Shining Lights or Secret Alms?

I was thinking of some of the topics that have been taught so far in the Gospel Doctrine class, and thought of the apparent contrast between letting our lights shine, and keeping our alms secret. How should one strike a balance between these two principles?

Both of these teachings are part of the sermon on the mount. The first comes from Matthew chapter 5 where we read:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

It seems that Jesus is instructing us to be good examples here. He seems to desire that other people should see the good works that we do, that they may glorify God. Yet in the very same sermon we read what may be thought of as a contradicting thought:

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. Therefore when thou doest thine alms do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward the openly. (Matt. 6:1-4)

Here we have what seems to be the opposite attitude. The idea that the good works that we do should be done in secret. And that by doing so any reward we receive will come from God.

So which is it? Shining light, or secret alms?

I think the key might be in the description of the light the savior provides. This light is compared to a single candle placed on a candlestick. The light from such a source is a soft, warm, consistent, peaceful glow. The purpose of such a light is to give light to all that are in the house. It would not really draw much attention to itself.

The light is not a spotlight, that draws attention to an individual on a stage. It is not like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades. It is not a light like the sun. It is not a bonfire, nor a large chandelier.

Like the candle, we can quietly go about doing good, in the service of others. There is little need of being more showy than that. With the relative darkness that surrounds so many as a backdrop, such a light will be unmistakable, and gratefully received. It is just such a light that can turn people to glorify God.

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7 Responses to “Shining Lights or Secret Alms?”


  1. 1 JKS March 12, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    I think you described being a light vs. showing off quite well. Very interesting to think about the difference.

  2. 2 Naiah Earhart March 13, 2007 at 7:31 am

    I read this as our candle being evidence of our faith in general (our faith in God, in Christ; even our membership in His Church)–which it would be wrong to hide, as it is not a shameful thing. The alms we do in secret, then, are those specific good works for which there could also be worldly glory or credit. Those things we do quietly…

    I like your image of the candle being quietly reliable and useful.

  3. 3 Michelle March 13, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    Eric, wonderful thoughts…especially that of the candle not drawing attention to nor acting for itself. Naiah, love the thoughts about what the light can represent as well.

  4. 4 Connor March 13, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    I agree that your analogy is spot on. I like how you mention that the soft light shines for others’ benefit while not attracting attention to itself.

    It’s much like the design world: a good design doesn’t attract attention to itself. It just works. It lets you see what you need to, gets you the information you need, and you move on. You don’t spend ten minutes looking at it thinking “wow, what a great design!”

  5. 5 RoAnn March 14, 2007 at 5:38 am

    This same question came up in our Gospel Doctrine class. Although no one came up with as good an image as the single candle, we did bring out the points that being a light involves being a good example and sharing the gospel message with others, and that one way to give alms in secret is to donate generously to the Fast Offering fund.

    We also discussed how doing “the right things for the right reasons” has a bearing on both giving alms and being a light to those around us.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson March 14, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone.

    I can now access BofJ from home. I do not know about work yet.

  7. 7 Barb March 14, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    I had read this scripture with in recent days and I think it helped me realize that it can be good to do humanitarian activity in a public way. I do like the analogy of this article. I have this thing about liking to do things in secret but being very happy in a prideful way if someone finds out what I did. So I am a work in progress. I remember years ago going to visit one of the Young Single Adults that was in walking distance to my home. I was so proud of myself for doing something independent as I do not drive and often relied on others for the ability to visit others. I took some produce that I think included onions. The young woman’s dad acted glad to receive it. I believe the Young woman said something about never coming again to her home. I am not sure why. I think I was still proud of myself. Years later after some maturity and maybe being on the other end that my eyes have been opened. I was not serving her.


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