“Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” You’ve probably heard people say this. You may have even read it in Scripture. But the question is: what does this mean for us?
The context is Jesus’ most famous sermon and in it Jesus taught his followers how to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He talked about the realities of life - anger, lust, divorce, prayer, and money. Even generosity made it into Jesus' sermon. He said this,
“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 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
Don’t Let Your Left Hand Know
Jesus wants his followers to avoid the traps of“hypocrites” who are outwardly religious in order to be seen by others. Hypocrites are attention-seeking givers. Their giving is an advertisement for themselves, not a spotlight shining back on God.
Hypocrites sound a trumpet before they give, but Jesus' followers should guard their hearts in giving so that it’s as if they’re blind to their own actions. That they themselves don’t know what they’re doing. What a radical call!
We should feel the shock of Jesus’ words in an age of very public philanthropy and corporate giving to be recognized. Those who follow Jesus are to give quietly and humbly, trusting that their “Father who sees in secret" will reward them.
6 Reasons To Talk About Giving
But the question arises: Does this mean Christians should never talk about their giving? Or always give anonymously?
This is a very relevant question since our ministry highlights the stories and examples of generous men and women.
Here are six reasons why we need to talk about giving:
1. Jesus said, “Let your light shine”
In the same sermon as "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," Jesus also said, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16
According to Jesus, sometimes our good deeds should be public and known “before others” in order to give God the glory. Secrecy is not the answer in every situation. Our fear of sharing our good works can be the equivalent of lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: What would bring God the most glory in this situation, to be known or anonymous? A.B. Bruce, a Scottish theologian, offers a great suggestion: “Show when tempted to hide, hide when tempted to show.”
If your motives are to be recognized, be careful. But if you’re hesitant to be seen by others, you’re probably a bright shining lamp that needs to be put on a stand.
2. Jesus publicly highlighted generous people
Jesus himself announced the generosity of others. He publicly praised the poor widow who gave her last two copper coins. Mark 12:41-44
Jesus also publicly praised the generosity of the woman who anointed him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment. He said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Matt. 26:6-13
Lastly, Jesus spoke about his own generosity, saying, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
3. The Bible names generous people
It's good to talk about giving because generosity is the work of real people, who choose to step forward in faith and give. And the Bible sees fit to acknowledge them by name.
Zacchaeus is specifically described as being “a chief tax collector and was rich.” But the beauty of his story is that through an encounter with Jesus, he was changed and publicly announced, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”
How does Jesus respond to Zaccheaus? Does Jesus say, “Shh. Zaccheaus, you shouldn’t talk about these things!” No! Instead, Jesus says, “ Today salvation has come to this house.” Luke 19:9 Zacchaeus’s new relationship with money was the evidence of a transformation in his heart. It was good that Zaccheaus talked about his giving.
The Bible names many other generous people too:
- Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are called out for providing for Jesus’ ministry. Luke 8:1-3
- Paul’s patron, Phoebe, is specifically named to the church in Rome. Romans 16:1-2
- The Macedonian Church is highlighted to the Corinthians for their example of generosity. 2 Cor. 8:1-5
- The Philippian Church is acknowledged for their generous concern for Paul’s needs. Phil. 1:3-5, 4:14-18
- Gaius is thanked by the apostle John for his generous hospitality to a few traveling preachers. 3 John 5-6
Telling the stories of generous people doesn’t nullify their heavenly reward otherwise the Bible wouldn’t do it.
4. The Bible records specific amounts of money given
There’s a way to speak generically about generosity, but surprisingly we see in the Old Testament that Nehemiah and David both get specific about the amounts of the people’s generosity and their own.
Nehemiah writes, “Now some of the fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests’ garments and 500 minas of silver. And the heads of fathers’ houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests’ garments.” Nehemiah 7:70-72
David did the same thing with the offering for the temple, but began by sharing his own generosity: “Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God: 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house…They gave for the service of the house of God 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. 1 Chronicles 29:3-9
David’s conclusion was that “the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord.” When our hearts are rightly motivated, there are times and ways we can give openly and talk freely about the amount of our giving without falling into the trap of the hypocrites.
5. We need models of generous believers
We naturally follow our examples, whether they’re good or bad. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are good examples of philanthropy, but how does Christian giving look when it’s distinctly motivated by the gospel?
We wouldn’t know if Gates and Buffett were our only models. As believers, we need examples of generous men and women who are following Jesus.
One reason Christians are not as generous as we could be is that we’ve had so few models of generous believers. I am convinced that more of us need to let our generosity light shine.
6. The next generation needs encouragement
Generosity is a spiritual gift God gives. (Romans 12:8) And I believe there are many Christians who have been given the gift of generosity, but for them to discover and grow in this gifting, most would not even know who to talk to.
But when some of us open up and tell our stories, God can take our five loaves and two fish and feed the next generation of Gospel Patrons.
Love Is Our Motive
Jesus wants his people to be motivated by love, love for God and love for others. The Bible says,
“If I give away all I have and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:3
Giving away everything, even your own body, is unprofitable unless love is your motive. From God’s perspective, love is the most important factor for when to give in secret and when to share your giving stories.