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There are two subjects that could be construed as contradictory in our Lords sermon on the mount. Here is an instance:

1 “Be 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. (Matthew 6:1)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

So what is Jesus saying? Should we tell others about the good things we have done, being a role model and example to them, or keep those things secret?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Check out the easy to read version (more at my level, haha ;) :

Matthew 6:1-18

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV) Jesus Teaches About Giving

6 “Be careful! When you do something good, don’t do it in front of others so that they will see you. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “When you give to those who are poor, don’t announce that you are giving.

The next line sums up what he is saying. Don't tell people that you gave. If they find out by alternative means, that's fine - but give no effort to inform someone of what you did.

Matthew 5:16

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

16 In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.

The difference is that in 5:16 people notice your good works on their own because you are such a bright spirit.

When you are being light, people can feel it on a deeper subconscious level. There is no need to say anything. Your everyday actions and being will say it all. It will make people say things like, Oh, I bet you do a lot of volunteer work.

Also, when they hear about something you did from someone else, it is always more impactful than if you told them. (May cause them to change in a positive way too!)

In a more simple everyday analogy: if you are cool, people know it, you don't have to tell them.

That best portion of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

William Wordsworth

English poet ( 1770 - 1850 )

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(Accepted) For some reason it is often not noticed that Mathew 6 follows from Mathew 5! which talks about attitudes. You’re a right. We should not publish the good works we have done, whether to glorify God or to glorify ourselves. If we do it does not glorify God. We should attempt to maintain secrecy about them. Rather by our good is the love that people can see in our attitudes. People will glorify God when they see that and they will respect that – as like you say that’s cool. Jesus was the coolest, and we can’t comprehend how that affected those who encountered him. – Mike Jun 30 '12 at 4:36
@Mike: Can I get an amen! – Greg McNulty Jul 2 '12 at 1:31
I'd be curious as to what denomination teaches this. Sephallia's answer better represents the general Christian belief as I understand it. – svidgen Feb 6 '13 at 18:33

1 “Be 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. (Matthew 6:1)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

God is telling us not to be prideful and boast in front of others. In other words, don't go "Look at what I've done. I'm so great." But rather, "Look at what God has allowed me to do, isn't God awesome?!"

One is self glorifying, where as the other attributes the glory to God. One statement can easily turn other people off, the other one (may) lead people to be curious about God. This is not to say that we shouldn't feel happy regarding the things that God is doing through us, but rather that we should remain humble and always remember that it is through God's grace that we are able to do such things for His kingdom.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! This is an excellent first answer and I hope you'll stick around! :) – El'endia Starman Jun 29 '12 at 17:24
@El'endiaStarman Thank you for the warm welcome! I certainly do not see myself leaving any time soon ;). I'll mostly be here to read questions and answers, but I'll certainly try to contribute answers when I can! – Sephallia Jun 29 '12 at 17:36
(+1) for identifying an important point about and providing a great answer! but I still have to throw acceptance vote to Greg, as I think he identified the critical point. – Mike Jun 30 '12 at 4:36
I think this answer best represents the general Christian belief. +1 – svidgen Feb 6 '13 at 18:31
Though, a good reference or two would help ensure other readers that this answer is representative. – svidgen Feb 6 '13 at 18:34

This same question popped up at the Hermeneutics StackExchange, here:

Are good works supposed to be seen or not?

My answer there is pasted below.

While these two statements may seem self-contradictory, there is a fine line which differentiates them.

TL;DR: Matthew 5:16 says you should not ever be ashamed to do God's work in public. However, Matthew 6:1 warns that you should also not do these works in public simply for the sake of public attention.

The commandment for us to shine our light is given so that we will not allow ourselves to fall into contentment, and simply keep our faith to ourselves. Jesus wants the world to know of God's glory, and that cannot be done without ourselves committing to a certain amount of exposure. We shouldn't just simply huddle in our homes and our churches, communing with one another. Instead, we should also be out in the world and spreading God's word and his love. Some of this is done through deeds, which should always be used as a reflection of God's glory.

However, there is a certain amount of caution that should be exercised when we do this. We need to be careful to ensure that the works we do in His name are done only in that spirit. We should not be performing works simply to boast of our own goodness and godliness. This is the admonition given in Matthew 6:1.

To better understand this, these verses need to be put a bit more fully into context. Let's start with Matthew 5:14-16.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Here, we are told that we are like a lantern. We are not meant to be hidden or reclusive, but instead allow God's glory to shine out to the world through us. This bit is fairly simple on its own.

Now, for Matthew 6:1-4.

1 “Be 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.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This is the slightly tricky bit. Jesus is not telling us at all to hide our light. Rather, he tells us that we should not shine it for the sole sake of drawing attention to ourselves. Our good deeds, while often done in public before the world, are not always for the whole world to see and hear about. Every good deed has its beneficiaries, and its audience should not be more than those who will truly see benefit from it. Anything beyond that is excessive, and is generally done in the spirit of drawing attention more to oneself than to God.

To further clarify this point, some examples of hypocritical and pagan behavior to avoid are given in Matthew 6 - one of which is already stated above:

  • Drawing attention to your good deeds in public, "with trumpets ... in the synagogues and the streets ... to be honored by others". (Matt. 6:2)
  • Praying for the sake of being seen praying "standing in the synagogues and on the street corners ... babbling". (Matt. 6:5, 6:7)
  • Making your fasting obvious, "look[ing] somber ... disfigur[ing your] faces". (Matt. 6:16)

Again, the point here is not that you should abstain from good deeds, praying, or fasting in public. Instead, you should simply do these things without boasting of them or drawing unnecessary attention.

NOTE: All scripture references are copied from BibleGateway's NIV.

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