GIVING | Jun 8, 2023

Should All Your Giving Be In Secret?

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” You may have even read it in Scripture. But does this mean Christians should never talk about their giving? I don't believe so.

6 Reasons Why We Talk About Giving

1. Jesus was focused on our motivation

In  Jesus’ most famous sermon he taught his followers:

“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 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 6:2-4)

Jesus went on to teach his disciples to pray and fast in secret, yet none of us question if praying with others out loud is unbiblical. Jesus himself prayed publically. What we implicitly understand is that Jesus was not making an absolute command for every circumstance, but challenging the motivation of the hypocrites.

Hypocrites are attention-seeking givers. Their giving is an advertisement for themselves, not a spotlight shining back on God. Jesus wants his followers to avoid these traps of being outwardly religious, but inwardly self-seeking.

Those who follow Jesus are motivated to give by a reward that's better than the glory of men. Our reward comes from our “Father who sees in secret."

2. Jesus also taught, “Let your light shine”

According to Jesus, secrecy is not the answer in every situation. Earlier in the same sermon, Jesus said, “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 5:16).

Our fear of sharing our good works can be the equivalent of lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. There are times when our good deeds should be done before others for God's glory. A.B. Bruce, a Scottish theologian, offered a great suggestion when he said: “Show when tempted to hide, hide when tempted to show.”

If your heart is pulling towards being recognized, be careful. But if you’re hesitant to be seen by others, you’re probably a bright shining lamp that needs to be put on a stand. Jesus' invitation is not to a formula, but to a living relationship with him.

3. Jesus publicly highlighted generous people

Jesus himself announced the generosity of others. He publicly praised the poor widow who gave her last two copper coins and took away her anonymity. (Mark 12:41-44)

Jesus also publicly praised the generosity of the woman who anointed him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment. He said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:6-13)

Jesus knew that we naturally follow examples. We need examples of generous people who are uniquely motivated by their love for Jesus. One reason more Christians are not generous is because few believers have been willing to let their light shine as models of generosity.

4. The Bible names generous people

It's good to talk about giving because generosity is the work of real people who choose to step forward in faith and give. And the Bible sees fit to acknowledge them by name.

Zacchaeus is introduced as “a chief tax collector and was rich.” Tax collectors were known for cheating people to claim more money for themselves. But through an encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus was changed and publicly announced, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And in response, Jesus doesn't say, “Shh. Zaccheaus, you shouldn’t talk about these things!” No! Instead Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19:9)

Zacchaeus’s changed relationship with money was the evidence of a transformed heart. It was good that Zaccheaus talked openly about his giving.

The New Testament names many other generous people too:

  • Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are called out for providing for Jesus’ ministry. (Luke 8:1-3)
  • Paul’s patron, Phoebe, is specifically named to the church in Rome. (Romans 16:1-2)
  • Barnabas is named for his act of selling his field and donating the proceeds to the early church leaders. (Acts 4:36-37)
  • The Macedonian Church is highlighted for their example of generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
  • The Philippian Church is acknowledged for their generous partnership with Paul. (Philippians 1:3-5, 4:14-18)
  • Gaius is thanked by the apostle John for his generous hospitality to a few traveling preachers. (3 John 5-6)

It's good to talk about giving because generosity is the work of real people, who choose to step forward in faith and give instead of keep. Telling their stories doesn’t nullify their heavenly reward otherwise the Bible wouldn’t do it.

5. The Bible records specific amounts of money given

There’s a way to speak generically about generosity, but surprisingly in the Old Testament, we see that Nehemiah and David both shared specifically.

Nehemiah wrote, “Now some of the fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor [Nehemiah] gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests’ garments, and 500 minas of silver. And the heads of fathers’ houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests’ garments.” (Nehemiah 7:70-72)

David did the same thing with the offering for the temple, but began by sharing his own generosity: “I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house…They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze, and 100,000 talents of iron. (1 Chronicles 29:3–9)

David’s conclusion was that “the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord.”

When our hearts are humble before God, there are times and ways we can give openly and speak freely about the amount of our giving without falling into the trap of the hypocrites.

6. Generosity is a spiritual gift God gives

Generosity is a spiritual gift God gives. Romans 12:6-8 says, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them ... the one who contributes, in generosity."

If we talk about the other spiritual gifts and train people to excel at things like teaching, leadership, and mercy, why not generosity? Many Christians have been given the gift of generosity, but for them to discover it and grow in their gifting, they'll need examples and conversations with others about it.

Love Is Our Motive

From God’s perspective, love is the most important motive in giving. (1 Corinthians 13:3) One way to test our own hearts is to ask:

"Could I give joyfully if nobody but God ever knew about it?"

There are certainly times to give anonymously, as a pure act of worship and other times to let our giving be known to build others up. In it all, love, not self, is the best motive for every act of generosity.

Image used with permission. Illustrated by John-Mark Warkentin.

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Behind every great movement of God are generous leaders who partner with those who proclaim the gospel. We call them Gospel Patrons.

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