“Thus, 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 received 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 ESV)
Yesterday Jesus gave us a summary statement about doing good things for others. We are not to do them in order to receive praise from our fellow human beings. Instead we are to do them to bring glory to God. Today Jesus gives us the first of three specific examples.
Notice that Jesus says “when you give to the needy”, not “if you give to the needy”. God commands all His children to be generous [1 Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 13:16 et. al]. We are to give to help those in need. This can be in the form of money or goods or services. But we are not to call attention to ourselves when we do it (sound no trumpet before you). Jesus calls people who do this hypocrites.
The Greek word translated “hypocrite” here is ηυποκριτεσ (pronounced: hoop-ok-ree-tace’) and originally referred to an actor playing a part. An actor pretends to be something he is not. When we do things for the purpose of being praised by others we are pretending to be something we are not. We are pretending to care for those in need when really we care about our own reputation.
As a result, the praise we receive is our reward. The idea in the original Greek is “paid in full”. When we give for the purpose of impressing others with our generosity and spirituality we get nothing more than that.
On the other hand, the type of giving that God blesses is that which is not made for show and is, in fact, not known to anyone but God. God doesn’t even want us to be self-congratulatory (do not let your left hand know what your right is doing). When we give we are to give and forget it. It should be, to the extent possible, secret even from ourselves.
This does not mean that our giving should be rote and heartless. We should have sympathy and concern for those who are in need. Such emotion is what motivated the Macedonian church to give, even though they themselves were poor [2 Corinthians 8:1-2]. God blessed them because they gave from their hearts, not out of a sense of duty.
God sees our hearts, our attitudes, and our motives. When we give lovingly and unpretentiously, without any expectation of receiving praise from men, God will reward us. It is not sin to expect such a reward. We should expect God to uphold His promises, including this one.
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