In the Sermon on the Mount (where Jesus spoke to His disciples, not the crowds that also followed Him) a couple of the subjects that Jesus addressed seem contradictory at first blush. They both relate on the surface to the way we act in public, before other people. He said, on the one hand:
You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14, 16)
Jesus, on the other hand, gave the following negative instruction:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
Jesus went on to provide the following examples:
“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-6)
How do we let our light shine before men without practicing our righteousness before men?
Clearly, “letting your let shine” does not mean “practicing your righteousness”. In fact, “your righteousness” is the problem…. We have no righteousness. Our righteousness is like filthy rags before God. (Isaiah 64:6) We have no righteousness before God, so if we are practicing any righteousness at all, we are practicing our own righteousness.
We may be better than other people, but no one is righteous before God! (Romans 3:10) Self-righteousness is what we display when we do things to be noticed by other people, but God is not similarly impressed. (We might call this “virtue-signaling” today.)
When Jesus talked about letting our light shine, He was talking about letting the light of Christ shine. Jesus is our righteousness. (1 Corinthians 1:30) We do not rely on ourselves, but on the righteousness that God gives us when we let go of our own righteousness and accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus to make us “right” with the Father.
The difference between letting our lights shine and practicing our own righteousness may not, perhaps, be so much observed in what we, but in why we do it. The difference is something that only God sees and can measure. (Psalm 139:2)
The heart/motivation of a person is the important thing when it comes to God, and this is what we should be concerned about as well. (Prov. 4:23) We should be continually on guard, checking always to be sure our heart motivation is right. Jesus, in effect, was saying, “Check your heart.”
But, we may not even accurately know our own motivations. For that reason, David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” (Psalm 139:23) David did not pray those words to be heard by people; he was crying out to God, “Help me!”
When we turn our sincere prayer to God, who sees everything and knows us better than we know ourselves, we are in the right position to let our lights shine. When our focus is on what other people think, we are not letting our lights shine; we are practicing self-righteousness, which means nothing to God.
When our audience is God, rather than man, our lights will shine, and God will be pleased. If our motives are to glorify Christ, our lights will shine, and people will be drawn to Jesus. When our motives are to follow, and honor and be like Christ as He instructs us to be, we are letting our lights shine in what we do, and people will glorify God.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
When God’s reward is our greatest desire, our lights will shine, and men will notice, but they will not so much notice us, as they will notice God. People intuitively pick up on our motivations. When we are looking for praise from others, people sense it. When we are seeking praise from God, people wonder what it is we are looking for because they know it is not the honor of men that we seek.
If someone is standing, staring at the sky, others will look up also to see what that person is seeing. When our focus is on God, people should wonder what we are focused on and be inspired to see what we see.
When a light shines, whether it is the sun, or a candle, a lamp, a flashlight or something else, we do not notice the light as much as the objects that are illuminated by the light. The brighter the light, the less able we are to look at the light, itself, but the greater we are able to see everything else with clarity.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – C. S. Lewis
 5457/phōs (a neuter noun) – properly, light (stressing its results, what it manifests). In Scripture, phōs (“light”) is the manifestation of God’s self-existent life. See John 1:4-5 “In Him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light [phōs] of men. The light (phōs) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 8:12: “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light (phōs) of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light (phōs) of life.'” (NASB)
God’s light (phōs) reveals His presence and preferences. In contrast, darkness obscures God’s will and presence. Through the light of faith, God reveals and shares His life which overcomes all spiritual darkness. We can not see things as they really are, unless God gives us light. God’s light alone reveals reality so the Psalmist proclaims, “In Thy light, we see light.” (Ps 36:9) Phōs preeminently conveys the manifestation of God’s life (Jn 1:4) so believers can perceive true reality, through faith. Without divine light, we would all be shut up to spiritual (eternal) obscurity. Light is in Christ and emanates from Him (cf. Heb 1:3). We do not turn on a flashlight (or light a candle) to see the flashlight or the candle! Light makes what is spiritual (eternal) become intelligible (“visible”). God shares light so He Himself becomes visible to the eye of the soul.
 3708/horáō – properly, to see, often in the metaphorical sense: “to see with the mind” (“spiritually see”), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception). Horaō (“see”) typically refers to grasping the meaning of something through God’s revelation, i.e. perceiving on the invisible (supernatural) plane. Horaō denotes the physical act of seeing and connotes the mental discernment accompanying it. Horaō (“see”) implies comprehension – like in the expression, “I see what you mean” (“I see what you are saying”). Horaō focuses on the mental and spiritual enlightenment that brings understanding, i.e. inner illumination that also implies “take heed” (give regard to).
 2570/kalós – attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); i.e. well done so as to be winsome (appealing).
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