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.