Shining a Light or Sounding a Trumpet?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between “letting your light shine” and “sounding a trumpet?” In this article we will consider this and more as we take a close look at Matthew Chapter 6.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 1-4: Doing Good for Your Own Glory

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.

2 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.

3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Verses 1-2: What are “alms?” The word alms translates as “pity,” “mercy,” and “charity.” You could think of this as giving to the poor, or we could consider this in a broader context that simply refers to righteous works. The point is that we should not do good to be seen of others. Why?

We should be honoring God, not ourselves. It comes down to the heart in which our good deeds are done. If we are acting out of selfless love, then we will not be thinking of ourselves. We are doing good to help others and to bring glory to God. If we are doing good for selfish reasons, then our intents are unrighteous, and we are hypocrites.

The “rewards in heaven” are those of the kingdom of God. We are told by Jesus that “hypocrites will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If we seek to have our good deeds rewarded on this earth, then we are forfeiting our heavenly rewards. What are heavenly rewards? This is discussed in verses 19-21 below.

How might we “sound a trumpet?” Maybe we go around telling others about all the good things we have done or plan to do. Maybe we make grand gestures for others to see. Maybe we are more subtle.

That is never a good mindset to have because God is the only one worthy of praise. We will not be rewarded by God when we seek to steal His glory or if our hearts are full of hypocrisy.

Verses 3-4: What does it mean, “let not your right hand know what the left hand is doing?” How is this possible? Is Jesus speaking in literal terms? Probably not. There are a couple things that come to mind here. For one, Jesus could simply be re-emphasizing how important it is to do good with a pure heart.

We might also consider that he is speaking of good deeds done in partnership contexts. When we work closely with others, we might risk being praised of them rather than God or praising the one we work with. It can be easy to do when we respect and appreciate the work of others, but in these instances, it might be best if the right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing and vice-versa.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 5-8: Praying for Your Own Glory

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

Verses 5-6: How often do we see people pray openly? How often do we read articles that have prayers written in them for others to read? Consider yourself here. Do you love to get “likes” for your WordPress posts? Do you love to be seen by others as someone who is wise or very knowledgeable?

When we praise God and do so to be seen of others, do we realize the severity of what we are doing? Do we want our praise to be tainted or fake? Of course not. However, if we are doing these things so that we appear to be good Christians, then we are as the Pharisees who Jesus opposed.

But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ (Matthew 23:5-10).

Sometimes we pray or do other performances of praise because our traditions cause us to have this pressure to perform mentality. This can be seen in our Christian assemblies today very often, so it’s important to remember that our brothers and sisters are at liberty to praise God in their own way. When we try to regulate the way others worship, these things can become oppressive and cause people to fall into legalistic or fake praise.

Verses 7-8: What are “vain repetitions?” The first thing that comes to mind are common prayers found in Catholicism or reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” religiously. We might also consider praying each night that the Lord forgive our sins for that day, yet we are not truly feeling repentant.

On one hand, we are told that Jesus rewards those who diligently seek him. On the other, we are told that Jesus knows what we need before we ask him. As with many things, it comes down to whether we are of a pure heart. What some might call “vain repetitions” might not be vain for everyone, so we should be careful not to view this idea too legalistically. The best thing to do is consider our own selves and whether we are praying out of habit and to be seen or with sincerity.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 9-13: “The Lord’s Prayer”

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

This example of sincere prayer Jesus gave us is sadly one of the most vainly-used prayers among Christians today. We should consider this, however, because within are important lessons about the kingdom of God.

We are to glorify God. We are to seek to live according to His righteous kingdom now. We are to seek the bread of life, which is the word of God. Yes, we can pray to be fed. However, we are also told not to worry about these things later in this chapter.

We are to pray to be forgiven and ask for the healing we need in order to forgive. We are to seek the Lord so that we do not sin. We are to understand that Jesus is the kingdom. He alone has the power we need to receive the kingdom. We cannot “take the kingdom by force” using legalism. We cannot truly live according to the righteousness of God by our own ability.

We also remember the important fact that all glory belongs to God. Do we really fear the Lord as we should? If we did, we would not be so vain and steal his glory.

This is a prayer about the gospel of the kingdom of heaven—even the full gospel of the kingdom. Have we really understood what Jesus is teaching us here, though we have recited this countless times?

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 14-15: Forgiveness

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It’s interesting that Jesus makes special mention of the fact that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. Forgiveness is an essential element of the gospel of the kingdom. Remember, hypocrites do not inherit the kingdom of heaven. If we want to be forgiven yet fail to forgive others, we are acting hypocritically. For an article about this in more detail, read: The Unforgiving Branch.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 16-18: Sacrificing for Your Own Glory

16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;

18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

This is fairly self-explanatory. It is the same as doing good to be seen or praying to be seen. We don’t very often see people fasting openly, but it does happen. We can also view this another way. What about those who want to be seen as martyrs for Christ?

When we want others to know how much we have sacrificed or been ridiculed because of the faith, we might be doing so for vain reasons. Maybe we want to be seen as strong or more righteous than others. Whatever the reason, if vanity is the root then we are as those who fast to be seen.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 19-21: The Treasures of Your Heart

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

What do we value or treasure? Praise of men or God? Rewards in the flesh or rewards in the Spirit? If our hearts are set on God, then the rewards we seek are those only the Lord can give. We will seek to be blessed in the kingdom of God, and that means growing the knowledge of the Lord as we are freed from the snares of sin. This can also mean being rewarded by the seven spirits of God or by bringing forth more fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Many consider this in the future tense. They think that if they do good deeds then they will be rewarded in the kingdom after they die. This might be so, however, we must first be rewarded in the present-day kingdom of God “at hand.” If we are not faithful and rewarded during our lifetimes, what makes us think we will inherit the eternal kingdom of God?

The rewards of the kingdom are vast and are much more valuable than vain glory, money, or other worldly treasures. Why not seek this now?

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 22-24: You Cannot Have Two Masters

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

What is this about? How can we be full of a light that is darkness? This is about hypocrisy. If we are doing good deeds, praying, or sacrificing for worldly treasures, then we might appear to have a kind of light, but that light is not sincere.

We might even fool ourselves into thinking we are pleasing God. However, we are not being rewarded in heavenly treasures, so we are not cultivating The Light (Jesus) within us. Instead, we are being filled with pride, vanity, and things that are more aligned with that “angel of light” who is Satan and “Darkness.” We cannot serve God and wickedness, no matter how “bright” our deeds appear to be before man.

If our focus is on the kingdom of God first, then we will be filled with Jesus. We are told that he rewards those who strive to keep his word by filling them with his Holy Spirit.

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him (John 14:23). [this is a great chapter. Please consider reading it.]

It is by the Spirit that we are able to grow in the knowledge of the Lord as his laws are written in our hearts. That is the best treasure there is. As we grow in this regard, we will naturally “shine our light before man” so that God is glorified. He will not give His power to those who do not fear Him and seek their glory over His.

Does this make sense to you? We cannot shine our light and sound a trumpet at the same time. If we are sounding a trumpet, then the light we are showing is darkness. It is fake, and we are not growing in the true righteousness of God. We are not being filled with the treasures of the kingdom of God, but rather, we are being filled in the flesh because hypocrites do not inherit the kingdom of God.

Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 25-34: Seek First the Kingdom

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

This chapter ends with some encouraging words from the Lord. We are told that when we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, the Lord will take care for the things necessary for sustaining our lives. When we are too worried about the cares of this world, we are not of the right mindset for giving God glory or growing in the righteous ways of the kingdom of heaven.

Each day is full of its trials. Each day we are striving to honor God instead of ourselves. Each day we are learning how to live right, how to praise the Lord, and how to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. Each day we are to pray to Jesus according to the example He gave us so that we do not fail to thrive in the kingdom of God. There is enough to focus on today. We should not live in fear of tomorrow, because the Lord cares for all who honor him sincerely.

In Conclusion

When we really understand what Jesus is teaching here, we see a few different things. Firstly, we might see how largely we misunderstand the kingdom of God. This is a present-day kingdom as well as a future-coming kingdom. As Christians, we do not have to wait for the resurrection to experience the power of The Life. We are called to live according to the kingdom of heaven now in our present lifetimes! This is growing spiritually by the power of the Spirit, not by our own attempts or legalistic traps. This is salvation by grace through faith.

As far as whether we are shining a light or sounding a trumpet, this comes down to one thing: worshiping God in spirit and in truth. If we are sincere and we seek the kingdom of God first, then we are going to be rewarded in the treasures of God. These are treasures of righteousness first and foremost, but this could also mean growing in other ways spiritually according to the will of God. In any case, the rewards of this world will kill our rewards in heaven, because you cannot thrive in both at the same time.

It does not matter how much good we do. If we are hypocritical about it, then the light in us is darkness. We are not growing in the things of God, but instead our treasures are bound in this world. We might think we are being “good Christians,” but we are deceiving ourselves and we are at risk of damnation instead of eternal life.

This is a very important topic for us to consider. It can be very easy to think we are serving God and others when in reality, we are doing things to serve our selves. When this happens, we are robbing our selves of the blessings of God and trading them for fleeting pleasures that only lead to destruction.

Let us ask ourselves:

  • Are we doing good to help others and to glorify God, or are we doing good to be seen?
  • Are we making sacrifices in the flesh so we can grow in the spirit, or are we forfeiting our spiritual blessings by seeking vanities?
  • Are we forgiving others as we should?
  • Are we shining a light or is the light in us darkness because we are sounding a trumpet before ourselves?
  • Are we worshiping God in sincerity, or are we hypocrites?

This article is part of the series entitled, “Acceptable Worship.” If this article was helpful for you, please consider sharing with others. Subscribe to receive email notifications as new articles are published.

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Posted in Bible Studies, Christian Worship

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These are the things that ye shall do: Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things I hate, saith the Lord.  — Zechariah 8:16-17