Think

Private, Personal and Public

Apr 2015    

Jesus said, don’t pray to be seen by others, but rather, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”

(Matt 6:6)

As a frequent user of public transport, I find it quite disconcerting to see women put on their make-up on the train; not just a quick brush of their hair, but the full works, slowly and painstakingly. Personal grooming, like showing affection or meting discipline, should be carried out in private.

 

Social media now allows me to post what my family had for dinner, a private occasion, for all my friends to see and admire. More disturbing for the church is that the Christian faith is so privatised in Bible studies and sermons (“How does God want to bless me?”) that the ethical and public dimensions of our faith are often overlooked. There is today a confusion of what is private, personal and public.

 

While the Christian faith is personal, it is not a private one. As John Wesley wrote in his journal on 24 May 1738, “I felt that I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

 

We must each encounter Christ, and personally acknowledge him as our Lord and Saviour. The words and actions to do this will be different for a three-year-old, an illiterate person or an educated adult, but but all need to accept Jesus personally. This personal act of faith leads us into private disciplines and public actions.

 

As believers, we are expected to grow in discipleship through some disciplines done in private. Jesus said, don’t pray to be seen by others, but rather, “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:6). In the same way, when we give to the needy “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt 6:3), meaning that gifts as well as volunteer acts should be done with little fanfare and publicity.

 

As the hymn writer says, “Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.” In these ways, we grow in maturity. That growth will lead us to live out our faith in all aspects of life. Those of us who engage on social media platforms should consider if we must make all our private meals public, though of course this does not mean that we should not share anything publicly.

 

The Christian faith has a public dimension. Too often I see illegally-parked cars, able-bodied persons sitting in reserved seats, or rude shoppers; with signs that point to them being Christians whether it is a bumper sticker, a t-shirt or a cross around the neck. Our Christian faith must have an impact on our parking and driving and how we behave in public.

 

The church also has a public face and dimension. The church is a city on a hill which cannot be hidden (Matt 5:14). The way we treat each other, especially the strangers and foreigners in our midst, not just within the church but in society, speaks volumes.

 

Our attitude to those of different faiths by respecting their beliefs, dietary laws or dressing is also part of our witness to them. When we engage with others, let our speech always be gracious and seasoned with salt (Col 4:6), even when our opinions are very different. We can, and should make our views known because Christians are to influence and shape the society that we are in. And we do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15).

 

These public expressions of faith can only be done when we take our personal faith seriously and develop the Christian disciplines privately.

Picture by Sabphoto/Bigstock.com

Kwa Kiem Kiok is a local preacher at Trinity Methodist Church, and teaches missions-related subjects at East Asia School of Theology. She and her husband, a TRAC pastor, enjoy walking in the outdoors.

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