Of Shining Lights and Ignorant Left Hands

I’ve come to accept that much of scripture is in tension. By this, I mean that we don’t always get quick, snappy, rational answers to the questions that scripture attempts to address. For example, how – exactly – do you answer a fool? Two verses, back to back, give you different answers.

This sort of tension is okay with me, because I know that the mysteries of God are hidden somewhere within it. Better to embrace these statements as being in tension than to try to explain them in some superficial and ultimately unsatisfying way.

But there is one particular issue that is especially tough for me right now, because our family just came back from this inspiring mission trip, and I’m not quite sure what to do next.

The tension comes from two texts in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 and 6.

In Chapter 5, Jesus seems to be saying that by allowing others to see our good works, God’s light can shine in the world, and people will glorify God. This idea is simple enough: if people see us laying our lives down for others, they will know that God is at work in us. When they are seen, such acts testify to the presence of the Kingdom of God and invite others to participate in the Kingdom.

But then, Jesus serves up a nasty curve ball in Chapter 6. Be careful, Jesus warns, not to do our “acts of righteousness” before men to be seen by them. Thus, Jesus says, when you give, don’t let your left hand know what the right hand is up to: give in secret. God will see what is done in secret, and he will reward you.

I don’t think that there is a complete contradiction in these texts. The key seems to be whether the visibility of the acts in question will bring glory to us or to God. But the question still remains: when should we act silently and when should we act in bold, public ways? When is it better, after an act of giving or service, to remain silent about it? When is it better to speak openly of what God has done in that act?

This question – which, as I said, is a tremendously practical one at the moment – is really bothering me. Anyone want to take a shot at it?


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