Question Box: Let your light shine, but not to be seen?

Question or Topic Scripture
Let your light shine, but not to be seen? Matthew 5:16

In Matthew 5:16 we are told: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works". Conversely, in what appears to be a conflicting statement from Matthew 6:1, we read: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them". How do we reconcile and apply these statements?

Answer


Alms are acts or deeds that will benefit others such as the poor. Light, on the other hand, is something that may result from these deeds. Alms are a cause, and the light is then the potential effect. It would appear that the Master is telling us that we should not broadcast or proclaim our own alms or acts of compassion, but that we should also not interfere when the results of our actions may be beneficial in the proclamation of God's truth.

Alms are certainly commendable and beneficial service. We are provided with examples of individuals who are praised for these acts of righteousness. Cornelius, for example, was a man whose prayers and alms came up "for a memorial before God" (Acts 10:4). Alms are good deeds, and they are to be encouraged, if they are done in secret and without an ulterior motive. "But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Matthew 6:3). Alms that are offered in the spirit of the teachings of Christ will generate light that will shine before men.

Motivation

One of the key factors in this question is the issue of motivation. In one of the verses in question, the Master was addressing the motivation and not the act. "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1). He goes on to say: "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward" (v. 2). Our acts of compassion should not be simply a convenient mechanism so that we may achieve of the praise of men.

In the other verse from our question, we learn about a better motivation: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Alms should be stimulated by a desire to call attention to the glory of our heavenly Father, and never to promote our own image.

Fine Line?

There may be a fine line involved in this matter. There is often very little practical difference between those acts of kindness that are done for personal recognition, and those that are done to glorify God. Most men would be unable to discern between the two. Jesus however, will have no difficulty judging our motivation. We read in Matt 7:

  1. Matthew 7:22-23
  2. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
  3. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

We must use honest self examination and take a good look at our own heart. Let us consider very carefully what our own motivation is. When we stand before the Master, he will see through any of our pretenses. We hope that our prayers and alms have been in the right spirit. We hope that they have come up in remembrance before the throne, and that they are to the glory of God.

Obligation

It can be tempting to avoid any action that may appear to others as if our only desire is to be seen of men or to glorify self. We must be certain however, that we do not shirk from our duty to continue in those activities that will let our light shine to the glory of God.

There are several instructions that identify our obligation to continue in good works. The gospel writings cry out for us to be "doers of the word", to love our brethren and to have compassion on others. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Galations 6:10).

We are reminded that we "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (I Peter 2:9).

By Their Fruits

We learn that there are purposes to being of good reputation. One of these being that the Master has instructed us:

  1. Matthew 7:16-17
  2. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
  3. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

The way that we conduct our lives will let others know whether or not our efforts at promoting God's word should be taken seriously or not.

Another purpose is described in these words: "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:12).

We are also encouraged to "do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life" (Phil 2:14-16).

"In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you" (Titus 2:7-8).

"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:11-14).

"This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men" (Titus 3:8).

The Master has shown us that our good deeds, to the least of his brethren, are considered as acts done directly to him. In his parable from Matthew 25, the righteous were not even aware of the full the effect of their good deeds. They had no selfish motive but the light from their works was shining. Their Father which saw in secret would now reward them openly.

  1. Matthew 25:37-40
  2. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
  3. When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
  4. Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
  5. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me
Our Choice?

Whether we consciously choose to do so or not, we will establish a reputation in the eyes of men. Our light will either shine, or be placed under a bushel. If our alms are motivated in self sacrificing service, they will glorify God and bring honor to the name that we bear. If our actions are motivated in selfish glory, they will give occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme.

  1. I Timothy 5:24-25
  2. Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after.
  3. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.
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