Does Jesus want us to flaunt our goodness in public?
No! He preached: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1). He specifically applied this warning to our giving, praying and fasting. When righteous deeds are done in secret, Jesus assures us that our heavenly Father sees and rewards all.
So, does Jesus not want goodness to come out into the open?
No! Let it show. Our Lord’s warning against self-aggrandizing religion does not translate into a retreat from all public visibility. I realize Jesus made a parabolic point about going into a private closet to pray, but in the same sermon, he said: “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).
In Jesus’ monumental mountain-top sermon, his disciples (then and now) are admonished to be poor in spirit, pure in heart, meek, merciful, hungry, peaceful and righteous under fire. When we are insulted, libeled and abused, we don’t just take it gracefully—we rejoice! Instead of spoiling whatever we touch, we live like salt! Instead of retreating to dark closets, the world needs us to shine! Listen to Jesus:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 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.<(Matthew 5:14-15)
The apostle Paul understood that goodness was not meant for dark closets:
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever. (1 Timothy 5:24-25).
So, good works are conspicuous even when they are not obvious up front. Knowing that deeds of decency become conspicuous sooner or later can help us not to do them conspicuously. Just because the world willfully shuts its eyes to the goodness of God’s people does not mean it will remain under cover forever.
The same is true of sin. It will also not stay hidden. When the world sees Jesus’ disciples flaunting and tolerating sin, they never let us forget it. Jesus’ name gets dragged through the mud for the world to see. No wonder Paul warned his readers not to even eat with sexually immoral or greedy or slanderous or idolatrous people who call themselves “brothers” in Christ. “God will judge those outside,” Paul wrote, but Christians are authorized (after exhausting all gentle attempts to restore a sinner) to expel the unrepentant wicked ones on the inside (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and Galatians 6:1).
Good and evil are in play all around us. Neither can hide forever. Either way, inside and out, our task is to be good without being show-offs.