8. "Secret Generosity"

Matthew 6:1–4

Today's passage in verses 1 to 4 is structured around “reward.” Verse one mentions “acts of righteousness” that are seen, with no “reward from your Father.” Verse 4 deals with secret giving, with the reward coming from “your Father, who sees what is done in secret.” The two sandwiched verses affirm that those who give freely and joyfully to the needy will have received their reward in full.
Are you ready to apply this passage to your life, beginning today?

"Secret Generosity"

Right Relationships with Others

Matthew 6:1–4 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
1"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.
2"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. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the nature of righteousness. In The Beatitudes, he gave them a new understanding of who is blessed. To be blessed is to know your longing and your need for God and for his righteousness to fill everything. He then went on to tell his listeners that true righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees.

Having spoken on the need to be truly righteous, Jesus gives several illustrations to help us, his readers, understand what this righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees looks like. Righteousness is, first of all, living in and enjoying the relationship with God for which we were created. From there, true righteousness works itself out in right relationships with others.

In today's four-verse passage, Jesus turns to the practice of piety (the quality of being reverent), as seen in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Piety is the personal practice of one's faith. He begins by speaking about almsgiving; providing for the needs of the poor. It was a central practice to the Jews — their form of assistance to the poor, since the government offered little or none. But it would seem by Jesus' words that this practice was now done by many in a public way that held the prospect of gaining the giver the recognition and adulation of others.

Why Give to the Needy?

The issue Jesus is dealing with in this passage is "motive." For what reason do we give to others who are less fortunate than ourselves?

What's interesting to see in this passage is that Jesus doesn't tell his listeners that their desire for recognition is bad and that they should rid themselves of it. Instead, he tells them that they're seeking recognition, or reward, from the wrong place.

How does Jesus redirect their attention and motivate them to give their alms in secret? He does so with the statement that "your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Jesus tells his listeners, not that they shouldn't desire reward, but that they should desire the proper reward for their deeds, from the only One who can give it.

Jesus also reminds his listeners who God is — the Father who sees in secret. We may be tempted at times to live as if God doesn't care about us personally, that he's not watching, not paying attention to our lives. We might begin to live as if he's distant and not close by us little creatures.

God Is Watching When We Give

But we're not just his creatures, we are his children. God is our Father who's intensely interested in us. He's present even when no one else is. When we think no one is there and no one cares, God our Father is watching, even in those secret places and moments.

What about this phrase "in secret"? Why does our Father see in secret? Does this mean that when we're charitable in a public way, so as to draw attention to ourselves, God doesn't see it? Apparently so. God doesn't recognize and reward us when we're looking for the approval and recognition of others for our deeds.

Jesus invites his listeners to give in such a way that they receive a response from their Heavenly Father. Unlike humans, who only see each other on display in public, God sees in secret because he's watching and paying attention to us. He can see what others cannot. He sees our hearts as well as our acts.

What a tremendous freedom and assurance Jesus speaks of here! God desires that we participate in his generosity by giving to others, so much so that he's committed to being present and active in every action of our giving. We can count on him to be so interested and involved in our charity that no small, quiet, act of giving will go unnoticed by him. If we grab hold of this truth, we can be freed to give freely and joyfully, never wondering or concerned about who might see or recognize its true value, because we know that God has already received the action and rewarded it. We can always play to this audience of One, because he's always there. The Kansas City Santa was accompanied by the Lord. Accordingly, that encouraged him to give to the needy, freely and joyfully.

God isn't distant. He's not slow to pay attention to us. He's present, near, and ready to recognize and encourage every tiny step we take in his direction. With a heavenly Father like this, we're free to enjoy giving to others with a freedom and an abandon because we know that our Father receives it all and gives us the response we long for.

A Few Practical Questions

Hearty brothers: Our Savior knows us well. You can be sure that he'll remember and fully reward every act of charity done in his name in secret. But how would you answer these four questions if Jesus asked them of you?

  1. Is it wrong to announce to someone that you've given a donation to a worthwhile cause?
  2. How faithful or righteous would your giving be if no one but the Father knew of it?
  3. If giving with the combination of generosity and publicity is the wrong way to give, what is the right way to give?
  4. For which recognition are you working: the applause that the public gives you or the applause you receive from heaven?

In a nutshell: The practice of giving is a matter between you and the Lord. To receive praise from people for what you give is all the reward you'll get. God only rewards giving that's done in secret.

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