You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” You may have even read it in Scripture. But what does this mean for us?
These 2,000-year-old words come from Jesus’ most famous sermon. In it, Jesus taught his followers how to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. He talked about anger, lust, divorce, prayer, money, and surprisingly... generosity. Here's what Jesus said from Matthew 6:2-4:
“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.”
We should feel the shock of Jesus’ words in our age of public philanthropy and corporate giving. Jesus wants his followers to avoid these traps of being outwardly religious, but inwardly self-seeking. Hypocrites are attention-seeking givers. Their giving is an advertisement for themselves, not a spotlight shining back on God.
Those who follow Jesus are to be different. They are to give as if they’re blind to their own actions. Their giving is to be quiet and humble, motivated by the invisible reality that their “Father who sees in secret" will reward them.
But does this mean Christians should never talk about their giving? I don't believe so.
6 Reasons Why We Talk About Giving
1. Jesus also taught, “Let your light shine”
According to Jesus, secrecy is not the answer in every situation. Earlier in the same sermon, Jesus said, “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).
Our fear of sharing our good works can be the equivalent of lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. There are times when our good deeds should be done before others for God's glory. A.B. Bruce, a Scottish theologian, offered a great suggestion when he said: “Show when tempted to hide, hide when tempted to show.”
If your heart is pulling towards being 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. Jesus' invitation is not to a formula, but to a living relationship with him.
2. Jesus was focused on our motivation
In Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount, he taught his disciples to give, pray, and fast in secret, yet none of us question if praying with others is unbiblical. Jesus himself prayed out loud in front of people. (John 17)
We implicitly understand that Jesus was not making an absolute command for every circumstance, but challenging the motivation of the hypocrites, who did these things "that they may be seen by others." (Matthew 6:5) Jesus' teaching, "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" is to help us seek the true rewards of God rather than giving in order to "be praised by others." (Matthew 6:2)
3. 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 and took away her anonymity. (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.” (Matthew 26:6-13)
Jesus knew that we naturally follow examples. We need examples of generous people who are uniquely motivated by their love for Jesus. One reason more Christians are not generous is because few believers have been willing to let their light shine as models of generosity.
4. 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 introduced as “a chief tax collector and was rich.” Tax collectors were known for cheating people to claim more money for themselves. But through an encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus 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.” And in response, Jesus doesn't 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 changed relationship with money was the evidence of a transformed heart. It was good that Zaccheaus talked openly about his giving.
The New Testament 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)
- Barnabas is named for his act of selling his field and donating the proceeds to the early church leaders. (Acts 4:36-37)
- The Macedonian Church is highlighted for their example of generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
- The Philippian Church is acknowledged for their generous partnership with Paul. (Philippians 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)
It's good to talk about giving because generosity is the work of real people, who choose to step forward in faith and give instead of keep. Telling their stories doesn’t nullify their heavenly reward otherwise the Bible wouldn’t do it.
5. The Bible records specific amounts of money given
There’s a way to speak generically about generosity, but surprisingly in the Old Testament, we see that Nehemiah and David both shared specifically.
Nehemiah wrote: “Now some of the fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor [Nehemiah] 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: “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 humble before God, there are times and ways we can give openly and speak freely about the amount of our giving without falling into the trap of the hypocrites.
6. Generosity is a spiritual gift God gives
Generosity is a spiritual gift God gives. Romans 12:6-8 says, "Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them... the one who contributes, in generosity."
If we talk about the other spiritual gifts and train people to excel at things like teaching, leadership, and mercy, why not generosity? Many Christians have been given the gift of generosity, but for them to discover it and grow in their gifting, they'll need examples and conversations with others about it.
Love Is Our Motive
Jesus wants his people to be motivated by love, love for God, and love for people. It's possible to give sacrificially and have it count for nothing before God, as 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.