This article was first published at Servants of Grace as part of a devotional series on the Sermon on the Mount.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 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 6:1-4).
In today’s passage, Jesus introduces the subject of how we ought to give with the broader application of how we practice righteousness as a whole. He addresses those of us who are tempted to reduce the righteousness he seeks to a life of performance. It’s not enough to do the right thing or even to appear to do the right thing; one must do the right thing for the right reason. Once again, the Lord reminds us that he’s after the heart, even in how we give.
At first glance, one may conclude that we are to avoid practicing righteousness in public. Perhaps the very act of doing something good publicly signifies a prideful, self-seeking, people-pleasing heart. However, such a view conflicts with Matthew 5:16 where Jesus encourages us to let his light shine through our good works that others may see and believe in God.
The key is to not practice righteousness for the purpose of being seen or applauded by others. In other words, it’s okay to give to a person in need in the street. It’s not okay to sound a bullhorn, announcing your charitable act to the world.
Many of us know that we should not “toot our own horns” as we go about living out our faith in our everyday lives, but how do we apply this verse in a world that believes a moment is not truly valuable until it’s been shared, viewed, and liked by others?
By God’s transforming grace, I’m learning to give and do good for the right reasons. And if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, you are in this process too. Jesus teaches us to give generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully (Matthew 5:40-42, 2 Corinthians 9:7). And in Matthew 5:16 he teaches us that we should live in such a way that our good works point to him, not to us.
When we give this way, we reflect the generosity of our God who so loved the world that he gave his son that we might not perish but have eternal life in him (John 3:16). This is the same God who, also, with Christ gives us all things—yes, even everything that pertains to life and godliness (Romans 8:29, 2 Peter 1:3-4).
In teaching about how true righteousness works in his kingdom, Jesus presents a contrast between the person who gives to receive the praise of man and the person who gives so that God may be seen for the good, glorious, generous God that he is. When one is concerned with self-glory they receive no reward from God. The person concerned with God’s glory and will receive the only reward worth seeking.
Let’s take his words seriously today and consider the motive behind our good deeds, especially our giving. As much as we can, let us seize every opportunity to keep them secret, allowing our work to speak for itself. May our giving tell others of the goodness of Jesus. May we enjoy his sweet reward.