-- Jesus, Matthew 5:16Be 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.
--Jesus, Matthew 6:1
Which is it? Are we supposed to do good deeds so others will see them as Matthew 5:16 teaches? Or are we supposed to do it in secret as Matthew 6:1 suggests? At first blush these appear contradictory, but they’re not. Jesus wasn’t dumb. He taught both verses in the same sermon, minutes apart.
Whenever you come across apparent biblical contradictions, God is asking you to examine it--to chew on it in meditation. We must prayerfully consider a deep truth. Such is the case here.
So first, check the context. Matthew 5:16 comes immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus’ teaching of what the people of the Kingdom are supposed to be like. He then jumps in to point out that such a lifestyle is not supposed to be like a monk cloistered in a tower in the mountains. We are to live among people. To be salt and light. To allow God to impact others through us. Therefore, Jesus says we must do good deeds so others can see them? Why, because God deserves all the glory. Everyone is supposed to see him as awesome. And we, as his ambassadors make that happen through our deeds. No one knows you are a singer until you sing. No one knows you are an artist until you make art. If you only sing in the shower or paint in your closet, no one will experience your gifts. God, the giver of gifts, wants us to do good deeds in full view of others, so He can be displayed through us.
On the other hand, Matthew 6:1 opens a section in the Sermon on the Mount directed against the teaching of the Pharisees. They were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They liked to show off how spiritual they were by praying loudly in the streets and letting everyone know they were fasting or giving money to the poor. They would wear clothes so everyone would see them as a holy person. They were religious show-offs. To them Jesus gives a number of rebukes, including not to practice their righteousness in front of others. The contexts show that Jesus was addressing two distinct issues.
Moreover, it’s in the motivations of each deed where the difference is made clearest. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus teaches we should do our good deeds in public to bring God glory. In Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns against practicing righteousness to bring glory to oneself. It’s completely divergent motives. Do we want the credit? Or do we want God to get it? Do we want to be known as super-spiritual giants or do we want God to be seen as the one-and-only Spiritual giant who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the universe?
Our Stand Out Series is all about how we should stand out as Christians. Why should we not stand out? Because of our religious pomposity, our overly wordy prayers, anything that makes us look uber-spiritual. Why should we stand out? Because we help the poor, serve the orphan, create food pantries for the hungry, love the mentally-handicapped child, assist the elderly widow. Because this shows God for how good he is. So, should we do good deeds to shine? Or stay secret? It depends. It depends on our motivations. It depends on our goal. Is it for ourselves? Or for our God?
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