All of us have had experiences of hushed whispers in huddled groups as we
pass, or quiet conversations from the office next door, people suddenly
becoming quiet whenever you come near, memories from childhood of
school-yard whisper sessions between you and your best friend about your
ex-best friend, or scenes of whispering classmates pointing and laughing
in your direction. Telling secrets can be painful when you aren’t in on
On the other hand, haven’t you also experienced the joy of surprise as a
result of the whispering?
Perhaps those two friends in the next office
were planning to take you to lunch because they remembered it was your
birthday. Or you arrive home at your house to find a secret gift left on
your doorstep–perhaps these whispers were plans to extend kindness to you
without you knowing. Maybe whispering in secret is a way to do good deeds
in secret without the very human desire to be publicly rewarded for that
good. Telling secrets can be good when the motivation is to practice the
discipline of secrecy.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks a great deal about keeping things
secret. “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your
right hand is doing…but when you pray, go into your inner room, and pray
to your Father who is in secret… But you, when you fast, anoint your
head and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by
your Father who is in secret” (Matthew 6:3, 6, 17-18). In Jesus’s kingdom,
there is something to be said for keeping secrets, especially when those
secrets nurture humility and protect us from the pride that comes from
public lives of righteous living.
Dallas Willard, writing about the spiritual discipline of secrecy Jesus
espouses in the Sermon on the Mount, says, “One of the greatest
fallacies of our faith, and actually one of the greatest acts of unbelief,
is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised to
be known… Secrecy, rightly practiced enables us to place our public
relations department entirely in the hands of God… We allow him to
decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be
noticed.” When we desire godly secrecy, Willard goes on to suggest
that love and humility before God will develop to the point that we’ll not
only see our friends, family, and associates in a better light, but we’ll
also develop the very Christian virtue of desiring their good above our
own. Paul expressed this very truth to the Philippian church when he
told them to
“do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with
humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do
not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the
interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Perhaps this practice of secrecy is why Jesus urged many who he healed not
to reveal his identity. Perhaps this practice of secrecy is why Jesus
avoided the crowds and would often go off to “lonely places” to pray.
Whatever the case, we can follow Jesus more closely as his disciples by
keeping secrets: secret piety, secret prayer, and secret giving. “And
your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:18).