Giving from the Heart
It’s a disease nobody wants to get, growing slowly and undetected. It is easier to spot in other people than yourself, but it can – and does – happen to anybody, more often in adults and religious people. It is difficult to cure but not impossible. Symptoms include a distorted view of self and God and judgemental, unloving behavior towards others. The disease is hypocrisy.
Nobody wants to be a hypocrite, yet, there are so many of them in the world. Many people believe that the church is full of hypocrites. A survey by Barna (2018) showed that 85% of millennials view Christians as hypocrites. Another study by The Legacy Imperative (2021) showed that 73% of young people who left the church said it was due to hypocrisy and judgementalism. Hypocrisy is not limited to religion; we see it in politics, entertainment, everywhere. It is abundant. But it is definitely not a positive thing for the church to be associated with.
We all need to wrestle with the question: Where does hypocrisy start? If it is an attitude that grows in our hearts over time, what is the source? Jesus addresses that in this text.
Matthew 6: 1-4 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others 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 others. Truly I tell you, 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.”
Righteousness is acting rightly in relationship with God and others. The key to understanding what Jesus is warning against is in the phrase “to be seen by others.” Jesus is not saying never do good publicly, but He is confronting your motive. Your giving should be for God’s glory, not your own. Jesus’s warning is that if we give from a selfish motive, we will have no reward (v. 2).
The kind of hypocrisy Jesus addresses is not saying one thing while doing another. It is doing something for the wrong reasons. This is a more subtle and often undetected type of hypocrisy. In Jesus’s example of giving to the needy, a good deed is being done, but it is “to be honored by others” (v. 2). That is their motive. This is still seen today. Donors are much more likely to give to a construction effort if their name is going to be on the side of the building. Giving to a cause is not a bad thing in itself, but the presence of an attitude that desires to be honored by other people is. The “reward” (v. 2) is to be noticed by other people, and they got it. But that is all they get, and no other reward is coming for them.
Matthew 6: 3-4 “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.” This is not literal. Jesus uses dramatic language to make a point: take great care to see that your motive for giving is not to be noticed by anyone other than God. Be so committed, in your generosity, to being noticed by God that even you barely notice the action. This text is less about making sure no one ever sees you giving and more about becoming the kind of person who gives from the right place.
What is the reward (v. 4)? Some believe this to be an eternal reward in Heaven. Others view it as the connection to the act of giving and seeing the need met. Both can be true; the text does not say. What the text does, however, is elevate the contrast between the puny, meaningless reward of recognition from other people and the incredible, incomparable reward of being noticed by God.
Jesus is saying that His followers are to be characterized by their pursuit of honoring God.
- Giving is important.
- Why we give is more important.
Start with your motivation, not your obedience. Motivation is different than feeling. I do not always feel like doing the dishes, but I do because of my motivation to serve my family. Motivation matters. What do you want? What is your deepest desire? Where is your heart?
If your heart is tied up in wanting the approval of others, pray for God to change that and continue to faithfully, quietly give in the audience of only God.