We can probably all agree that our hearts tend to desire praise and approval from others.
I see this in my own children. Anytime my 5-year-old does something he’s proud of (usually involving his creativity with Lego blocks), he shouts with the strong lungs he’s been gifted with: “Daddy, come look at what I did!” In similar fashion, my 4-year-old will call us over to observe his accomplishments, especially if his accomplishment involves coloring in any one of his many coloring books. For both, their hearts delight with joy when I give them praise.
Not much changes as we grow older. Our hearts tend to desire praise and approval from others.
So, when we obey our call to give to the needy, our giving often comes hand-in-hand with the temptation to receive and enjoy praise from fellow human beings—to bring glory to ourselves and magnify our own names.
It was no different in Jesus’s day. So much so that He addressed this same issue of praise-and-glory-seeking hearts in light of the kingdom of God and our relationship to it as God’s people, as citizens of heaven who have been given New Covenant hearts to give to others as Christ gave to us. And He addressed it as follows:
“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” (Matt 6:1-4).
As we studied this passage in our worship service this Sunday, we noticed two things to remember when we give to the needy:
- A temptation to fight against.
- A reward to look forward to.
Let’s review our first point…
A Temptation to Fight Against:
Jesus begins by presenting an all-important principle in the form of a warning. Notice it with me in the first verse: “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” (Matt 6:1).
Our initial warning is that practicing or expressing faith in hypocritical ways—pretending to do something to God’s glory when the motive is truly self-glorification—has no heavenly reward, at all. In cases where self-glorification is the true motive, the only reward is an earthly one—praise from fellow men, and that’s it.
Earlier in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had taught, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). So a question arises: “Do these two statements contradict one another?”
Let’s remember, back in Matthew 5:16, Jesus was explaining how His followers would function as light and salt in the world, impacting the world as people who belong to God’s kingdom. Jesus’s conclusion: Our good works as citizens of heaven are meant to glorify our Father in heaven.
This being understood, there is no contradiction at hand. There is a difference between our good works being motivated by God’s glory and our good works being motivated by self-glory, self-magnification.
Motive is the issue!
So, Jesus moves in the second verse to apply the general warning of motive to the specific practice of giving to the needy: “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” (Matt 6:2).
In Christ’s day, “relief” for the underprivileged was provided by the religious community, each person being taxed according to their ability. This amount was then supplemented by voluntary gifts, which were announced publicly at the synagogues, and, as here indicated, even in the alleyways—the places where the poor were accustomed to gather. That Jesus mentions trumpet blasts alludes to the fact that the religious leaders of His day did everything they could to advertise their gifts in order to receive praise.
For kingdom people, however, giving to the needy is motivated by God’s glory, not the magnification of oneself.
If we give for the latter purpose, to draw attention to ourselves in order to receive praise, we are only being hypocrites. In Greek—the original language of the New Testament—the word “hypocrite” originally referred to an actor who wore different masks to play various roles. But applied to faith, putting on masks meant doing right things for the wrong reasons.
William Hendriksen explains it this way: “They were hypocrites because while they pretended to give, they really intended to receive, namely, honor from men.”
But praise from fellow men isn’t the only issue here. Notice the shift Jesus makes in the text: “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” (Matt 6:3-4a).
Our two hands almost always act in unison. They typically lift together, carry things together, catch things together. They can therefore be viewed as being thoroughly acquainted with each other. Whatever one does, the other knows.
With this word picture, then, Jesus is speaking of total lack of acquaintance—total ignorance—so that, as much as possible, our giving would be a secret even to ourselves.
Well, keeping the context in mind, the issue at hand is the wrong motive of human praise. So, Jesus is communicating that it’s just as wrong to praise oneself as it is to receive praise from others. It all goes back to motive: the praising, magnification, and glorification of oneself.
This is the point of all of this: Citizens of the kingdom of God give—even publicly—without desiring to magnify one’s own name. The issue isn’t giving to the needy even in public ways (more on this below), the issue is giving to the needy with the desire to magnify one’s own name, whether by others’ praise or by self-praise.
Repeatedly in Scripture, God calls His people to give to the needy, even in public ways:
Leviticus 19:9-10 commands: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (emphasis mine).
In a very public way, field owners were to leave some of their harvest for the poor!
Likewise, Deuteronomy 15:11 states, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
The New Testament follows in similar suit. Galatians 6:2 states, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Without a doubt, God has a heart for the needy, the suffering, the underprivileged, and the oppressed, and He calls His people to come to their aid, especially if they also belong to Christ: “Do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).
Specific to Christian giving in the church, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 indicates that our offerings (which are given publicly in our worship services) are also to be used to aid brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. Paul writes: “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.”
Indeed, we are called to give to the needy, especially needy saints—those who already belong to our Lord. And sometimes, this giving is even done in public ways. As we obey this command to give, though, let’s remember to fight the temptation to magnify ourselves. Yes, we are to give—even publicly—but we’re to give without desiring self-glorification.
Why? Because our Father gave us His Son. And Jesus—who gave us His lifeblood in our neediest of circumstances—deserves the praise, not us.
So, when we give, we give with the cross in mind:
- To keep us humble.
- To help us fight against the temptation to magnify ourselves.
- To help us direct or redirect praise to our Lord, that Christ would be magnified, not us.
Going back to Matthew 5:16, our goal as kingdom people is for our good works—including our giving to the needy—to glorify and magnify God. So, we magnify Him, and we fight the temptation to magnify ourselves.
But we also look forward to a reward…
A Reward to Look Forward To:
Notice the end of the fourth verse in our text: As we give unto God’s glory, God rewards us, and He rewards us with Himself.
Look back to the fifth beatitude at the beginning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt 5:7).
Earlier in our series on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, we’ve learned that the beatitudes show us the reality of life in the kingdom of God. With this specific beatitude, then, Jesus is telling us that the merciful are those who have received mercy. This is the point: The merciful are already citizens of heaven (Matt 5:3). It’s a reality of life in the kingdom of God. As regenerated citizens of heaven, therefore, we’ve already been rewarded with heaven itself, God’s very presence. As a result, we can now consistently practice mercy with the new hearts we’ve been given through faith and new life in Christ (Jer 31:31-34).
For those who already belong to the Lord, then, our new hearts in Christ not only seek to glorify God through our good works, they also look forward to and even desire our true homeland, heaven itself.
So, when we give to the needy, let’s remember to look forward to our eternal reward: God Himself, and all of heaven with Him. Why? To begin, it’s the very reason why Christ gave us Himself at the cross, that we might become heirs of God and coheirs with Him, inheriting the reward of His kingdom, forever. He wants us for all eternity, and He wants us to reflect Him and His kingdom to all who surround us, even now, that they too might become heirs of God’s eternal reward, as well.
In the end, giving with our merciful, heavenly reward in view helps us to live missionally.
No wonder Jesus gives us a temptation to fight against and a reward to look forward to. The whole point of giving to the needy is to come alongside God’s mission and His heart for the suffering, as people who have already received the benefit of the giving of His own Son to us, unto His own glory.
Fellow citizens of heaven: Let’s remember to glorify Him through our giving, and let’s remember His merciful reward to us as we give while sojourning on this earth.
You have everything you need to fight the temptation of self-glory and to remember your heavenly reward. God has given you a new heart that now desires His glory, not your own. He has even given you His very own Spirit to remind you of your heavenly reward. Therefore, ask the Spirit of our Lord who dwells within your new heart to spiritually enable you to remember these two things in your own compassionate giving, today.
 William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 1 of New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2004), 320.