Should Our Good Works Be Visible?

As a follow-up thought to my sermon on Ecclesiastes 5, it's worth thinking about an apparent contradiction in the Sermon on the Mount.

In Matt. 5:14-16, Jesus says, "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 men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

In Matt. 6:1, Jesus seems to say the exact opposite: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven."

So which is it? Should we hide our light under a basket or practice our righteousness before men? Should we practice our righteousness in secret or let our light shine before others?

The emphasis is on whose approval and reward we are seeking. There is a difference between letting our light shine before men and practicing our righteousness before men in order to be seen by them.

Matt. 5:14-16 makes it clear that our faith must be lived out. Our faithfulness to God must be manifest in visible ways. Our lives should produce fruit that other people can see. The Christian faith is not a set of private values that can be kept separate from public truth. People should be able to see a marked difference between followers of Jesus and everyone else so that people glorify God and desire to follow Christ.

But Jesus is equally clear that we must never make a show of our religiosity in order to impress other people with how pious we are. That kind of publicity stunt is not about glorifying God but ourselves. Faithful Christians who live wisely and winsomely are only seeking the approval of their heavenly Father. Other people will sit up and take notice precisely because they see the blessing of God being poured on faithful people. In other words, people should ordinarily notice God's blessing on our obedience more than they notice our obedience. 

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