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Matthew 5:16

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 6:1

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

How does these two statements relate? Are alms a special kind of good work with special treatment?

  • The English and German verbal construction let it shine (lass es scheinen) is the equivalent of may it shine (es soll scheinen), which might create some confusion for English and German speakers, where none exists in other languages. Furthermore, men seeing what we do, and us showing them our deeds, are two slightly different ideas. – Lucian Feb 5 '19 at 1:31
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"υμων τα καλα εργα" (your good works) and "την δικαιοσυνην υμων" (your practice of good deeds) are indeed synonymous.

However, there is no contradiction, since Jesus says in Matthew 5:16 we should do good works "οπως" (so that then) people (will) glorify God by seeing them, whereas Matthew 6:1 says we should not do good works "προς το θεαθηναι αυτοις" ([just] to be seen by them).

Jesus actually uses many seemingly contradictory statements in His teaching, whereas a simple examination shows a nuance. For example, "he who is not with me is against me," (Lk. 11:23) and, "he who is not against us is for us" (Lk. 9:50). At first glance, they seem to overlap and contradict, before you realize what is being said in each case.

Here, even if Jesus didn't use different wording, we would still know that He meant both instances: show your works to glorify God by letting men see, but don't show them just to be seen by men.

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    That is very helpful, thank you. Did I understand your interpretation correctly - it is the same kind of deed, but Mt 5:16 is about the impact, Mt 6:1 is about motivation? – Zeemee Jan 26 '19 at 11:15
  • Precisely; and well put. – Sola Gratia Jan 26 '19 at 11:20
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I think the meaning is pretty clear when read in context.

Matt 5:16 – Do good, so that when people see your good works, they will glorify God. It is the good that is done that is to be seen, not necessarily you doing it.

Matt 6:1 – When you do good, don't do it just to be seen doing good. Don't seek "Earthly" reward or the praise of men. Otherwise, there will be no "Heavenly" reward.

Matt 6:2 – "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you... so that [you] may be honored by men... [otherwise you will] have [your] reward in full."

Matt 6:5 – "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to... be seen by men... they have their reward in full."

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