Keep It Secret or Let Your Light Shine?

The biggest challenge after success is shutting up about it.

It was Serve Day. People had gathered at Manna House in their matching t-shirts to go into the community. Some would deliver food; others would paint houses; some would visit the elderly.

We began passing out name tags and markers. Wear the sticker so others can know you by name.

But one gentleman balked. He refused the sticker. He didn’t want to wear his name tag.

At first I thought it was for privacy. Maybe he didn’t want people knowing him by his name.

Then I overheard his wife ask him, “Why aren’t you wearing a name tag?

He quoted, “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

Oh. I recognized Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount:

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.
. . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”
Matthew 6:1, 3-4

Would that include not wearing a name tag into the community?

Sometimes it’s hard to know. We don’t want to do acts of service for praise or recognition. We don’t want to expect acknowledgement or a personal thanks.

Yet, on the other hand, Jesus also said,

“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

So which is it?

  • Do we keep our good works secret so no one will know, or
  • Do we let others see them so God can be glorified?

Perhaps the key is our own motive. We ask ourselves why: Am I doing this to make me look good? Or instead am I doing it to make God look good?

If I had to keep my good deed a secret, would I still do it?

Our intentions matter.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Psalm 139:23-24

We can be a prideful people. Humility doesn’t come naturally. And even though God’s grace covers our cockiness, his power outweighs our pride, he wants us to be humble. Like Jesus was humble.

In The Blessing of Humility, Jerry Bridges points out that,

“Humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love.”

So was the man with no name tag being humble or just legalistic? Is saying your name being prideful? Or being personable?

That’s between God and him.

But because of the anonymous man, I also now see name tags as an opportunity for a heart check.

Can I take an opportunity to serve without turning it into a show of pride?

For me that day, wearing a name tag was a relationship-builder. It was a sign of friendliness and availability to other people, a way to show God’s love.

But ultimately, if God can’t get good credit, may I remain anonymous, too.

* * *

Do you like to be acknowledged for what you do? Does it matter if someone else notices or not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

More on Humility:

47 thoughts on “Keep It Secret or Let Your Light Shine?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think it’s built-in to enjoy recognition for what we do. We likely all struggle with it at some level, yes? Maybe it’s the level that makes the difference? I’ll give you some kudos right now for the way you’re spreading good fashion sense for women who are no longer 20 years old! 🙂 Thanks, Jodie.

  1. Bill (cycleguy)

    You could add one more to his question: was he being humble or legalistic or prideful? Did he make a grand production out of not wearing it? Did he criticize others for wearing theirs? I think you are right Lisa. It comes down to motives. When we have a Day of Service for our community, I want people to know the church is serving. Sure gets rid of their “church is only in it for themselves” mentality.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Hmm…that’s more food for thought, Bill. From my brief moment of eavesdropping, I think the man was also laying a small guilt-trip on his wife for putting on her name tag. So that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But nonetheless, it made a memorable moment for me because it all happened a year ago and I’m still thinking about it! ha.

  2. Pam

    Interesting observation and question, Lisa. I have recently finished reading Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson and it gave me much to reflect on. I have about 5 posts that came out of my experience with her words and book (that was often convicting). I think the motive is key, but then it comes to whether or not we are honest about the motives. She uses a term called a “humble brag” and I can wonder whether or not one or the other side of your question falls there. Always good to read what the Lord has laid on your heart.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ah, good to bring up “humble brag” here, Pam. I think we see that so much on social media, such as…”I’m so tired from my week of serving the poor 24-hours a day!” ha. It’s a fine line between wanting to share with the world the joy we feel at those good works, but yet not come across as arrogant about it–look at me! Sounds like Humble Roots is a book I need to look into. Thanks for sharing it here, Pam.

  3. Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Humility may look different on different people. I don’t know that there’s a one size fits all. I think as long as our motives are more of God less of me and our aim is to glorify Him and have our life arrow point to Him, then we’re on the right track. I think I would have worn mine to help me build a relationship with others, because isn’t God all about relationship? Hmmm….got me thinking ?!
    Bev xx

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I totally agree with you, Bev. What is humble for one person might be pride for another. And vice versa. It should make us less eager to judge because we can’t always tell which is which. “Because isn’t God all about relationship?”…that sums it up so well!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      While I don’t like being the center of attention, I do like to be appreciated too. I remember how difficult that felt during the early days of staying at home with kids. You don’t get a lot of praise from those little mouths for a few years. 🙂

  4. Michele Morin

    I love how you came down on this. That man’s motives are his own business, but it needn’t rule your choice. That, too, is between you and God. Thanks for turning this episode into an opportunity to examine my own heart.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Michele. It did make me feel a little awkward at first, wearing my own name tag after his refusal. But yes, it gave me an opportunity to examine my heart to understand why I did or didn’t want to wear it. Those opportunities are always profitable!

  5. Liz

    Love this! Mining our motives is so important! I’ll be sharing this with the ladies in my Move Toward the Mess book study! Thanks for these encouraging words! Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “Mining our motives” – that would have been an excellent post title. 🙂 It also would make a good spiritual discipline for me to practice with more regularity…hmmm… Thanks, Liz!

  6. Barbara H.

    The ironic thing is that, if the man truly wanted to remain anonymous and not call attention to himself, he was actually calling more attention, both by that incident and by others wondering why he wouldn’t wear something so simple as a name tag. That’s something I realized some time ago – sometimes by trying to get out of or minimize something calling attention to myself, it created more attention. Argh!

    My m-i-l once said that she had such a battle with spiritual pride that she didn’t do any kind of public ministry any more. I understand, and that was between her and God, but I thought, we can’t all do that – some things, just by their nature, will be seen by others. And those verses in Matthew 5 do tell us to let our lights shine before others – not so they’ll see us, but Him. And I have been greatly encouraged by seeing the service of others. I do think it comes down to motives. These things, as you said, are an opportunity for a heart check and, if necessary, a heart adjustment.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, this: “Sometimes by trying to get out of or minimize something calling attention to myself, it created more attention.” It reminds me of times when I’ve tried to secretly say something to someone in the middle of a crowd, and it backfires by the person asking out loud what I said. ha.

      I have been very encouraged by seeing what others do as well. It’s definitely a heart issue for each of us to examine on our own, and to try to refrain from judging others. We never know what temptation they may be trying to avert.

  7. Barbie

    For me, it’s always a matter of the heart and motive. I tell my kids often to show mom a little appreciation, but it’s not because I think I’m the world’s best mom. I do a lot and I want them to recognize it. In ministry I believe there is a time to share what we are doing and why and other times to serve in secret. Thank you for your thoughts.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m with you, Barbie: there is a time for serving in secret and a time to share in public. It’s a good practice to teach your kids to be appreciative—it will not only bless the people they are thanking, but they’ll see how good it feels to be a blessing too!

  8. Sarah Geringer

    I agree with Barbara’s comment…the man may have called more attention to himself without a nametag, if the rest of the group was wearing them. But who knows what was in his heart?
    I think it’s always a matter of walking closely with God and using the Holy Spirit’s discernment. Your post points to that, Lisa, and I think that’s the best way to go forward with service.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, if I hadn’t heard his explanation, I would have just considered the man to be rude. And while I didn’t feel his explanation fit me, it at least made me understand his own motive (and take time to rethink mine!). I love this: “I think it’s always a matter of walking closely with God and using the Holy Spirit’s discernment.” Excellent point, Sarah.

  9. Jeanne Takenaka

    Lisa, what a fascinating post. I never thought about name tags as being something that would give me glory. I have always looked at them as something that makes it easier to build relationship. But, I’m with you. It’s good to evaluate my reasons for serving others. Humility is something God has been speaking to me about too.

    Great post, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hadn’t thought of name tags that way either until I heard the man mention it. A different perspective to be sure! But it definitely made me think. ha. Glad that God is also speaking to you about humility, Jeanne. It’s not an easy thing.

  10. Carol

    This is so awesome. We are focusing some of our Student Activities this year on community building and being more helpful and visible in our community. But I’m always slightly uncomfortable with that objective because it sounds like we’re in it for marketing. It does market – but I pray that it helps kids to understand the joy of service and the intrinsic rewards being God’s hands provides. I love the nametag thing…that’ll stick in my mind.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This is a beautiful mission statement for serving, Carol: “helps kids to understand the joy of service and the intrinsic rewards being God’s hands provides.” Amen!

  11. Cindy

    I had not thought of this verse, 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. . . . But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Matthew 6:1, 3-4 in relation to volunteering with the less fortunate. I do agree that motives play a big part in why we do things and therefore between us and God. Though there are times when thoughts come about me being noticed by others, I quickly banish those thoughts and submit to God as it is only Him whom I want to please and give glory to.
    This is a great post. Thanks for writing it for us! ?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Sounds like you have the right attitude, Cindy! Dismissing those negative thoughts when they come is an important part of “taking every thought captive.” I’m not always successful at it, but I definitely want to be. Pleasing God first and foremost sets everything in place.

  12. valerie

    Such a thought-provoking post with great comments. I’ve thought about your questions before “Do we keep our good works secret so no one will know, or
    Do we let others see them so God can be glorified?” and they certainly get my thoughts spinning. I guess it comes down to a heart issue. Since pride and desire for recognition can so easily seep into our good works-I guess it comes down to praying before hand and asking the Lord to be glorified. I read a book recently that said we use the gifts God has given us to minister to others “with” God instead of “for” God. I liked that train of thought because God is the one who equips us despite our weakness. I read Humility by Jerry Bridges and thought it was great.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love that angle, Valerie: ministering to others “with” God instead of “for” God. I can imagine God smiling right alongside us when we do it together instead of as a duty to “just keep him happy.” I recently read Humility by Jerry Bridges too and really appreciated his thoughts on the subject; it’s one I need to keep handy all the time!

  13. Sarah Donegan

    This is a hard one, and the answer can go back and forth. When I write about giving, it sometimes feels like bragging, even though the whole idea is never easy for my family. But it can easily feel like a pat on the back. I want my motive to be purely to encourage others. I am so glad to know others struggle with the same issues!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it is a struggle, Sarah. And there are times when we share about someone else doing something good, then get praised ourselves for some periphery role; it can feel very awkward. The whole “letting your works be seen” so God can be glorified can also rub off on us, whether we want it to or not. Thankful that God knows our hearts…and forgives our hearts when they aren’t pure!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is a question that I don’t have a clear answer for; the answer seems to be so dependent on the situation and the person. So I’m still pondering it too, Susan. 🙂

  14. Isa Cox

    What an interesting question! I have always held steadfast to this verse, and my husband and I are very discreet about giving at church. We prefer to donate with cash and would not take a tax break on it. However, I believe that this was simply this man’s personal conviction, that’s just the beauty of Grace. If he felt he shouldn’t have worn a name tag, perhaps based on his own pride, that was best, whereas someone else could wear a name tag and serve in complete humility.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree with you, Isa. It might have been a stumbling block for this to wear a name tag, and yet for someone else, it might have been a pride issue to NOT wear one. We never can know the reasoning in someone’s heart, but have to trust God with it. The beauty of Grace—yes, indeed!

  15. Jean Wise

    What a great reminder and thought provoking post. Even reading the comments was enlightening. Great conversation and one to ponder deeply and often. I liked: We ask ourselves why: Am I doing this to make me look good? Or instead am I doing it to make God look good? Good question to keep before us all the time.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “Making me look good or God?” – It also can be an uncomfortable question to ask ourselves, yes? ha. But all the more reason we need to keep it at the forefront of our minds!

  16. floyd

    Excellent post, Lisa. I think we all fight the pride side of our souls. And I agree; it’s is all about our motive and perspective.

    You know my take on humility. It’s the most beautiful trait that transforms a person from the inside out.

    Thanks for the reminder. I can use it!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I always think of you, Floyd, when I write about humility. I appreciate your focus on it; I need that! Yes, it does transform a person from the inside out in the ways that matter the most.

  17. June

    Motivation is key and God knows our hearts. I prefer not to have others know about my “good deeds” especially if they are monetary. However, again we need to check our motivation here because I think we can take not being recognized to the extreme as well. We have to guard against pride in either case. i.e. insisting we don’t want to be recognized can be a source of pride, etc. Again, God knows our heart. Personally, I find that if I’m making a big deal out it (either way) then I need to do a heart-check! Great post, Lisa! Have a blessed week!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good advice, June. Either extreme means we might need to do a heart check! You’re right that there can be pride on either side of it. Outward behaviors can be so misleading; that’s why we never need to judge (a lesson I need to improve upon!).

  18. TC Avey

    Knowing our motives is so important. It an really change our perspective about WHY we are doing something.
    God recently reminded me of this when I had my feelings hurt…He reminded me that His love should motivate why I help people and not to get a “thank you” and He reaffirmed that HE was pleased with me and noticed my efforts.

    Important post, Lisa. Thank you for sharing.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I relate to your experience, TC. When I get my feelings hurt, it usually signals it’s time to do a heart-check, even if the hurt feelings feel “justified.” It’s a signal that, at the least, I need to forgive someone (and often myself too), and at the most, dig deeper into a new level of humility. Painful but profitable!

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