Jesus spoke both of these very clear messages about our good and righteous acts:
“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14, 16
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” – Matthew 6:1
Taken one at a time, these messages are very clear about our good and righteous acts. Yet, taken together, we really have to pull out the truth of them for what they mean for us. We have to figure out what the balance truly is between shining our light before others and not practicing our righteousness in front of others.
As followers of Jesus, the Light of the world, we are meant to reflect His light, His love, His generosity, His justice, His kindness and His compassion in deeply spiritual ways and in absolutely practical and tangible ways as we serve our God and do good deeds. We are meant to shine. A light is not to be hidden. But! The light, though clearly seen, is not the object intended to be seen. The light is to shine so that something else or – in our case, as followers of Christ – Someone Else is seen. God is to be revealed. God is to be made known. God is to be acknowledged and given praise by those who have benefitted from the works of light and love, generosity and justice, kindness and compassion that we have done.
The balance here: We, in shining our light before others, intimately and clearly know and acknowledge who the True Light is, and from whom our ability and power to shine has come, and for what eternal purpose we’ve been given to shine in the first place – for the praise and glory of our Father in heaven.
And, yet, as we go about the practicing of righteousness, our Lord Jesus strictly warns us to be careful not to do these acts of righteousness before others just to be seen by them. Yes, we are to do acts of righteousness. And in some way, on some level, at some time, they will be seen by others. However, it will always come down to answering ourselves honestly about: For whom are we doing what we do? In what manner and attitude do we go about doing our acts of righteousness? And for whose praise and glory are we doing them?
The balance here: Our reasons, our motivations and our purposes for doing what is good and loving, generous and just, kind and compassionate are not to be birthed from our pride or from our desire to be elevated in the eyes of others in any way. If our acts of righteousness are true acts of righteousness, then we will, with joy and thankfulness, give praise and glory to our Father in heaven. And so will the other people who have witnessed and been blessed by our actions.
Oh, Balance! May we each shine and do great good works of righteousness with a right heart and the right motivations so that the Righteous One will receive all the praise and glory!