Principles do no good if there’s no practical way to apply them.

Have you discovered this? High-minded ideals may be nice to think about, but to really make a difference in our lives, they need to have some skin on and work in the real world.

The last two posts have been part of a three-part series on good works that stemmed from a conversation with a friend who had a question about a message I preached called “The Surface and the Substance”. (You can listen to the podcast here.) In posts, we explored Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, which instructs His disciples to live in such a way that we draw attention to the goodness and glory of God, not to ourselves. We then considered how to balance this with Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6, “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…”, that it is a reminder that when it comes to good works, it’s all about the heart, and that the heart of a disciple doesn’t desire glory for self, but glory for God.

(Check out part one here; and part two here.)

The question, then, is simply this: in any given situation, how do we know which of the two paradigms we follow? If we’re going to do something kind or generous or helpful for someone else, do we do it obviously, like the salt of the earth “so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven”? Or, do we do it in secret so that “[our] Father who sees in secret will reward [us]”? In my own journey, here are some questions I ask myself that have helped me navigate these waters…

– Am I doing this because I am down, depressed or discouraged and I want praise and recognition to make me feel better?
– Am I doing this because I’m trying to prove something or I want to make a point?
– Am I doing this because I’m trying to live up to other people’s expectation of me?
Maybe this is something to do privately.

– Am I doing this because I want people to have a better understanding of who God is?
– Am I doing this because I want to open doors to share Christ?
– Am I doing this to build or improve a relationship with a person who doesn’t know Jesus, or someone who I’m trying to encourage in the faith through our friendship?
– Am I doing this because people know I’m a Christian and I want them to see what Christians are supposed to be like?
Maybe this is something to do publicly.

– If I do this publicly, will people know for sure it was because I am a Christian, or just think I’m a “nice person”?
– If I do this privately, will that help people keep the focus on the goodness of God instead of focusing on how “good” I am?
– If I do this for another person and they know it was me, will it create an unhealthy dependence or expectation?
– If I do this for another person and they don’t know it was me, will I miss an opportunity to help them trust me more so I can speak into their life in Jesus’ name?

Sometimes I ask myself these questions consciously, and other times there’s just something in my spirit that prompts me as these principles become more ingrained in my soul. Either way, as I continue to pray for wisdom in these things, He is faithful to gently prod me with one simple question above all else. May it be the same for you…

“Lord, is this for my glory, or for Yours?”

–( selah )–

Do you have some practical tips that have helped you calibrate the balance between “being salt” and serving in secret? If so, share them! Please use the comments section below, and let’s continue the conversation…

(NOTE: This is part 3 of a 3-part series)
– Click here for Part 1
– Click here for Part 2