nurturing his growth spiritually and physically.

“A hypocrite’s cloak of God-centeredness is only a means but the end goal is self-glorification.”

Before long Wynn will want to share his accomplishments with mommy and daddy for our pleasure and his own increased joy. Perhaps the day he learns the last of his ABCs, he will come and say, “Mommy and daddy, listen to me say the ABCs.” Or maybe he’ll do something as simple as jump over a mud puddle and want his parents to see how much of a big boy he’s becoming.

And this wonderful inclination in all children to share the joy of their accomplishments, and please their parents, reflects a greater parent-child relationship.

Our Desire to Be Seen

Like children, we have an innate desire to “be seen” and share our accomplishments for our joy and the pleasure of another. But because of the fall, this desire has been misdirected.

Instead of seeking joy by pleasing God with our faith-inspired actions, we seek a sin-sick joy from the mere praise of others. This is evident in our quest for likes, retweets, and shares on social media, among other things. Instead of living to please God, we live to please man. Man is big, but God is small in our eyes. Christians desperately need to learn the value of big-God living in a man-pleasing world.

Jesus warns in Matthew 6:1–4,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Jesus warns us not to practice our righteousness merely to be seen by other people. This is what hypocrites do. They practice proper actions in public, for others to see, but their hearts are not in tune with God. Hypocrites pretend to be what they are not — in particular by using the façade of religion to achieve some ulterior motive.

Your deepest source for joy is also our truest object of worship.

Hypocrites are pretenders. They claim to be God-centered, but they are really man-centered — seekers of the praise of man for the glory of man. A hypocrite’s cloak of God-centeredness is only a means but the end goal is self-glorification. They desire “to be seen by men” and to “be praised by others,” but they perform evil in secret, completely disregarding God.

Jesus’s point in Matthew 6:1–4 is often misunderstood. It is sometimes assumed that Jesus is condemning our intrinsic desire to be seen and affirmed. Jesus does not intend to suppress our desire to be seen, but in fact, he encourages it. Instead of condemning it, he wants to redirect it.

The point of the passage is that our righteousness should be performed finally for an audience of one for the pleasure of one. Why? Jesus understands that our deepest source for joy is also our truest object of worship. If you want to uncover who or what a person worships, look no further than his source of joy.

When God Is Bigger

People who angle for the praise of other people for their joy actually have a fear-of-man problem. Counselor Ed Welch defines fear in a biblical sense. Fear, he says, “includes being afraid of someone, but it extends to holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by people, worshiping other people, putting your trust in people, or needing people” (When People Are Big and God Is Small, 17).

He also gives three reasons why we fear people:

  1. We fear people because they can expose and humiliate us.

  2. We fear people because they can reject, ridicule, or despise us.

  3. We fear people because they can attack, oppress, or threaten us.

These three reasons have one thing in common: they see people as “bigger” (that is, more powerful and significant) than God, and, out of the fear that creates in us, we give other people the power and right to tell us what to feel, think, and do. (Welch, 23)

The twisted fact about sinful humans is that we seek the praise of others, not from a place of power, but a place of fear. We worship the very people we seek to be worshiped by. We display simultaneously that we were never meant to be worshiped and that we were made to be worshipers. When “people are big and God is small,” our fear and worship is misdirected, and our source of joy is insubstantial — and therefore our joy remains incomplete. God alone is the only deep, lasting source of joy.

For His Pleasure and Our Good

Just like the child who dances, jumps, and performs for the pleasure of his parents, Christians should do everything for the pleasure of our Father in heaven (1 John 3:22). We don’t perform righteous deeds for our heavenly Father’s acceptance. We perform righteous deeds because we’re already accepted. We don’t do the actions of faith to obtain a relationship with him, but we seek to please him because we already have a relationship with him and we love to please the one we love.

Big-God living doesn’t isolate us from one another, but unites us.

The only way we can experience deep joy and lasting peace is through big-God living. Big-God living is just another word for a God-centered, Christ-exalting lifestyle. Big-God living is a lifestyle that places man in his rightful place and sees God, as he ought to be seen, on the throne of the universe, and the throne of our hearts.

And aiming to please God will revolutionize the way we relate to each other. Big-God living doesn’t isolate us from one another, but unites us and restores the proper way we were meant to interact.

Instead of seeing ourselves as objects of worship, we become life-giving tools in the hands of our Father for the good of our brothers. Good deeds done in secret please our Father (Matthew 6:4, Hebrews 13:16) and ready our hearts for public acts of love that are not a façade, but truly from faith.

(@PhillipMHolmes) served as a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He is the Director of Communications at Reformed Theological Seminary and a finance coach and blogger through his site Money Untangled​. He and his wife, Jasmine, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi.