Secret Giving

Here is a great article about what some call their “secret giving” and why that is a wrong interpretation of scripture.

Over the last ten years, I’ve been suggesting that we learn how to share testimonies about giving in order to help the body of Christ grow in the grace of giving.

I once objected to this type of disclosure—as many still do—because Jesus says, “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” (Matthew 6:3-4).

When one man received an automated tax receipt from his church indicating he’d given no money the previous year, he was outraged. He said he was obeying Scripture by not letting his left hand know what his right hand had given. Giving was to be so secret, he thought, that even he shouldn’t know how much he was giving. (Apparently he didn’t know he hadn’t given anything.)

A closer look at this passage, and the rest of Scripture, demonstrates this is not a valid interpretation.

In Matthew 6, Jesus deals with motives, something the religious elite often failed to examine. He starts with the broad category of “acts of righteousness,” then moves to three such acts—giving, prayer, and fasting. This is not an exhaustive list. In their teaching, rabbis often spoke in groups of threes. Jesus could have added Bible reading, feeding the poor, or raising children. Today, we might include going on mission trips or attending a particular college or church. The idea is that any “act of righteousness” (or badge of spirituality) can accord us spiritual status in the eyes of others.

The most important verse, the one that sets up the entire passage, is the first: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). The operative phrase is “to be seen by them.” This is not a prohibition against others becoming aware of our giving, prayers, fasting, Bible study, feeding the poor, missions work, or church attendance. Rather, it’s a command not to do these things in order to receive the recognition of men. Jesus continues, “If you do [that is, if you do good things to win human approval], you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” The problem isn’t doing good things with reward in mind—it’s looking for the reward from men rather than from God.

Then Jesus says, “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” (Matthew 6:2). Trumpet blowing may seem silly. There’s no record that this was actually done. It seems to be satirical or humorous, a caricature of less obvious (to us anyway) things we do to get attention. But Christ’s focus is the reason for which hypocrites draw attention to what they’ve done: “to be honored by men.” Again, Christ’s argument is not that our giving should never be seen, but only that we should never divulge it in order to get human recognition. When that happens, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5).

If we give in order to get men’s praises, we’ll get what we seek—college wings named after us, dinner invitations from heads of ministries, our names inscribed on pews or bricks, appointment to boards, or seeing our names on a plaque and in the newspaper. But in getting what we seek, we will lose what we should have sought—God’s approval.

Let’s look at the verses we started with: “So 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” (Matthew 6:3-4).

This is a figure of speech. It’s hyperbole, a deliberate overstatement, which would have been immediately clear to the hearers. That Christ’s command cannot be literal is self-evident, because a hand lacks the ability to know anything, and besides the person’s brain would know what both the right hand and the left hand were doing. There is no center of intelligence in one hand as opposed to the other, nor is there an ability for the brain to withhold information from one hand while disclosing it to the other. We aren’t able to throw a switch so that we don’t know we’re giving or that we have given.

So what’s Christ’s point? Do your giving quietly, unobtrusively. Don’t cough loudly just as you’re giving. Don’t slam-dunk your offering in the plate. Drop your check in the offering or send it in the mail without drawing attention to yourself. Fold the check. Keep the envelope sealed. Give in a spirit of humility and simplicity, as an act of worship. Don’t give in order to get your name on a list. Don’t give in a spirit of self-congratulation. Don’t dwell on your gift, fixating on it, building a mental shrine to yourself. In other words, don’t make a big production out of it, either in view of others or in the privacy of your own heart.

This verse cannot mean that we should—or even that we can—be unaware of our own giving, any more than we could be unaware of our praying, fasting, Bible reading, or evangelism. To suggest that it does would remove the discerning, thoughtful elements of giving, praying, fasting, and all other spiritual disciplines.

But can this verse mean it’s always wrong for others to know that we’ve given? No.Acts 2:45 tells of Christians selling possessions and giving to the needy. Did other people know who had done this? In many cases, the answer would be obvious. These people knew each other. If you no longer had your prize camels, coat, or oxcart, and Caleb ben Judah did, people would figure it out. Acts 4:32-35 tells us about more people liquidating assets. Most names, which would mean nothing to us, aren’t recorded, but they were surely known at the time.

But some givers were named even for our benefit. Acts 4:36-37 tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the feet of the apostles. If Barnabas was looking for status and prestige, his motive was wrong. But it’s certainly false to say that it was wrong for others to be made aware of his gift, because Scripture itself reveals it! Barnabas’s act of generosity was commonly known among the believers and was publicly and permanently recorded in Acts. This was good and right, and did not violate Matthew 6’s warning about bad motives.

Did public recognition tempt others to give for the wrong motives? Absolutely, as we see in the very next passage (Acts 5:1-11). Ananias and Sapphira gave for the wrong reasons. Then they lied to make their gift look better than it was. But the possible abuse of something doesn’t nullify its legitimacy. The body of Christ can benefit from seeing open models of generous giving such as Barnabas’s. The world can benefit from seeing the generosity of the Church as an attractive witness to the grace of Christ. The risks of disclosing a person’s giving are sometimes outweighed by the benefits of disclosure.

Earlier in the same sermon in which he warns against flaunting your giving and prayers and fasting, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Here we are commanded to let men see our good deeds—and not to hide them. Giving is a good deed, isn’t it? This passage and Matthew 6 balance each other. There’s a time for giving to be seen, but only at the right time and for the right reasons.

We need to stop putting giving in a class by itself. If I give a message on evangelism, biblical interpretation, or parenting, I run the risk of pride. But it may still be God’s will for me to share with the church what God has taught me in these areas.

Paul speaks of himself as a model: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I could write books and do public speaking for the wrong reasons. I could send e-mails with wrong motives, to seek man’s approval, not God’s. But I write books and speak and send e-mails anyway, partly because if we were to refrain from doing everything we could do with a wrong motive, we’d never do anything at all. (If your pastor only preached when there was no temptation to pride, he’d never preach.)

If Christ established a principle in Matthew 6:2-4 that other people should never know what someone gives, then the members of the early Church violated it in Acts 4:36-37. There’s no way around it. Numbers 7 lists the names of donors to the tabernacle. First Chronicles 29 tells exactly how much the leaders of Israel gave to build the temple, then it says, “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:9). Philemon 1:7 is likely a reference to Philemon’s generous giving, and 2 Corinthians 8:2-3 is definitely a reference to the Macedonians’ generous giving. As we seek to understand the meaning of Matthew 6:2-4, we must consider the full counsel of Scripture.

In Matthew 6, it’s clear that whatever’s true of giving is also true of praying and fasting. Jesus says in verse 6, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” He’s swinging the pendulum away from the self-conscious, self-serving, image-enhancing prayers for which the Pharisees were notorious. But did he mean that all prayer must be private? No. Scripture has many examples of public and corporate prayer. Every time a pastor or worship leader prays in church, every time parents pray with their children, or husbands pray with wives, or families pray before dinner, or someone prays with the person being led to Christ, it demonstrates the falseness of the notion that it’s always wrong to be seen or heard by others when you pray.

Jesus tells us to pray in secret, and God will reward us (Matthew 6:6). Yet gathering for group prayer is certainly important (Matthew 18:19-20). God wants us to pray secretly sometimes but not others. And so it follows that he wants us to give secretly sometimes but not others. It all comes down to the motives of our hearts and the purpose of disclosure.

Just as Matthew 6:6 doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to let others hear you pray,Matthew 6:3-4 doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to let others be aware of your giving. Because Jesus groups giving, praying, and fasting as the three acts of righteousness in this passage, whatever applies to one applies to the others.

When the poor widow gave, she gave publicly—Jesus could actually see the two coins. He used her as a public illustration (Luke 21:1-4). So, it was right that she gave in public, and it was right that people were told the exact amount of her gift. Her motives were right. The public disclosure did nothing to nullify her good heart.

Though confidentiality in giving records makes sense, it creates another temptation. Many believers take advantage of the veil of privacy by using it as a cloak for their disobedience in not giving. With all of today’s talk about accountability, what are we doing in churches to hold each other accountable to generous giving? People may notice if you don’t obey the command in Hebrews 10:25 to attend church, but how will they notice if you fail to give? How will they be able to help you grow in this vital area?

The body of Christ needs to let its light shine before men, and we need models of every spiritual discipline. We dare not let the risk of our pride keep us from faithfully disclosing God’s work in this area of our lives. And if we must be silent to avoid our own pride, we should support others who can humbly testify to Christ’s faithfulness in their giving.

God looks at the heart. He alone knows the real motives for our giving (1 Corinthians 4:5). Scripture never says that a giver receives no eternal reward simply because others know about his gift. Donors could be known yet still have given to please God not men.

Our motive for not talking about our giving is not always humility. Sometimes it’s fear, doubt and, yes, even pride. To vulnerably express to others where we are on our pilgrimage to generous giving can be an act of humility. We must always check our motives, but it certainly doesn’t have to be an act of pride.

We shouldn’t brag about our Bible study, prayer, evangelism, parenting, or giving, but neither should we cover it up. It’s easier for people to follow footprints (what we do) than commands (what we say). If we aren’t willing to openly and humbly discuss our giving, how can we expect to raise up givers? The church has plenty of examples of consumers—we need to see examples of givers. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We can only be spurred on by what we can see.

R. G. LeTourneau was a great inspiration to me. He gave away 90% of his income, motivating me to raise the bar of my giving. I’m eternally grateful that he told his giving story

By lakeviewbc Posted in Giving

True North Book Review

I mark my books as I read them.  Nobody wants to borrow a book from me because they are normally full of underlines, highlights, and notes in the margins.  As I look now at my copy of True North, I probably made more markings and notations in it than I have any book in quite some time.  There is just so much here that has practical benefit that almost every page has some type of marking.

As I initially scanned the book, my biggest fear was that it was another of those books that encourage you to choose God “to make life work.”  But I found that this was not that kind of book at all.  It was more a book to help the reader “become the kind of person who knows God intimately and who can reflect his good heart to others, despite the circumstances.”

The premise of the book is to examine our reactions and responses to the frustrations of life.  How do we respond to flat tires, broken water pipes, difficult people, interruptions to our schedules, and a million other daily frustrations?  Do we react in a Christ centric fashion or do we respond like people who don’t even believe in Jesus.

What is at stake in our reactions are our worship, walk, and witness.  If those things are important to you, then this book will be a welcome companion.  The question the authors, Gary and Lisa Heim, pose is will you go north or south in your response to life’s frustrations?

We typically go south when we encounter struggles. A South reaction would include despair, worry, anger, or bitterness.  But we could and should choose to go North in which we surrender and submit to the Lord knowing that he uses everything for our good.  We should react to life’s bumps by knowing that God is always working to help me treasure him and to conform me into the very likeness of Jesus.  And to to do that, these frustrations are needed.

True North does a nice job of explaining why frustrations occur and why it is so easy for us to default in making a South reaction.  The majority of the book is made up of the description of the two ways.  Going South is described in terms of Grumbling and Grasping. While Going North is seen as Grace, Gift, Gratitude, and Giving.

The last part of the book is an effort to ensure that we have properly understood the thrust of the book, that we allow it to grow in us, and that we help others with their frustrations as well.

I gladly recommend True North to you.  In fact, I would say, Get it today and read it as soon as you get it.  There is so much here to help you along your Christian journey and I think you will find, as I did, help on almost every page.  It will cause you to think and reflect on everything that happens in your life instead of just blindly reacting.  This book will certainly make a difference the next time you have a North/South moment.

1 would let you borrow mine, but there is way too much marking in it.


Self Discovery!

I hate the fact that I am like other men!

That sounds like a prideful statement, doesn’t it?  I can assure you that it is not intended to be.  Let me explain.

As I view other people, I am so disappointed.

I see little faith in people. When confronted with difficulties they display doubt not faith. They complain instead praise. They grumble instead of glorifying. They murmur instead of magnifying.

I see little commitment in people. Little commitment to their marriage, little commitment to their church and little commitment to their Lord.

I see little desire for God and the things of God.  Where are they on Sunday morning, where are they on Sunday night and where are they on Wednesday evening?  Why don’t they desire to worship and glorify God?

I see a people who need to be entertained.  Televisions, internet, and so much more that are used to simply entertain them.  Hours of unproductive activity fills their lives to make them laugh or cry and stimulate their emotions.

I see people who love their sins.  They must love them for they keep repeating them and they are quick to justify them instead of repenting of them.

I see people who are spoiled, selfish, and self-destructive.  They seek to have their way and they seek to be served instead of serving.  They seek their own pleasure instead of pleasing God.

I see people who are full of pride. I see people who are critical of others and blind to their own faults.  I see people who flaunt their freedom in Christ while ignoring the possible offenses of stumbling to their fellow believer. I see people who find their value in promotions achievements and compliments instead of their being chosen of God.

I see people who show little difference from people of the world.  They watch the same things, listen to the same things, go to the same places and enjoy the same things.

I see people who are so easily satisfied and content with their spiritual growth. They don’t desire to be stretched or made to think about spiritual matters. They have little desire for spiritual progress.

How disappointing it is when you look at other people! People are so discouraging!

Then I examine myself…….And I want to say, “I am glad that I am not like those people.” But…. I can’t.  I am just like them…and I hate it.  Their faults and failures are my faults and failures.  Their sinful desires are my sinful desires.  All that is wrong in them is wrong in me.

As much as I am disappointed in them, I am sure they also  are disappointed in me.  And to be honest with you, I am disappointed in myself.

Paul laid claim on being the chiefest of sinners and I understand what Paul was feeling.  If I am disappointed in others and myself then what must God be feeling?  That just makes it worse, doesn’t it?

The error would be like the Pharisee who said that he was glad that he “was not like other men.” The error is to point our fingers at others and not at ourselves.  The error is to see the faults of others while ignoring the same in ourselves.  The error is to see the sins of others while looking past our own or our potential of far greater offenses.

I begin this week with this thought……I hate that I am like other men….but I am… and so the battle continues….the war wages on….the battle with sin in my own life and the battle you wage in your own life continue on.  My struggle with pride and self-righteousness continues.

May we fight the fight and may we not shy away from the skirmishes that confront us daily. May we make war on those sins that so easily beset us. May we see our weakness and see our desperate need for him. May we pray, fast and seek His strength and supply in our lives.

And may we look toward a day that we will no longer by like other men, but we shall be like Him.