Good Works and Public Witness
What does Scripture say about Christians doing good works? More specifically, should we do them all in private, as opposed to doing them to be seen by others?
Here was my reply:
The Bible says several things about good works. First, there are certain good works that should not be done for the observation of others (praying, giving alms, etc.). This is a quick way of letting people know how ‘spiritual” you are. God hates this showboating and clearly says that the praise of men is the only praise someone will receive for such hypocrisy. (See Matt. 6:1-4)
But, that’s not the whole story. In the same passage, Jesus clearly says,
“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.” (Matt. 5:15-16)
Clearly here people are to see what kind of lives we’re living (how else could they give thanks to God for it?). Such good works are to be our defining characteristic, the light that we set before the world. The logic of the passage is actually kind of surprising. Jesus’ point is this: Who in their right mind possess such a wonderful light and doesn’t display it?” It would be odd if our good works weren’t presented before, and noticed, by others!
The apostle Peter says basically the same thing. In 1 Pet. 2:12 he says,
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
And lastly, note what Paul says in 2 Cor. 8:21: “for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man.” Paul isn’t speaking only of our inner thoughts and motives (which only God can see), but also deeds (which man can see).
So, it all depends.