Escaping the Performance Trap

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Luke 12 begins with Jesus saying, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” 

Yeast, as you probably know, is a  eukaryotic microorganism which is used as a raising agent in breadmaking  whereby a tiny amount is added to permeate a large lump of dough, changing the character of the whole.

Jesus is saying that one tiny, but highly specific attitude can transform the whole character of a person.

He calls it “the yeast of the Pharisees.

But what is that attitude that changes the character of the whole?

Jesus calls it “hypocrisy” (which fits in with the diatribe against hypocrites in the previous chapter) but there’s something else going on here apart from the customary understanding of hypocrites as not practising what they preach, being inconsistent and insincere.

In the first century AD, the word “hypocrite” was a term used in Greek theatre. It meant a playactor; someone acting  a part by putting on a  mask. The heart of Jesus’s warning here was against what we might call “the performance trap.”

You see, the Pharisees were not insincere or inconsistent people. They were deeply religious and concerned with getting it right. Jesus even commended their teaching on occasion.

But God’s purpose is that we have “truth in the inward parts.” It’s not that we act righteously but that we are righteous from the inside out. it’s not that we do a good job of acting out a role of righteousness, but that we would be genuinely transformed in our inner being.

The danger of putting on a show

That’s the danger of emphasising the “stage” aspect of a church, or putting the minister on a pedestal, or encouraging your young people to form a worship band that emphasises public performance at the expense of private integrity.

The Message (Matthew 6) identifies the problem well:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

2-4 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.”

Beware of the yeast of the Pharisee! God judges not on the basis of how we have performed but on who we are behind the mask. It was the word that God spoke to Samuel when he was looking over the sons of Jesse for a future king:  “...for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.“(1 Sam 16:7)

The risk of forgetting who you are

The Performance Trap can snare you into a kind of self-deception. You start to believe your own act. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector in the temple, seeking God. Luke prefaces the story with this:  “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable…” Do you see how self-deceived you can become when you get caught in the Performance Trap? You believe your own press release!

According to the story, they sincerely believed that they were morally better than the people who were around them who did not keep the Law the way they did.

This creates a serious block to honesty and self-awareness. You are hardly likely to go to the doctor if you think that you’re well.

Hypocrisy Is The Opposite Of Faith.

The familiar word in Hebrews 11:6 is that “without faith it is impossible to please God...” But hypocrisy is the very opposite of faith.  The difference is in who Is doing the work. On the surface, there may appear to be little difference between hypocrisy and genuine faith. In hypocrisy, a man does what he thinks God wants him to do in his life. By faith, a man trusts and depends upon the grace of God working in his behalf to transform his inner being so that he might do what God would have him do in his life.

The difference is in who is doing the work; in the hypocrite it is self, in the faithful believer it is God.

My destiny Is determined by this distinction! A person’s salvation is not based on what he does, no matter how righteous it may appear. Certainly the life of the believer should reflect righteous living and righteous works, but it is Christ in us who brings these things about.“It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose…” (Philippians 2:12-13)

Ultimately, we have to confront Matt 7:21-23: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” 23 Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you.”

The way out of the performance trap is to make sure you know Jesus. It’s the main thing. It’s the only thing. What about your heart this morning? Are you just going through the motions or is Jesus real in your life?

Lord, I want to escape the performance trap.

So help me not to put on an act, even with myself. Help me in my pride not to allow my “showing off” to become a default position or my worship or prayer to become theatre.

Help me to stay honest, even if it means that you have to allow my deceptions to be uncovered, and “shouted from the rooftops.”

Make me real, Make me true; In what I think and feel and speak and do. You are the way that I want to go. You are the truth that I need to know. You are the life I mean to live.

In Jesus’s name, I pray for “truth in the inward parts.



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One Response to Escaping the Performance Trap

  1. This ties up with what I read this morning in Jeremiah 17. The lovely image of a tree planted beside water is redolent of Psalm 1 but the passage also reminds us how deceitful the heart is. How easily we fool ourselves but how wonderful that our hope of salvation is in Him.

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