“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, 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 in heaven.
One of the things that confuses Christians is how to understand humility. We often think it means we need to put ourselves down, or act like we are less than we are, but it isn’t. Humility is simply acknowledging that whatever we are, have, or possess is because of God. If we truly understand this, it “automatically” makes us humble, because we have no reason to be proud. Yes? Therefore, if we are intelligent or beautiful or kind, and somebody tells us we are; we don’t need to squirm and say, “Nooo; I am not”; we just say, “Thank you”, graciously and credit God for it, if not expressing it outwardly, then inwardly.
What relevance does this have to today’s passage? Well, Jesus says that we are the light of the world and we need to shine, so that the world may SEE our good works. Do you notice how the bad things that people do get so much attention? Newspapers and magazines and television are filled with stories about the bad things people do. What about the good things that people do? They don’t get noticed because those who do good works are often hiding in some corner, pretending to be humble!
But now, you will say, doesn’t this contradict what Jesus has said so many times about NOT letting our good deeds be seen? For instance, once our Lord said, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3). No, it doesn’t contradict anything if we realize two things. One, he is telling us not to show off in order for US to be seen and praised by others. In today’s passage he makes this explicitly clear when he says we need to let our light shine, “so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.” It’s about what our motivation is.
Two, the “good works” are not so much things we DO, as much as the evidence of God’s strength working through us. Paul was a huge boaster and many of his letters are full of his boasts. But he justifies his boasting by quoting the prophet Jeremiah twice, saying, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31, 2 Corinthians 10:17.) As a simple example of what he meant, consider these reflections. I know they are very insightful — ten thousand people wouldn’t watch them or read them if they weren’t — but how do they contain so much wisdom? Definitely not because I am wise — only I know how stupid I can be — but because of the wisdom of God working in me.
There is a fine line, so to ensure we really get this right, it would help us to know what the original quotation by Jeremiah says. This is what the prophet, speaking for God, wrote: “This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). And that’s the secret, really. If we have the understanding to know God, we will know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
So, if you want to learn the art of boasting, understand the Lord. That’s one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, by the way. Learn about it; then ask for it.