Beware of announcing your compassion for the latest calamity on Twitter, like grieving for the people in New Zealand.
Why is that a problem? Because Jesus said,
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. (Matthew 6:1)
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16–18)
Now, what does that mean?
It means if you’ve been crying alone as you pray for your kids and skipped a meal on Friday and poured out your heart, you wash your face before you walk out of that room. You don’t put it on Twitter. In essence, Jesus said, “Don’t virtue signal.” “I’m virtuous, folks. I cry when there’s a calamity. When there’s a tornado in Oklahoma, I cry.”
And Jesus said, Don’t do that.
But Paul just did it in verse 18. He said, “I’m crying.” He didn’t have to say that. He could’ve said, “Oh, Jesus said not to say that. So I won’t say it. I won’t say that I’m crying as I’m writing this letter.” And he said it.
What are we to make of that? Is it ever right for a pastor to say, “I have shed tears for this church”? Do you have a right to say that?
I think so.
So, what’s the difference? Why is it okay for Paul to broadcast his tears when Jesus says, “Wash your face after you’ve been crying and fasting so only your Father knows about it”?
I spend most of my time trying to see unity in the Bible. And it’s beautiful when you can see it. I think the answer is motive and audience. Jesus said, “Don’t practice your righteousness in order to be seen.” That’s a motive.
If Paul’s being driven by wanting some praise from the Philippians as a tenderhearted pastor, that’s wicked. Paul did this more than once, right?
In Acts 20:31 he says to the elders,
Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
“Three years I cried over you elders.”
Wow. He didn’t have to say that.
Or 2 Corinthians 2:4:
I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
So my first answer is when Paul wrote about his tears, he wasn’t trying to get praise. He was trying to tell them how much he loved them, how much he loved people, how much he wanted them to be that kind of tenderhearted person.
And the other is audience. Broadcasting your tears to the world is different than looking at a child and saying, “I’ve wept for you, son,” or a church that you want to get your hands around and you just have to say what you feel because they’re your family. That’s different. So, those are my two efforts to make sense out of Paul’s saying that he was crying when he wrote this letter and Jesus saying, “Wash your face so that you will be seen by God and not by man.”
So, my exhortation is be discerning and beware of performance tears. People can tell when you’re planning them.
You can read the whole meditation here, which constitutes seven exhortations on the the place of tears in the Christian life.