If you are reading this post I’m guessing the title probably got your attention. To clear the air I want to answer the question with an emphatic NO! Jesus did not contradict himself, but there are two passages in the Sermon on the Mount that some have thought to be contradictory.
The first teaching in Matthew 5:14-16 and is well known by Christians and those who are somewhat familiar with the Bible. Speaking to his followers Jesus explains, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” On first reading it seems pretty clear what Jesus was saying.
The second teaching is in Matthew 6:1 and at first reading seems to contradict Jesus’ previous teaching: “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, it seems pretty clear what Jesus was saying.
Which is it? Are we not to practice our righteousness in front of others or are we to let our light shine before others? Are we to hide or show? I know to some it will sound like what is called “situation ethics,” but the answer is it all depends! What does it depend on? Jesus is saying in both these passages it depends on our motive.
Note the difference between what Jesus says in each of the two teachings. The first passage suggests if our motive is right we should show. Look again at Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1 suggests if our motive is wrong we should hide.
If our motive is to draw attention to our self, to be seen by others in order to be complimented, what we do is not pleasing to God. On the other hand, if our motive is not about drawing attention to our self but to bringing glory to God, we have the right motive.
Not only that, if we have the right motive – we are not doing it to draw attention to our self, but to honor our Father – and someone compliments us, it seems to me we should simply thank them and not necessarily downplay what we have done.
On a personal note, through the years as a pastor I have been thanked and complimented for things I have done more times than I could ever count. I never downplay what someone is complimenting me for so as not to detract from their appreciation. While I’ve not done what I did to draw attention to myself, I think it would be rude to rebuff their expression of appreciation.
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