To Be Seen or Not to Be Seen

Yesterday I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount in my personal devotions. I’m sure I’ve noticed this before, but I was struck by two apparently conflicting statements and have been pondering how to reconcile them.

In Matthew 5:13-16 Jesus calls his followers to let their light shine before the watching world. In v. 16 Jesus commands his disciples to “let their light shine before other so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” This idea is repeated elsewhere in the NT (see 1 Peter 2:12 for example) Our good deeds are to be a witness and bring praise to God who has worked in us to will and to do good (Philippians 2:12-13).

Yet, later in the Sermon, Jesus warns his hearers not to do their good deeds “before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1). Also, when we give to the needy, Jesus urges us to do it in secret, not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing (Matt. 6:3).

Of course the difference between these two commands is one of motivation. In the first the person who does the good work and lets their light shine before others is doing so for the purpose of bringing God glory, not self. The second command is given to warn of the danger of self-glorification. This is clear from the context – the one who sounds trumpets to herald their charity is looking for the praise of men, and that will the their reward, their only reward. It’s not tough to reconcile the two passages.

But…how do we tell the difference in our own lives and the lives of the church? Motives are hard to discern, and I acknowledge the deceitfulness of my own heart. So how do we know if we are doing a good deed for God’s glory or for our own praise?

Enter the Holy Spirit. Pray we’re sensitive to his promptings, conviction. Ask the Spirit to search the heart and reveal the motives. Without the indwelling Spirit, I don’t think there’d be much hope of sorting out our motives (and of course, because we’re still sinful our motives will always be a mixed bag).