What’s the first thing you think of when someone says “superhero costume”?
For the average person, it probably conjures up images of little kids hopped up on sugar, running around on Halloween night in spandex. For people you encounter here at Geeks Under Grace, however, we lean toward imagining comic books, movies, and television shows — our favorite heroes in bright primary and secondary colors, beating up bad guys and saving the day while looking absolutely fabulous.
However, the main element of the classic superhero uniform – besides the cape and the underoos, of course – is the mask.
The history of the mask is rather simple to trace back. Legends of old, across cultures and centuries, tell tales of secret heroes who fight the forces of evil before riding off into the sunset; these include figures like Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger, and Zorro.
These heroes hide their true selves behind a mask, a hood, or a hat for many reasons. Some use the costume to become easily recognizable to friends and foes alike. Others use it to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Still others use the mystery to give them the advantage of invisibility – after all, no one would ever suspect the simple, absent-minded klutz to be the Mysterious Hero (cue oblivious supervillain monologue).
When the superhero genre solidified in the early 20th century with the Golden Age of comics, another reason for the secret identity surfaced – the ability to lead a “normal” life outside of the hectic world of heroism.
The foundation for all of these, however, is the simple desire of heroes to give selflessly to the world, without calling recognition to themselves – diverting the adulation of citizens instead to an image, a legend, a concept of fighting for truth and justice.
As Christians, we are also called to serve in such a way. Matthew 6:2-4 records Jesus explaining when we give to others and to God, “the left hand shouldn’t know what the right is doing” – a metaphoric statement meant to convey we should serve in secret, without alerting others to our chivalrous acts.
Why does Jesus tell us to serve in secret?
To put it simply, He wants us to make sure our motivations are in the right place. When we consciously put aside our desire to tell others about how awesome we are for giving so much money to the poor, or helping out at the soup kitchen, or whatever it is we do, we are putting aside our self-pride. We are purposefully stepping away from the temptation to commit the sin of seeking after the praise of man.
There is a key but subtle line we tread here in the secret place. Jesus says we should not “blow trumpets” and announce our offerings and sacrifices to our friends and fans, because that leads to pride. When we let our desire to please men before our desire to please God, we have fallen victim to our sinful nature.
However, it’s not Jesus’ intention we keep every good thing we do absolutely secret. You probably shouldn’t put on a costume and sneak cash into the donation box after hours like a vigilante (bummer!). Of course, someone is going to find out the good things – and Jesus tells us to let that happen, too! In fact, a mere chapter earlier (Matthew5:16) Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.”
Our good works should speak for themselves by speaking to God’s work here on Earth. Like the superheroes we watch and read about, we should do our duty by keeping our motivations selfless and full of love, and not let the hero-worship go to our heads. Our Biblical example of how this can go wrong, in Acts 5:1-11, is impressive to say the least.
At the right time, however, the Holy Spirit can use our truly selfless good works to speak to others. The tale of the widow who gave her last two cents is a great example of this (Luke 21:1-4). She gave no outward expression that she was literally giving everything she had to God, but Jesus revealed her testimony to change the hearts of those in the synagogue with them.
When God gives us an opportunity to share our good works with the world, we should absolutely do so. Just as The Flash may take the afternoon off crime-fighting to make an appearance at his museum, we should allow our testimony to be seen – but not for the purpose of self-glorification. Rather, after we devote our time to selfless works, we should give glory to God and use ourselves to point to His love as the driving source and power for our heroic deeds.
So go forth and give wherever you may – your time, money, the products of your spiritual gifts. But whatever you do, remember to keep your motivation rooted in love, not praise, and to give any and all glory to God, because as it says in I Corinthians 4:5, while fame-seeking pseudo-philanthropists receive their temporary reward on Earth, our God who sees us in the secret places will grant us a far greater, everlasting prize.