In Matthew 6 the Lord Jesus tells us that doing good in public is not always so good:

“Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-6)

The good deed done out in the open, where men are watching, is the public deed. Jesus says these deeds too often betray a darkness in the man who does them. The good deed done in secret, where God alone is watching, is actually the deed done in the light. God sees it and that is enough. 

So here we learn how faith is required for secret acts of righteousness because faith believes God exists and that He rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). There are times, of course, out of necessity, that the deed done in public is the same as the deed done in the light, but only sometimes. Most of the time they can not be one and the same. 

But why all this scrutiny? Why can’t our Lord just be happy that good deeds are getting done? Why muddy the waters with a discussion about our motives? What’s wrong with posting a list of all the good deeds people are doing to shame those who do none? I think we’d get a lot more good deeds done, don’t you? Isn’t productivity a concern here?

No, it is not, not really. Jesus’ primary concern is the glory of God. When God’s glory is not my concern, then my glory is my concern, leaving me to calculate my good deeds with a darkened heart. On judgment day men will speak many words about all they did in the Lord's name, but Jesus will count it all as nothing if it was not done by faith (Matthew 7:21-23). 

Far too many times I have waited until someone was watching before I exerted myself in a good deed. And too often, when my good deed had no witnesses, it began to burn a hole in my pocket like extra spending money. Eventually, I burst and tell my tale to someone, taking an earthly reward. In such cases, what have I done? I have taken a small glory to myself from a small audience: men. Why have I found God’s glory so unappealing? The weakness of my faith and the strength of my unbelief is the answer.

So in Matthew 6, once again, Jesus calls me to separate myself from myself and be joined by faith to my Father in heaven. Good deeds done in secret by faith bring about this painful separation and renew this wonderful union. Of course, good deeds not done at all are another way of keeping to myself, but that is another discussion altogether.

As I begin to understand the implications of Jesus’ teaching on living by faith, I soon realize I can help my brothers and sisters in this kind of Christ-following as well. I can help by not being the kind of religious person who sizes up my brother by his visible good deeds. I can stop thinking I have rights to see the secret acts of righteousness that only God sees. I will avoid quizzing my Christian brother on what he has done lately. I will avoid cleverly telling him, “I missed you at the church workday" to subtly communicate my real point: “Where were you, you lazy bum?” 

Such restraint will slowly create a climate of modesty where men and women are free to deal with God more than with me - free to live by faith. I am just a brother. We all have a Father. May we have grace to leave to the Father what belongs to the Father, including all the glory.