“When you give to
the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so
that your charitable giving will be in secret.” — Matthew 6:3-4
There’s a story about an Eastern holy man who used to sit at a prominent street corner in his city. Every day he would cover himself with sackcloth and sit there on a pile of ashes to show his humility. Often, tourists would stop at the corner and ask to take a picture with him. He always agreed—but before the picture was taken, he would quickly rearrange the ashes to make himself look more humble.
That makes me stop and think. I’ve been a follower of Christ for over 40 years, and during that time I’ve done my best to do good deeds. But I wonder: How many of those good deeds did I do while I was rearranging the ashes to make myself look good for the picture?
I believe Jesus wants you to ask yourself the same question. In Matthew 6:1, as He continues His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns, “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.” Jesus speaks this truth as He’s getting ready to teach about giving to the poor, prayer and fasting. He counts all of these as acts of righteousness; in other words, they are good and necessary expressions of our Christian faith. God expects us to give to the poor, to pray and to fast. And He promises to reward us for these acts of righteousness—if we do them in the right way.
In verse 1, Jesus points out that we shouldn’t give in order “to be seen” by people. And in verse 2, He points out that we shouldn’t give in order to be “honored” by people: “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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
When we give to people in need, we shouldn’t announce it with trumpets: “Hey, everyone! Look at me! Who’s God’s gift to the poor? I am!” You might think Jesus is exaggerating when he talks about someone blowing trumpets, but sadly, He’s not. The Pharisees often blew trumpets on the street corners when they were about to help out poor people. If you asked why, they would have said they did it to spread the word around town that the giveaway was about to begin. But Jesus knew the REAL reason that the Pharisees blew the trumpets. It was to draw attention to themselves.
In verse 2,
Jesus calls such givers “hypocrites.” In ancient
God holds no reward for followers who shine the spotlight on themselves when they give. The praise they get from the people around them is all the reward they’ll ever get. I like the way the The Message paraphrases these verses: “Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get.”
So, the WRONG way to give is to give like a hypocrite—only giving when people are watching you. In verses 3 and 4, Jesus teaches us the RIGHT way to give: “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your charitable giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
The left hand/right hand illustration has a story behind it. In Jesus’ day, there was an offering box at the temple where people could deposit alms for the poor. That box was in the doorway to the temple—on the right side. So, Jesus seems to be saying, “When you walk into the temple and place your gift for the poor into the offering box, be so discreet about it that even your left hand doesn’t see what you’re doing.” The right way to give is discreetly and privately, motivated by a heartfelt desire to bless someone in need. As Matthew Henry puts it, “When we take least notice of our good deeds ourselves, God takes most notice of them.”
So, is Jesus teaching us that we should never give or serve when people are watching? No. But when you have the option to do a good deed either publicly or privately, do it privately. Most importantly, when it comes to your motive for giving, make sure it’s to truly help people in need—not to help yourself. God loves to give good gifts to us, not primarily for what HE gets out of it, but because of what WE get out of it. He is a loving Father who loves to give good gifts, especially to His children who follow Christ. So when you can, give privately, and give out of a sincere love for people. In other words, give like God.
Dane Davis is the Pastor
of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our Palm Sunday service Sunday, March 28th, and our Easter service next Sunday, April 4th, 9 a.m. at