Matt. 6:1-4 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2So 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. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV)
Freedom: We are released from bondage to the approval and expectations of others.
Jesus commanded us to “be careful” not to do righteous deeds in order to be seen by people. “Be careful” literally means “hold to” (Vine, “beware,” p. 126) or to focus upon, or “beware” (R.S.V.). We are to let our light shine before men (Matt. 5:16), so “that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” but not so that we will receive that praise. We should not do good so people will consider us to be good. “Righteousness” is simply doing what is right, or living in a way that pleases God.
If we do good so that we’ll be considered good, that becomes our only reward. At the Judgment, it’s the hay wood and straw that is incinerated (1 Cor. 3:15). Even if we give away everything, without the proper motive (love), it is futile (1 Cor. 13:3). God knows and will expose our motives (1 Cor. 4:5).
If done for God, giving is normally rewarded (Prov. 11:25 ; 19:17 ; Luke 12:33 ; Acts 10:4). The reward can be in this life—it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Jesus promised a hundred–fold reward both in the present age, as well as in the age to come, for those who leave family and possessions “for me and the gospel” (Mark 10:30). When we do good to enemies, expecting no return, “then your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35). Goodness done irrespective of any immediate reward delights God. What we do so that God is praised is the issue. For whom do we want praise and from whom do we want our reward?
Giving to the needy (or almsgiving—from the root word for “mercy”) was considered to be the greatest among the virtues of giving, praying and fasting during the period between the Old and New Testaments. Announcing such giving with a “trumpet” was perhaps an allusion to the 13 trumpet-shaped (narrow at the top, broad at the base) collection boxes in the Women’s Court of the Temple , four of which were only for voluntary contributions (http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/the_temple_treasury.html, accessed 9/30/04). A trumpet probably did not literally sound ( Wm. Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 320), although the Pharisees might have enjoyed the music.
God wanted no poor among the Israelites (Deut. 15:4) and commanded the Israelites not to be “hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother” (Deut. 15:7), but rather “Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” (Deut. 15:10).
Jesus told his disciples “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not be exhausted….” (Luke 12:33).
Tabbitha (Dorcas) was known for good deeds and care of the poor (Acts 9:36). Peter raised her from the dead.
When should we not give alms?
When we really do not have the money (2 Cor. 8:12). In that case, our willingness is enough.
When it will enrich others above our self (2 Cor. 8:14).
When others try to compel us to give (2 Cor. 9:7).
When the poor are poor because they are lazy and will not work (2 Thess. 3:10). We should not give for the sake either of giving or for an expected reward from God. Careful stewardship means that we’re concerned that the recipient be scripturally approved.
How can we give in secret?
We can put gifts in an envelope. Some churches provide for no public offering. Instead people put it into a box somewhere in the church whenever they wish.
In the USA , there is a tax benefit for those who itemize their contributions as a deduction. There must be a detailed record of a contribution of at least $200.00. For this reason many Christians give using a bank check. However, using a check informs those who count and account for funds of the size of the gift. Christians can save money by itemizing contributions and saving money is good stewardship. Some may want to give away what they have saved in taxes, if this is an issue (Larry Burkett). Others wish to be completely anonymous and forego any tax advantage.
Again in the USA and other countries, gifts can be given by money order, omitting the name of the donor, but saving the receipt in case of need.
We can convey an envelope of cash to someone we trust in the church for a particular person. We can send a gift in an envelope without a return address, or put a gift in the person’s car.
It’s often wise to give to the provider of services, so we’re sure that the money goes for the intended purpose. Electric companies and landlords will sometimes receive gifts that are applied anonymously to a bill.
How much did Jesus give away during His lifetime?
We don’t know. He probably gave away His carpentry tools and inheritance as the firstborn, if any. He ended life with two garments—a cloak and undergarment (John 19:23 -24). But His giving was not public.
During His ministry He and the 12 were poor enough to live from the financial support of certain women (Mark 15:41).
He emptied Himself (Phil. 2:7).
For whose sake are we giving? When do we wish to receive our reward?