Did Jesus Contradict Himself?

An Apparent Contradiction

Did Jesus contradict himself? Should a believer do good things in public or not? Take a look at these two statements by Jesus before you answer.

  • Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Mt. 5:15)
  • Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Mt. 6:1)

Both commands appear together in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7), so in that sense they share the same context. But they appear to say opposite things. One tells us to do good works in public view. The other tells us not to do good works in public view. So which is it?

Resolving the Conflict

Reading these statements carefully reveals a crucial, distinguishing detail: motivation. Do you see it?

What motivates you to do good works in public? In Matthew 5:15, Jesus teaches the proper motive for doing good works in public, that people will glorify the Father. But in Matthew 6:1, Jesus teaches the improper motive for doing the same thing, that people will notice you instead of God. Do you see the difference?

Motive Makes All the Difference

Your Christian life is not supposed to be a secret. People in the world should see the clear difference between your old behavior, which was evil and self-righteous, and your new behavior that reveals the goodness and truth of Jesus Christ. But your motive makes all the difference. How can you tell whether your motive is for God or self? That’s a good question, and Matthew 6:2-3 gives a helpful answer.

When the Pharisees did charitable deeds in public, they blew trumpets to announce their activities. To avoid this, Jesus encourages us to take the opposite approach. We should advertise our behavior so little that our “left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing.”

Did Jesus do good works in public? He certainly did. But here’s the key. He just did them.

Did Jesus do good works in public? He certainly did. And we should follow his example. But here’s the key. He just did them. And when he did them, he did them only and always to glorify God, to draw attention to God the Father and not to himself. He saw a need and he met it. He didn’t blow a trumpet to announce his behavior beforehand. He did good works, plain and simple, whether anyone noticed or not.

Jay Vernon McGee provides the following poem in the Introduction to his commentary on Mark’s Gospel. It appropriately conveys the proper way in which Christ went about doing good, and we should follow his example, to glorify our Father who is in heaven.

I read

In a book

Where a man called

Christ

Went about doing good.

It is very disconcerting

To me

That I am so easily

Satisfied

With just

Going about.

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