Giving in secret

‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others 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 honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-4

Pittoni,_Giambattista_-_St_Elizabeth_Distributing_Alms_-_1734

St Elizabeth distributing alms, by Giambattista Pittoni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently read a fascinating article in The Guardian about the toy shop, ‘The Entertainer’. This British business is owned and run by Gary Grant, a committed Christian, and his family. In line with his Christian principles, his business gives away ten per cent of their profits to charity each year. Last year he gave away over £700,000. It warms my heart when I see business making charitable giving a priority. It also upsets me when big business uses charitable giving as a pure marketing exercise. I find the whole ‘you buy, we give’ strategy particularly infuriating; companies promise to donate money to a charity, or fund vaccinations, or provide clean water, if we, the consumer buy specially marked packs. I suppose it is good that big business is prepared to give money away, but I do find myself thinking that if they truly had a social conscience they would simply donate money quietly from their profits, without placing the emphasis on consumers to buy their products.

As we continue reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus deals with the issue of charitable giving, at the start of a section in which he teaches his followers about practical ways of serving him. Jesus makes it clear that giving to the needy is an essential element of the Christian life. He begins verse 2 by stating ‘when you give to the needy’; not if but when. Charitable giving is something that we, as Christians, are all expected to do.

When we give to charity we must ensure that we do so not ‘to be honoured by others’. We shouldn’t make a big song or dance about how generously we support charities. We shouldn’t brag about it, or ostentatiously hand over the cash when approached by a representative from a charity when with our friends. We might even want to think twice about allowing social giving sites, such as JustGiving, to post to our Facebook wall or Twitter feeds when we sponsor friends. Ostentatious givers, who donate money purely to be honoured by others, ‘have received their reward in full’.

Our charitable giving should be in secret. Our donations should be a private affair, given not to win favour with others, but as a response to the love that Christ demonstrated to the needy – and indeed, to all of humanity. When we have allowed Christ’s love to enter our hearts, minds and souls, we will want to be generous with our time and our money. We will want to give freely out of selfless love for Jesus and our neighbours.

Indeed, Jesus goes a stage further even than this. Our giving is to be secret not just from other people but from ourselves. When we give, Jesus says, ‘do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret’. Of course, Jesus is exaggerating to make a point here; it is not really possible to give without being aware that we are doing so. The point here, though, is that sometimes we can give to produce a warm glow within us. We can give so that we feel generous, so that we can bask in our own self-righteousness. Even this is to be avoided, since again, it distracts from the genuine reason for giving and makes it into an experience that we undertake for our own reward, rather than out of a Christian desire simply to see the needy looked after.

Of course, ultimately there is a reward for such self-sacrificial giving. When we give secretly we are continuing to emulate Jesus Christ, our saviour, who gave himself freely in every respect. We are continuing to follow his teaching, to live for him and to serve his world. We are, in a very practical way, loving our neighbour as ourselves. The reward for following Christ is eternal life with him in God’s new creation. This is our ultimate reward.

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