At first reading two of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount appear to contradict one another. In Matthew 5:14 He says to His followers, “You are the light of the world.” Then He adds in verse 16, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Seems clear enough, doesn’t it?
Then in Matthew 6:1 Jesus instructs, “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.” Again, seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?
Which is it? Are we to let our lights shine before others so they may see our good deeds? Or are we not to do good deeds in front of others to be seen by them? It sounds like a contradiction, but it isn’t.
Jesus is talking about motive in both of these statements and the motive in each is not the same. The motive in the first instruction is to do good deeds with the idea that people will see our good deeds and glorify God. The motive Jesus forbids in the second instruction is doing good things to be seen by others. We aren’t to do good to draw attention to ourselves so people are impressed with us. As a matter of fact, if that is why we do good things, and we are seen by others, that’s the end of it. But we are to do good deeds and let our lights shine with the goal of pointing people to God.
In living the Christian life and doing good deeds we have to give attention to our motive. Why do we do what we do? Who do we want to get the attention? In a class years ago at Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Bruce Metzger gave us what I still think is sound advice: “When tempted to show, hide. When tempted to hide, show.” What do you think?
I welcome comments below. And if you think others would enjoy this challenge don’t hesitate to share it.
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