For the love of the children (Part 2)

Part 2 in a series “Christ and the children”, by Rosie Moore.

Two weeks ago, we focused on Christ’s power and glory in the Transfiguration. But in Matthew 18 and 19, we see Jesus’ humanity and compassion for the most helpless and dependent people on earth. These cameos show us that God loves little children, born and unborn, and is deeply concerned for their welfare.

We cannot be under any illusions about how Jesus sees anyone who hurts or lures a child into sin, temptation, unbelief, bitterness, addiction or slavery. Satan’s purpose is to destroy children and their faith in God, or at least to handicap them through sin, guilt, fear and shame. But God’s plan is to bring ‘little ones’ into his kingdom, the earlier the better.

“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt 18:5-6).

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” (Matt 18:10-14)

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. (Matt 19:13-14).

In a society which has increasingly accepted and normalized the sexualisation of children, Matthew 18:6 speaks loudly and clearly about how God will judge those who use their power to rob children of their childlike trust, hobbling them with trauma and shattering their innocence.

The hidden pandemic of child abuse relies on collusion by families and communities who value other things above their children.

The hidden pandemic.

According to Stats SA, in the year 2020, more than 600 girls aged 9 and 10 gave birth to a baby.

Just scratch beneath the surface of this statistic: Since the legal age of consent is 16 years old (shocking enough), every one of these children (and countless others who did not give birth) have been groomed and raped by a man, with no one in the family, community, or law enforcement to intervene for that child. Most of these little girls were trapped in homes with a known abuser.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, since most 9 and 10 year olds are not physically mature enough to conceive a baby. How many more babies and young girls were raped but never gave birth? Moreover, in 2020, 34 587 babies were born to girls aged 17 and younger. These mothers are still children themselves.

But South Africa is not alone in this gross violation of children, nor is it limited to females. Child abuse is a global epidemic, and in 2020-21, more layers of the horrific underbelly of child abuse has been exposed:

Child sex trafficking.

A few months ago, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty on all charges but one in the sex trafficking trial linked to the late convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell lured girls as young as 12 with offers of money, visas and modelling prospects. The men who procured these underage girls were high profile elites who were conveniently shielded in the Maxwell trial. Just last week, Prince Andrew paid a settlement of £12 million (about R245 million) to Virginia Guiffre who claimed she was sexually assaulted by the Prince when she was 17. £2 million of this settlement went to an NGO which stops child sex trafficking.

In June 2021, Joel Davis, nominated for a Nobel prize for being the founder of a NGO dedicated to ending sexual violence against children and adolescents, was himself sentenced to 15 years in prison for child pornography and enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity. Ironically, the ‘protector’ of children was found with 3700 photos and more than 330 films of child pornography.


There are thousands of instances of the fox guarding the henhouse. A 2009 report found that sexual and psychological abuse was “endemic” in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages in Ireland for most of the 20th Century.

A five-year Australian inquiry in 2017 found that “tens of thousands of children” were sexually abused in Australian institutions over decades, including churches, schools and sports clubs.

But perhaps most shocking of all was an independent Catholic commission report released in October 2021, estimating that 216 000 children were abused by 3000 different Priests in France alone since the 1950’s. Including abuse by other church employees, the total number of child sex victims is 330 000. Around 80% of the victims were boys.

The head of this huge French inquiry said that until the early 2000s, the Church had shown “deep, total and even cruel indifference” towards victims. This is victim shaming and spiritual abuse at its worst, and the layers are only starting to be peeled back.

The scourge of pedophilia is greater than we can ever imagine, but this interview by Dr Jennifer Roback Morse  provides insight into the far reaching implications in the lives of child victims and future generations.

Yet, we still have so many cultural and social norms that encourage child molestation and rape to be swept under the carpet to protect the family, church or institution.

Child pornography.

Child porn is one of the fastest growing online businesses, with over 55% of victims just 10 years old or younger. On PornHub, the word ‘teen’ has topped the pornography mega-site’s search items for over six years now. A search on the site for ‘girls under 14’ yields more than 100 000 videos.

It’s ironic that Pornhub, which attracts more than 3.5 billion visits a month, does nothing to police its content, while big tech in general is censoring people’s legitimate speech every day. Jennifer Morse describes child porn as a “plague that’s eating away at the soul of our society”, led by abusers who profit from the suffering and degradation of children.

Moreover, there is ample research to prove that children’s exposure to online pornography has devastating effects on a child’s attitudes to sex, violent sexual behaviours and practices. Porn destroys empathy and the ability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), thus poisoning real life attachments and relationships. It’s not difficult to see how child porn users become abusive partners.

Yet, so little is said about the ruin of children through online pornography, which is currently leading the majority of teens into addiction. Porn is part of a lethal pandemic which is poisoning our children, but our culture has become expert at straining out gnats and swallowing camels where children are concerned (Matt 23:24).


And then there’s the unborn baby, which has become disposable through the legal practice of abortion. This is another case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

But God’s Word will not let us forget that even the tiniest child is a human being created in the image of God, with inestimable worth and dignity (Luke 1:41Ps 139:13). Since all human life is sacred, the blood of every murdered victim cries out to God for justice, as in the case of Abel (Gen 4:10).

We don’t need to guess what Jesus would think of abortion–the leading cause of death worldwide for humans, with about 70 million legal abortions being performed annually, worldwide.

If you look up the abortion Worldometer website, you will see that more than 5.3 million babies have already been aborted legally this year, and it is only mid-February. This is a staggering snapshot of modern day child sacrifice. The number rises every second to indicate the death of another precious human.

If we, as Christians, think that laws and policies are a distraction from our faith, it’s worth noting that in South Africa, annual abortions rose sharply after the “Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act” was passed in 1997, and these figures have steadily increased year on year.

So, in 1996, there were 1 651 abortions recorded for the year, and in 2019 (the last year on record), we had 124 446 recorded legal abortions. Thus, laws do make a difference to people’s values and behaviour, which is why Christians should care about politics and policies if we are to be salt in our culture. Jesus pronounces ‘woes’ on the religious people of his time, who failed to protect the most vulnerable: “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law– justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23-24).


And last but not least, there are the Teachers who lead children astray by scoffing at their belief that God  created the world; the Chaplains who stand at chapel lecterns day after day, dressed in full regalia, but never invite the children to repent of their sins and believe in Christ; the Pastors who invite young people to explore all  other religions and roads to God, except Christ; the Progressive Christians who ridicule the plain teachings of the Bible, such as the resurrection of the dead, Christ’s atonement and eternal judgment.

Instead of being the spiritual shepherds described in Matt 18:10-14, these ‘false guides’ actively lead little ones away from God, urging children to deconstruct their ‘childish’ faith and reject the Bible’s authority to answer their questions. I’m sure Jesus had these deceivers in mind in Matt 23:13-14: “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Out of sight, out of mind.

Of course it’s easier to say, “Out of sight, out of mind!” Child abuse is a distressing and overwhelming issue that makes us wish we could just stay with the original sweet image of Jesus blessing the little children, instead of being diverted by millstones around people’s necks!

But about all these secret, hidden sins against children, God says to his people in every generation:

“If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
    hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
    and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:10-12)

Our generation of Christians needs to fight for the dignity and protection of children in this hidden epidemic. We cannot faint.

All forms of injury to children should shock us to the core and awaken a righteous desire to reach out and care for children wherever we can. Fundamental human rights and the freedom to flourish are rooted squarely in the Bible, so of all people, Christians owe children more than mere survival.

But, what can we as parents and the church do for children? Here are just four ideas:

1. Lead a counter-revolution.

Lead a sexual counter-revolution by pushing back against the sexualisation of our children.  Be on the lookout for every opportunity to care for and disciple children who are casualties of the sexual revolution, atheism and the rapid disintegration of the family unit.

If one of Satan’s most effective schemes is to lead young hearts astray through inappropriate sexualisation, the church and Christian families need to be at the forefront of a “sexual counter-culture”, to borrow the words of Tim Keller and Kevin de Young. Twenty-first century Christians need to emulate our brothers and sisters in the first century who spearheaded the “first sexual revolution”.

We cannot passively watch our children be swept away by our sexually twisted culture. We need to bring the Bible into family life and be unembarrassed to talk frankly to our children about God’s purpose for sex and relationships, about biblical manhood and womanhood. Start in your home and move on to mentor other young people that the Lord brings into your life. Pray for God to show you where He can use you in the life of a child or teen, and be ready to obey.

As a practical example, I know a Christian couple who mentor over 60 boys and girls every year in their gap year programme. They tell amazing stories of broken lives being restored, new habits formed and a new trajectory set for life which will affect generations to come.

2. Do not relinquish parental responsibility.

Fiercely guard your God-given rights and duties as parents to make wise decisions on behalf of your children. These rights are being eroded on many fronts, as part of a strategic attack on God’s design for the family as the foundation of society (Gen 2:24-25). Parents are increasingly being seen as unwanted “barriers” to children accessing abortion and their “sexual rights”. Parental authority, abstinence and religious values are even being blamed for child pregnancies and sexual abuse.

And so, children need courageous parents with eyes wide open to the content being taught to them in schools, especially when it’s couched in positive terms like “comprehensive sexuality education”, “sexual rights”, and the “right to sexual pleasure” for children of all ages. ‘Queering’ (the intentional disruption of heterosexuality as the norm) and graphic sexual education of young children is being imported to Africa from the West and should be resisted by Christian parents. The ideology underpinning these education strategies won’t solve any problems, but will lead children into sin.

Similarly, we need to counter ideologies which teach children to think that race is more important than character, or that different races have mutually incompatible characteristics and values that cannot be shared. These are divisive and harmful teachings which cause damage to the wellbeing of children, their relationships and ability to accept their identity in Christ.

Be vigilant about who your children visit and where they sleep over, without being neurotic. Make a habit of lifting your own children where possible. Be careful of coaches and teachers who do not respect proper boundaries between adults and children, and never assume that all people share your values. Teach your children what is appropriate, how to firmly say ‘no’ and how to resist temptation. Read good Christian books to your children like the “God’s design for Sex” series.

Be willing to process difficult questions with your children day or night (Deut 6:5-9). You cannot delegate this responsibility.

3. Welcome children in Christ’s name.

Jesus shows us how to take care of little ones by taking them tenderly on his lap. They are not just little things to be sent on errands, ordered around, farmed out, or used for our own ends. Jesus says that we are to welcome them into God’s kingdom in very concrete and kind ways.

The early church took this literally when they rescued baby girls, left by the Paterfamilias to die at the Roman fountains and garbage heaps. Infanticide is not unique to our culture. Those discarded babies who didn’t die from exposure were normally sold for slavery and prostitution.

But rescued babies were cared for in Christian families and catechized in the early church. They grew up to become wives in the rapidly growing Christian community, so in God’s amazing providence, these children gave birth to a whole new generation of Christians.

To welcome a child in Christ’s name means to lead a child gently to the Lord one step at a time. Whether they are our genetic children, adopted children or complete strangers, we can look out for every opportunity to welcome children in Christ’s name.

With the fragmentation of families, there are more babies and children than ever with no parental care. They need Christian adults to talk to them about who Jesus is and to pray for them; to adopt and support them. That’s how they will know the love of Jesus.

In many cases, the internet has been a child’s only babysitter, leaving them starved for real relationship. Many children do not ever sit around a dinner table and have a family conversation. This affords us an opportunity to offer genuine hospitality to young people by inviting them to our homes, bringing them to Church and incorporating them in our Life groups.

4. Do not hinder the children.

Finally, Jesus’s message to all of us is not to ‘hinder’ the children.

As parents, we can inadvertently hinder them with harsh authoritarian methods, as well as with over-indulgence and neglect. How will they learn of God’s love and character unless we show them? And how will they not be led astray if we leave them to their phones and devices? This is not a time for passive parenting.

At pivotal times in their development, we need to put aside all else to consistently discipline our children and teach them to control their natural selfish impulses. This is hard work, especially in the tyrannical toddler and teen years! But if we fail to be consistent in discipline, we will be causing our little ones to stumble. We may even hinder them from submitting to Christ and entering His kingdom.

Personally, I was privileged to grow up in a safe nest, with dozens of adults who discipled and nurtured me. God used them to welcome me into his kingdom:

A father who read me the Bible from a young age and shepherded my heart; an old pastor called Rev Dr J.F Allen who, in 1975, gave me a copy of his book, “The New Illustrated Children’s Bible “ which states on the front page: “The book is dedicated to the children of the world.” I read that Bible from cover to cover many times.

Another pastor called Warwick Seymour, from a tiny rural church, was my godfather. Every birthday, he gave me a beautiful Christian picture book with a handwritten message on the flyleaf. In my first decade of life, I was literally led to the Lord by those books and prayers, which is probably why I still love reading and writing.

But the shepherds didn’t stop there. When I went to boarding school at the age of 10, Christians from ‘Scripture Union’ and ‘Youth for Christ’ came to my school on missions. A total stranger wrote to me every week and sent me a Daily Bread to help me with my Bible readings and prayer. He taught me how to write my thoughts in a journal and memorize Scripture. An old woman arrived at my school each Sunday to take me to church, and an amazing Christian teacher called Andy Thomas taught me Biblical studies throughout high school.

At University, Roger Palmer (who ran a student ministry) and Dr Chris Warton, taught me to think biblically and patiently answered my questions. I’m naming names where I remember them, because I want to acknowledge some faithful Christians who took turns planting and watering spiritual seeds in my early life without ever seeing any fruit. They simply welcomed me in Christ’s name and in so doing, they welcomed Christ (Matt 18:5). It’s an immense privilege to lead a little one to God, and that privilege could be ours.

Our Father in heaven is not willing for any little one to be lost (Matt 18:14). “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s look around and show the same kind of love and concern for children in our sphere of influence. It’s sorely needed.

What is your mental image of Jesus?

“When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus” (Matt 17:8)

A temptation we all face is to see Jesus as just one among many great men of history, like the heroes of a book I read recently titled, Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness” (Eric Metaxes). Although Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood man, He was much more than a carpenter, healer, preacher and  leader who died a martyr’s death in first century Palestine.

He is more than a good example, a good influence, a lawgiver, a role model and a great prophet who reveals the secret to greatness. Jesus, the only Son of God, is in a class of his own: He made us; became human and lived among us; then died on our behalf. But He is now seated on his throne in heaven as the King of glory. He has no rivals. This is something we are apt to forget.

No rivals.

But if you’ve been to a traditional church school or been brought up in a Christian family, it’s easy to trivialize Jesus and imagine him as a character in a Sunday school picture book, sitting in a fishing boat with his friends, handing out favours to the sick and needy, smiling benignly at the Last supper.

It’s equally easy to romanticize Jesus and picture him as a baby in a manger or a bloody martyr on a cross. But Matthew’s account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17) and John’s vision of the glorified Son of man (Revelation 1) demolish any glib pictures of Jesus we may have in our heads. They paint a stunning picture of the glorified Jesus that is beyond our imagination.


Can you imagine being James, John and Peter on the day that Jesus was transformed on the mountain? They had lived with Jesus for three years and knew him as a Galilean preacher and miracle worker, but then they caught a glimpse of Him as the glorified Son of God.

Christ’s face and clothes became so bright in appearance that He was difficult to look at: “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt 17:2). The closest I’ve come to a shining face is someone who is badly sunburnt or has rubbed vaseline all over their skin! It’s nothing like Christ’s transformed body.

Then suddenly, as if a clock rocketed 1400 and 900 years back in time, two Old testament heroes appeared and spoke with Jesus. Amazingly, Moses and Elijah were interested in hearing what the Son of God was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Luke records that they spoke about Jesus’s ‘departure’ (exodus) “which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). It’s difficult to imagine the exact words of their gospel conversation!

Awkwardly, Peter offered to put up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. I can relate to this silly impulsive thing Peter did, as I’m prone to do similar things. Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “Please don’t let this moment of glory end! Let’s just forget this nasty idea of suffering, being rejected and crucified. Let’s rather build some cozy tents up here on the mountain, so we can live with this heavenly Jesus forever!” That’s just how I sometimes feel when I’m having a precious time with my family before we scatter in different directions. I long to pitch some tents and make the beautiful moment last forever.

Moreover, Peter had a totally wrong mental picture of Jesus. He wanted to elevate Jesus to the stature of the great lawgiver, Moses and the greatest Old Testament prophet, Elijah. Perhaps he imagined Jesus as a political hero like David or Samson, who would rescue his people from the Romans.

But Jesus embodied everything that the law and prophets illustrated to the Jewish people. Moses and Elijah’s achievements could not compare to the real Lamb of God, who would soon die to give permanent access to His heavenly Father. Jesus fulfilled, satisfied and perfected every element of the Old covenant.

As if to put the record straight, the Father’s voice, which was part of a terrifying display of nature, boomed from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5)

It’s no wonder that John and Peter were dumbstruck with fear. This was a theophany if ever they saw one! “They fell facedown to the ground, terrified.” (Matt 17:6). And Jesus responded to their reverent worship with reassurance, “Get up! Do not be afraid.” (Matt 17:7). There was both authority and kindness in his voice.

Then Matthew records one of the most poignant verses of the Bible: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Matt 17:8) What a beautiful picture of Christ alone– sola Christus!

The three disciples had just witnessed one of the rare and terrifying moments when Jesus revealed his divine glory as the God of all creation. Another occasion was at his arrest when Jesus said, “I am.” The soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).

No one but Jesus.

Jesus permits no rivals. Everything we love about noble, brave historical heroes points to Him. He is the world’s one and only Saviour. Those who fall at his feet in surrender are those who finally realise there is no one else who is worthy. From the moment of our spiritual awakening, we, like the disciples, must look and listen to Jesus only.

Although the Creator of the world took on flesh and became one of us, at the transfiguration the three disciples became “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). They glimpsed Christ as the King of glory and it aroused awestruck worship.

During the Transfiguration, the disciples were assured that Jesus was the real Messiah, even though He would soon be arrested and crucified as a common criminal. Spurgeon lays out the practical implication of this stunning revelation for believers in every age:

“Let us follow Jesus, and follow him with other men only so far as we perceive they follow Christ.”

The first and the last.

The mighty Son of God appeared a second time to John when he was a much older man. This time the resurrected Jesus revealed His glory to reassure John and all future believers of who He was, and is, and always will be. Once again, Christ touched the stunned disciple and reminded him not to be afraid. “I am the First and the Last.” John’s awesome vision is recorded for us in Revelation 1:12-18.

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Do not be afraid.

While the Lord of glory never forces our submission nor calls for violent overthrow of other gods, He tolerates no rivals. He is the First and the Last. Yet, it’s inconceivable that this is the same glorified Jesus to whom we have access today, by faith!

Christ’s white hair symbolizes His infinite wisdom and divine nature. He is God himself.

His feet of burnished bronze and blazing eyes remind us that he is the sacrifice on the altar and the ultimate Judge of all evil in the world.

His roaring voice epitomizes a mighty warrior shouting aloud against his enemies.

The sword in Jesus’s mouth demonstrates the power and force of his gospel message.

And the golden sash around his chest identify Jesus is the High priest who goes into God’s presence to obtain forgiveness on behalf of those who trust Him.

Just as Jesus reassured his disciples, He still touches sinful, broken people today, instructing us not to be afraid. After all, what is there to fear if the Son of God has forgiven us and is clutching the keys to death and judgment in his hand? Our only apt response is to trust and focus Him, as John, Peter and James did. “They saw no one but Jesus.”

All who trust in Christ will be raised to eternal life with Him. We will see Him face-to-face and will resemble him, “shining like the sun in all its brilliance” (1 John 3:2). Who can imagine swopping these broken old bodies for new glorified ones?!

Jesus is far more wonderful than our heroes of history or the ancestors that some venerate, who have no power over life, death or judgment. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He alone can calm our legitimate fears (Heb 13:8). We bow to Him today as Creator and Saviour–or as our Judge in eternity.

Two glimpses of glory.

These two New Testament glimpses of glory remind us that Christ doesn’t expect his followers to placate him out of fear. Instead, our fear should lead us to a proper understanding of who Christ is, in order that we can respond to Him in trust and obedience.

The transfiguration and John’s vision challenge our mental picture of Christ. Yes, the Son of God became a man and died a shameful death. But if we dwell on his humanity, yet ignore or trivialize the Lord of glory who is seated at the right hand of God, we are believing a delusion. We are robbing ourselves of the strength, courage, hope and peace we need to face trials and suffering in this world.

It’s because of John’s robust, 3-dimensional mental picture of Jesus, that he could reassure all future believers with these comforting words that are so apt in our times:

“You dear children, are from God and have overcome the spirit of the antichrist in the world, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)


Father, thank you that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to your glory. Forgive us for creating pathetic images of your Son and failing to see Him as the King who is reigning and ruling even now. We worship you, Lord Jesus, because you have disarmed every power and authority on the cross. Since we have been raised with you, set our minds above, where you are seated in majesty and glory. Thank you that our lives are hidden with you and that when you come back, we shall also appear with you in glory. We can only imagine how awesome that day will be.  In the meantime, keep us fearless, focussed and faithful. Amen.

The Sirens of Self

By Rosie Moore.

Years ago, when I used to read books aloud to my children, I remember how my son loved our big book of Greek myths. He was fascinated by the story of the Sirens in the myth of Odysseus, the Greek hero. The Sirens were birdlike temptresses, who lured sailors to their death with their enchanting music. Men would smash their ships on the jagged cliffside of the island where the Sirens lived, leaving the helpless men drowned or stranded. My son studied the gory illustration in much detail!

But, determined not to be enticed by the Sirens, Odysseus asked his crew to tie him to the mast to prevent him from steering the ship onto the rocks and he put wax in his ears so that he wouldn’t hear them. The Sirens have become symbolic of the many temptations which lure men away from their purpose, with the ultimate consequence of death.

The Sirens sound so dramatic! We can all imagine sex, drugs, prostitution, porn and phone addiction being sirens. But isn’t the siren of self a much more subtle one that steers us away from our purpose as human beings?

The Westminster shorter catechism asks the question: “What is the chief end of man?” And it answers: “To give glory to God and enjoy him forever.

In contrast, the worldview in which we are born and raised worships self above all else. Most of us are steeped in self glory from the moment we leave the womb. Just think of how everyone coo’s and praises a baby for smiling, burping and eating its porridge, even filling its nappy!

We are trained to enjoy ourselves; seek rewards from others; uphold and affirm ourselves; pick ourselves up from our bootstraps; develop our own strategies to deal with troubles; re-brand ourselves; motivate ourselves; pursue financial independence; convince ourselves that we’re enough, worthy of loving, admiring and praising.

Of course, most of these things are good in moderation, but the siren of self is a dangerous enchantress which can lure even believers to act like hypocrites who have long forgotten our life’s purpose, which is to give glory to God and enjoy Him forever.

Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 6, in the heart of His Sermon on the Mount. He was talking to his disciples about three religious activities that they would regularly engage in as Jewish believers. These activities were giving, praying and fasting, habits of grace that should still be part and parcel of the Christian life.

Giving, fasting, praying.

Of course, they are very good habits to cultivate. But Jesus recognized that even in the midst of worthy pursuits, the natural inclination of the human heart is to draw attention to ourselves and steal the glory that belongs to God alone. We are self seekers by nature. See how Christ warned his disciples against hypocrisy and the siren of self which would try to entice them away from their life’s purpose:


“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, 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. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.


16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Sirens of admiration

Don Carson comments beautifully and succinctly on this passage, and he uses a word which is so apt. The word is ‘admired’. Listen to what Carson says:

“Jesus recognizes how easy it is for sinners to engage in worthy, philanthropic and even religious activities, less in order to do what is right than to be admired for doing what is right. If being thought generous is more important than being generous, if gaining a reputation for prayerfulness is more important to us than praying when no one but God is listening, if fasting is something we engage only if we can disingenuously talk about it, then these acts of piety are becoming acts of impiety.”

In every religious act we perform, it may be good to ask ourselves, “Who is being admired? Who gets the glory?”

Who gets the glory?

Giving, fasting and praying are ways that we humbly express our utter dependence and gratitude to God, thereby giving him all the glory:

We give to the needy, because God graciously gave to us the gift of forgiveness and the unshakeable blessings we have in Christ. We give, because we know just how fragile we are and depend on the providence of our faithful God in the midst of our own physical and spiritual neediness. When we give and help those in need, we reflect back praise and thanks to God. When we give, we take our minds off our own little aches, pains and inconveniences, and become more interested in the lives of people around us.

We fast, because we know that we are utterly empty and helpless without Christ’s filling and deliverance. We are desperately hungry for his Spirit to fill our lives and make us whole. We fast because we see our own sin and weakness and we’re hungry for mercy. We long to taste with our spiritual taste buds and see with our spiritual eyes that the Lord is good. We recognize that physical pleasures pale in comparison with the eternal banquet at the end of time, when we will be truly satisfied. When we fast, we empty ourselves of self to seek his guidance, wisdom and grace in a particular way, for a particular time.

We pray, because through prayer we relate intimately with God, our Father in heaven, who has adopted us into his family. It is in this affectionate and confidential communion with the Maker of heaven and earth, that we come to Jesus as a little child and find rest from all our labours. Prayer is like a wonderful room where a child of the King is invited to cozy up to his/her dad, to share the details of the day and be shown the secrets of the kingdom.

In these three ‘religious’ activities that Jesus names– giving, fasting and praying–we remember our humble estate and give all the glory to God for our extraordinary privilege. Christ is our reward and our treasure. He is the focus and the axis, not ourselves.

The siren of self.

But see how quickly the siren of self can turn even the best endeavours into acts of hypocrisy. The sirens start to scream, “What about me?”

And so, we start chasing our rewards now, saying, “Look at me! See how good I am! See how much more I’m doing or giving or praying than these others who are so indifferent to the needs around them! See what great rewards I’m storing up in heaven! See how God is using me in his kingdom! See how I’m suffering for his sake! See how many I’m leading into his kingdom!”

Or the siren of self may use a sneaky song to deflect God’s glory: “See how useless and unworthy I am, I can do nothing for God’s kingdom! Surely the world would be better off without me? What difference can giving, fasting or praying make when the world is so hopeless? Why did all these bad things to happen to a generous giver like me?”

The sirens of self are not always easy to identify and can sneak up on us quite unexpectedly. But when they lure us away from Christ, we deflect all the glory due to God, to ourselves. We look to people to recognize, admire or feel sorry for us. We develop a ‘God complex’, believing ourselves to be the saviour. Or we can become so self absorbed with our own dark feelings, troubles or moods that we sail horribly close to the jagged cliffs.

Oh dear, how can we be free from the Sirens of self? Can we be like Odysseus and ask someone to tie us physically to the mast of our ship, so that we just stand immobile and not do anything? Shall we block our ears with balls of wax, so we can’t hear the Sirens? I don’t think so! God’s Word tells us that we are Christ’s workmanship created for good works that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Phil 2:10). Jesus tells us that He means us to hear his Word and be fruitful, producing a crop that yields a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matt 13:23).

Our works are for His glory and our joy, so paralysis is not the answer. But I think probing the heart is.

Probe the heart.

Jesus reminds us throughout Matthew 6 to examine our hearts. In the realm of money, He says to “store up eternal treasures,” because our hearts will inevitably pursue whatever we truly value. In the realm of worry, Jesus says the antidote is to trust and ask God to give us what we need.

Whatever captivates our dreams and imaginations, our longings and desires; whatever sparks our fears and anxiety—these things will become the sirens that enchant us. Jesus teaches us to turn our hearts away from these self destructive sirens, and towards Himself. When Jesus is our compass, we forget about ourselves and are kept on a steady course.

“Therefore, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:33) What a simple but profound solution to the siren of self. This verse is the key to the whole chapter.

For His eyes only.

And so, Don Carson suggests that the only way to stop our religious activities being wrecked by the sirens of self, is to “do them so quietly that no one but God knows we are doing them.”

Be generous with your many blessings, but tell no one that you’re giving, and ask the recipient to keep it anonymous too. The rewards of eternity are imperishable, even if we do something as small and invisible as giving a thirsty person a cup of water for Christ’s sake (Matt 10:41-42).

Pray more where no one but God can see you, than you pray in public. Forget about whether you feel like it or not, just remember who you are and lay everything at his feet.

Fast, but do it with a cheerful face and attitude, so no one but your closest people know you’re abstaining from what you usually enjoy.

And don’t be bold enough to ask God for forgiveness if you’ve been unwilling to forgive someone else (Matt 16:14-15).

We cannot stop the Sirens of self blasting in our ears and we cannot tie ourselves to the mast to purge ourselves of impure motives. But we can make sure that we perform good acts with a simple, sincere desire to please God, not to create the impression that we are pleasing God.

Impressions are seldom accurate, and admiration is always short lived, but pleasing God is the one reward not ruled by the law of diminishing returns. It’s the only reward worth living for.