“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)
This afternoon, I read a chapter in Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, titled “The Hidden Righteousness.” As Bonhoeffer does throughout his work, he touches on the very heart of Christ’s teaching. After citing the above scripture passages, Bonhoeffer reflects on their seeming paradox: “From whom are we to hide the visibility of our discipleship? Certainly not from other men, for we are told to let them see our light. No. We are to hide it from ourselves.“
Rather than attempt to paraphrase Bonhoeffer’s words, I will reprint a portion of the chapter here.
All the follower of Jesus has to do is to make sure that his obedience, following and love are entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated. If you do good, you must not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, you must be quite unconscious of it. Otherwise you are simply displaying your own virtue, and not that which has its source in Jesus Christ. Christ’s virtue, the virtue of discipleship, can only be accomplished so long as you are entirely unconscious of what you are doing. The genuine work of love is always a hidden work. Take heed therefore that you know it not, for only so is it the goodness of God. If we want to know our own goodness or love, it has already ceased to be love. We must be unaware even of our love for our enemies. After all, when we love them they are no longer our enemies. This voluntary blindness in the Christian (which is really sight illuminated by Christ) is his certainty, and the fact that his life is hidden from his sight is the ground of his assurance. (Bonhoeffer, 159-160)
I’ve struggled with perfectionist tendencies for most of my life. I’ve always hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and the longing to become “good” in myself has been an ever present temptation. Too often, I have given in and tasted of the fruit — unseen pride and abundant guilt.
Failing to hide my righteousness from myself always leads to disappointment, as my own goodness can never compare to that of my Lord. My hunger and thirst can only be filled when I look at Him alone, when I do not let my left hand know what my right hand is doing.