T. Pierce Brown

Most of my life when I have tried to get persons to become involved in personal evangelism, some would respond in this fashion, “I do not have the gift of gab (some would add `like you do’), but I will do my preaching by letting my light shine before men.” Sometimes the more knowledgeable ones might even quote from Edgar A. Guest, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”

Although a few might have been honest in thinking that their light could shine without saying anything, and that a sermon that could only be seen and not heard could teach anyone anything about the plan of salvation, it is my opinion that most of the time it was simply an excuse to try to get out of obeying the Lord. At least I never remember seeing them preach much of a sermon by their lives.

One can scarcely imagine the Apostles saying, when the Lord told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature saying, “I’m willing to try to live it, but I am not going to speak it!” It could not be done then or now.

But, in my judgment, part of the error has been compounded by outstanding brethren giving an improper exegesis to 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.” Boles says, “–it is by these good works that the Christian’s light shines before others.”  McGarvey says, “No ostentatious display of piety or righteousness is here enjoined, but the natural and unavoidable force of a good example.” Rhoderick D. Ice says, “Christians allow their light to shine by doing good things which honor God in the eyes of the people.” I do not deny the basic thrust of these comments.

By no stretch of the imagination should we be thought to imply that “good things that honor God” are not important. In fact, we strongly affirm that all the good words a man may utter are relatively impotent without good deeds. “Let us love, not in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John3:18). But we are suggesting that this is not a proper exegesis of the passage. This would mean that Jesus is saying, “Let your good works be seen before men that they may see your good works and glorify God.” This is what most of us have probably thought the passage teaches.

Suppose you saw a Roman Catholic who was a good neighbor, and interested in the welfare of young people. He belonged to the Lion’s Club. He got the Lion’s Club to buy some glasses for a young man who could not see well without them, and shoes for the feet of a poor boy who needed them. You may be a member of the Rotary Club and live next door to him and across the street from another family who needed the same kind of things, so you went and bought them. Both of you deliver the glasses and shoes on the same day, and both are observed by other neighbors doing it. They saw your good works. Who got the glory? Was it the Rotary Club, the Lion’s Club, the Roman Catholic man, you, or God? If you say that it was God who got it when you did it, but something or some one else when he did it, why do you say so?

Is not the real truth of the matter, God gets no glory because of the action unless you give God the glory by your words? Surely you know that even an atheist can do good deeds, but they do not thereby glorify God! And if that be true, when a man sees you doing a good deed, he can not tell by that good deed alone whether you are an atheist or a Christian!

I believe that if you logically analyze it, you are forced to admit that. If that be true, it therefore follows that the way you let your light shine is by telling people the motive, purpose, reason, and authority by which you do what you do. If a crowd just sees you baptize 50 persons, and sees a Jehovah’s Witness baptize 500, does God get any glory from either? But if a person hears that the reason you are doing it is that the Lord who died for us authorized and commanded us to do it for the remission of the man’s sins, you may thus glorify God and His Son.

Is that such a strange exegesis? Does not David say in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” and in verse 130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light”? Can anyone understand the works of God properly without his WORD to cast light on them? It is true that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork”, but would you know the kind of loving God that made the heavens, for what purpose He made them, and what difference it makes, without His Word casting light on those things?

So, I am suggesting that if God’s Word is His light, your word is your light. Of course your light should be God’s light. If you are talking about baptism, for example, and you explain that baptism is a “church ordinance” for the purpose of inducting man into a human denomination, how can that possibly glorify God? But if your word shines light on the action because it is God’s Word, and you explain that baptism is the perfect, God-ordained picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, by which one demonstrates his faithful acceptance of the grace of Christ, then it glorifies God.

Even your attendance at the services of a church does little, if anything, to glorify God if no one hears why you do it. If one sees you go, and says anything, it will most likely be, “I guess he must be a good man, (or at least may be), for I see him going to church every Sunday.” Does God get any glory out of that? If so, I would like for someone to tell me how, if no one explains the reasons, purposes, motives for going.

If your word sheds any light on the fact that what you are doing is by the authority of Christ, and done because you accept His authority, then He gets glory, if the work is a good work. If your word does NOT shed any light on why you do what you do, any number of things or persons may get the glory, but not God.

Since there must be a “bottom line” somewhere, I guess this is it: “Jesus began both to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). A person who thinks he can follow Jesus without doing both is wrong. You let your light shine not merely by doing good deeds, but by telling others the source of the motivation, power and authority by which you do them.

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