“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men,
In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Yet, in the verses above, it seems Jesus contradicts himself by telling us to do our charitable deeds in secret. So what did he mean? Was he contradicting himself? Not at all! In fact, when we read the verses above in context, we can see they come after Jesus has discussed loving our enemies. The main reason he admonishes us to love our enemies is the same reason he tells us to be a light to the world – so that others may see our good works and glorify God. It is the intent of the heart that is the message here. If you are doing good deeds to make people think better of you, you are doing them for the wrong reasons. If you volunteer to help those less fortunate because it looks good on your resume, your heart is in the wrong place. Jesus would call you a hypocrite because you want praise from others for your volunteer work.
Why do you do good deeds? Why do you feed the homeless or care for the orphan? As a Christian, your motivation should be to please the Lord. To offer yourself into His service to use as He sees fit. For example, when I was 18 years old and a brand new Christian, my life had a new meaning. I wanted to make God happy and serve Him, but I had no idea how to do that. Up until that point in time, my life was solely focused on me. But when I found Christ, I had a complete change of heart and character.
I remember one day stepping outside and saying, "Lord, direct my feet today. Show me how I can serve you." So I started walking, and the more I walked, the more I knew where I was supposed to go – the nursing home around the corner from me. Of course, I hesitated because nursing homes freaked me out as a young person. And this one, in particular, reeked of vomit and urine. It was run by the government, and to say it was poorly run would be an understatement. So I didn't want to go there because:
But I obeyed because I wanted to please God. My motivation was not to make myself look good or feel good but to obey God and please Him. So I walked right up to the front doors of that senior home where a few severely crippled seniors were sitting outside in wheelchairs.
One of them immediately looked up at me and said, "Are you here for me?" I took that as my cue and said, "Yes. I guess I am." I introduced myself, and Bill (his name) asked if I would take him for a walk in his wheelchair. To make a long story short, I was singing in different churches on Sunday mornings at that time. Turns out, the church I had just sung in that Sunday morning was where Bill was a member, and he was miserable because he had been forgotten by them.
Until he was put in the nursing home, someone would pick him up every Sunday morning to bring him to church. As his disease progressed (he had cerebral palsy) and he became more difficult to understand, they just stopped coming. And every Sunday, for weeks, Bill would wait outside the nursing home for someone to come get him to take him to church. This is why he said, "Are you here for me?"
Ultimately, God used my desire to please Him to answer a lonely man's prayer that his church would remember him. Now, I don't tell you all this to make myself "look good." This happened over 46 years ago, and Bill is long gone. I tell you this to show you how we can let our light shine so that God can be glorified without bragging about it. It is all about our attitudes and motives.
If you give or do a charitable deed for the praise of men, God's light will not shine through you. Why? Because you are seeking to glorify yourself, not God. Miracles can happen when we are obedient and strive to please the Father. In this case, the miracle was that the same church I had sung at that morning was the church that had dropped the ball on making sure Bill got to church on Sunday mornings. What are the odds for me to have sung at that church and then, that very afternoon, meet a man who was desperate to attend there? As a young person, let me tell you, that act of God had a significant impact on me and how I approached my days. So God helped Bill, but He also taught me to be acutely aware that He was guiding the events of my day.
Letting our light shine is different than giving money or helping a charity for the praise of men. Giving by faith (either monetarily or by deed) is about our attitude and motive. Jesus called those who gave and made a big deal about it hypocrites. He said in Mark 7:6, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me" (Mark 7:6).
God receives more glory and praise when we don't advertise what we are doing. So let your light shine "in secret," as it were. You will be amazed how God works His good, pleasing and perfect will through an obedient heart.