Have you heard someone say before that Christians always perform for an audience of one? Whether that person is preaching, teaching, singing, dancing, praying, whatever, everything is always done for an audience of one – meaning God, of course.
In a sense, I understand what that means. Obviously, everything that we do can and should be done for the glory of God. However, that does not mean that God is our only “audience.” In fact, there is at least one context where we should NOT act only as if we are alone and acting for God.
What is that context? Whenever we are with other Christians. (There may be other contexts as well, but this is the context that I’m going to examine.)
To begin with, there are several activities that Jesus’ followers often say should be done only for God. For example, some say that good deeds or works of righteousness should only be done for God (and some would say that only God should know about these activities). Of course, this is one possible interpretation of Matthew 6:1-4. However, this interpretation fails to take into account those times when we are specifically instructed to do good deeds in a manner that others see and recognize those actions for what they are. For a few examples, see Matthew 5:13-16 or the many passages in which one of the authors of Scripture offer their own good deeds as an example for others to follow or in which we are exhorted to live in a manner that others can see our good deeds as well.
Often, fasting as presenting as an activity that should be done for an audience of one. Again, there is a particular passage that can be interpreted to mean that we should never let others know that we are fasting: Matthew 6:16-18. However, we know about every fast in Scripture (i.e., the fasts are not “secret”), and we even have several examples of group fasts in which the group obviously knew that the others were fasting. (For example, see Acts 13:2-3 and Acts 14:23.)
But, there is a passage of Scripture in which believers are specifically instructed NOT to do things only for an audience of one – i.e., things should not be done only for God. This passage, of course, is 1 Corinthians 14. After explaining that people do not generally understand what is spoken through tongues (without interpretation), Paul says:
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:13-19 ESV)
Similarly, when specifically giving instructions to those who have been given a tongue (by the Holy Spirit), Paul writes:
If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corinthians 14:27-28 ESV)
Paul does not deny that the tongue is a gift of the Spirit. Nor does he ever deny that the tongue can be beneficial to the one speaking it. He never says that God does not desire for the person to exercise that gift (tongues). However, Paul consistently states the same admonition: When gathered with the church (i.e., other Christians) always and only do and say things that will benefit the group. Thus, God is not our only audience. We must be concerned with what others will understand and how our words and/or actions will benefit them (i.e. for edification).
It is perhaps surprising that Paul even includes prayer in these instructions. If others cannot understand your prayer, then Paul says it should not be spoken (even if it is spoken directly to God). Why? Because we are speaking both to God and for the benefit of others (i.e., for their edification). Even prayer.
Of course, if you read any of Paul’s letters, you will see that he almost always included a prayer. Why would he write out a prayer if it was only for God? Because it was not only for God; it was also for the encouragement of his readers.
Yes, everything we do should be done for the glory of God. We should do everything recognizing that God is our audience. But, when we are with other believers, God is not our ONLY audience. We should also keep the others around us in mind, and do everything for their edification as well.