Doing Good Works

Beth Hyduke

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:1
In one breath, Jesus teaches to put their good works on display for all to see. In the very next, He tells us to hide our good works. How can we reconcile such two passages that so blatantly contradict one another?

The key to understanding why they do not contradict each other lies in understanding the context. These two teachings are both given during Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Jesus frequently dealt with the Pharisees, rebuking them for their habitual preoccupation with making public shows of religious piety and rituals. They prayed in public and dressed in sackcloth so everyone would observe how spiritual they were. They paraded their spiritual disciplines in front of the world to feed their pride rather than because they wanted to serve God. They squabbled and fought each other over who was more religious and who got the seat of honor at the feasts. They weren't praying earnestly to God but were praying to be seen and marveled at by the people. It's not that their outward actions were always wrong, it was that their inward motivations that prompted these displays were impure, selfish, and unacceptable to God. So Jesus severely rebuked them for their hypocrisy and their showiness and warned His followers in Matthew 6:1 not to perform "righteousness" to gain favor, personal pride, and prestige as the Pharisees did.

In other words, if you're going to do these honorable things that are ultimately in service to God, they don't have to be known by people. This is something we do privately; we don't parade our offerings and worship to God for the sake of being seen and rewarded with men's praise. The point here is that our good deeds must be genuine, done in submission to God and love for Him, and not something done to make us look good or bring human personal glory.

By the same token, in Matthew 5, we are called to make visible the invisible kingdom of God through living lives of integrity. We are to live in such a way that our outward integrity will be visible, not to get personal gain, but as a beacon to point those who are watching to Christ.

If you pay close attention, there's a significant difference between the good-work doers in Matthew 5 and the good-work doers of Matthew 6. The difference is motive. The doers in Matthew 5 do good works "so that others may see their good works and so glorify their Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16 — emphasis added); their motivation is to use good works as a testimony to bring glory to God. In contrast, the doers in Matthew 6 "sound a trumpet before them as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and streets that they may have glory from men" (Matthew 6:2 — emphasis added); their motivation is only to bring glory to themselves.

Matthew 5:16 tells us to let God's glory shine through us; the Matthew 6:1 passage warns us not to do it boastfully or out of a wrong motivation of selfish gratification. When we do good works with the motive and intent to please our Heavenly Father, other people will inevitably notice. But if we do them with the intent to be seen, secretly desiring to feed our egos, then our motives are impure, and therefore unacceptable to God who "does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

Image Credit: Medill News21; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Jesus-Christ

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Published 12-29-15