Should We Keep Our Good Deeds Secret, Or Let Our Light Shine?

February 26, 2014

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How Should Christian Business Owners Display Their Good Works?

If I am a Christian business owner who wants to give a certain percentage of my profits or revenues each year to fund charities and missions, should I keep it a secret? Should my charity work be done out in the open? Should I have press releases that announce to the whole world how much money/time/goods I gave to help others? If I treat my employees extraordinarily well, should I announce it to everyone in order to set an example, and to show my good works? In my view, these are difficult questions that Christian business owners face.

Could You Please Clarify The Instruction For Us Slow Folks?

In Matthew 5:14-16, we find this instruction, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)

Skip over to Matthew 6:1, and we find this instruction: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)

Jesus goes on to say basically, that we should not give to the needy, pray, or fast in front of others, in order to be seen by them.

Anyone else confused?

When I first reflected on these two passages side by side, I was very confused. I pretty much said, “Which is it, Jesus?”

Confusion Doesn't Have to Lead to Doubt

When I get confused, I often have to remind myself first, that my feeble human brain will never come close to fully understanding God. I spent years trying to figure God out with my mind, and it was an exercise in futility. He finally brought me to a place in which there was no room to deny my need for a savior. I am very grateful for that!

Second, I have to remind myself that God wrote the Bible as a way to reveal himself to mankind – all of mankind, not just me. It contains instructions that, I believe, are meant to cover every situation faced by every human being who ever lived. So, maybe what looks at first like a contradiction just means that we have to rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us how these passages apply to our specific situation. I also think it’s interesting, and worth considering, that the Bible doesn’t read like a scientific or mathematical proof (not even close). God could have written a book that laid everything out perfectly, using logic, order, and reason that man could fully grasp, leaving no room for doubt or dispute of any kind in our feeble little minds. If men got together and wrote a book to try to prove the existence of God, that’s exactly how they would write it. But that’s not how God gave us His word. He gave us words that serve to change the heart, not just the mind. In fact, He seems to have purposely written it in a way that it would not make sense to those who are wise in their own eyes. I don’t know exactly why, and He doesn’t need me to defend Him on that.

I will only say that in my life, I’ve noticed that God always leaves some room for me to doubt, and then I’m left with a choice. I can choose to believe, or I can choose to remain in doubt. To offer me absolute proof would be to remove the need for me to have faith. I’ve seen miracles in my life. God clearly was involved in these situations. I’ve seen God come through in ways that I could not have even imagined. But each time, God left a way for me to wonder if there wasn’t some other explanation. For some reason, God wants our trust and faith. Indeed, He requires it of us if we expect to have eternal life. I don’t understand why, but that’s what He wants.

Let's Think Those Passages All The Way Through

Getting back to the original topic, I also have to remember that closer inspection and thought are sometimes required to get past my knee jerk reactions. After further thought, I don’t think one of these passages negates the other. Upon closer inspection, there appears to be several possible distinctions.

First, is there a way to let others see my good works, without seeing me, in a way that glorifies my Father? For example, is there a way to do good works through a Christian ministry, such that I remain anonymous, but God doesn’t? It’s an interesting question, but I don’t think it ultimately leads to a solid answer on the issue as it applies to business owners. The second distinction is made regarding the motives of those whom Jesus is addressing with each passage.

When I first had the idea to start a Christian Investing website, I wanted to use it, social media, etc. as a platform to share what God had done in my life. I want people to know that I am different than I used to be… way different. That brings glory to God. At the same time, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to write things just to be praised by other people. This is a struggle that all human beings face. We all want to believe that we are good, and we look for confirmation of that from others.

In Chapter 5, Jesus tells the people to let their light shine so that others will give glory to the Father. In Chapter 6, he is warning us of a trap that we often fall into, which is to do things so that others will glorify us.

The third possible distinction regards the way in which people were making their good deeds known. In Chapter 5, Jesus seems to be speaking to people who are prone to purposely hiding all of their good deeds. In Chapter 6, he addresses people who are literally having parades and announcing their good deeds with trumpets. Maybe Jesus is pointing out the wisdom in taking a more moderate approach. In other words, don’t hide your good deeds, but don’t be a pompous you know what about it, either.

Relevant Examples

Some examples from the recent past may help guide us. Paul Walker kept his good works under wraps, and look how God has been glorified after his death. Paul Walker was not operating or doing his charitable work through a business, but movie stars have personal brands. He definitely could have used his charitable work to promote his personal brand, but he chose not to do that. Had he done these things out in the open when he was alive, the mainstream press probably would have found a way to vilify him for his Christian beliefs. Instead, they are singing his praises in an age when Christianity is extremely unpopular… truly amazing.

Yet another well-known example, Chick-fil-A has always been closed on Sundays in order to give their employees that day off. It would be impossible to hide that fact. But, they could have hid their reasoning behind it. Everyone probably is aware that this policy stems, at least in part, from the Christian beliefs of the owners. Chick-fil-A, to my knowledge, never attempted to hide this reason. They were never ashamed or quiet about their Christian beliefs. At the same time, I don’t ever see them running ads that seek to glorify themselves, such as, “Chick-fil-A: Putting principle before profit since 1946” or “Chick-fil-A: We give our employees better work-life balance than Taco Bell!”

Further to the point about donations, Chick-fil-A doesn’t just donate money to outside charities. They have their own charitable foundation. It would be pretty hard to keep that a secret. At the same time, I’ve never seen it mentioned in their advertising. I had to go to their website to find it out. They’re not hiding it, but they’re not announcing it with trumpets either.

Conclusion

These are good examples. But, I don’t think we have a solid yes or no answer that applies to everyone. My only conclusion is that I need to strongly consider my own motives and methods before making a decision. If I’m doing it because I want other people to give me praise for how good I am, maybe get some positive press coverage, and maybe a few more sales, I probably do not need to do it in an open way. I need to stop right there, and ask God to purify my motives.

If we’re doing it for the purposes of setting a good example and glorifying the Father, I think it’s good to let our light shine. Perhaps of equal importance, the way in which we make it known, or allow it to be made known, will be much different for those seeking to glorify the Father, than it will for those seeking personal gain.

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