Biblical Giving – In Secret?
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said than when we give alms, “Do not sound a trumpet before you.” So what follows is clearly intended to be a counter to a practice of giving for the sake of being seen and making a big production of it. And Jesus’s antidote seems to be figurative “so do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” – figurative because our hands don’t “know” and in the literal, we seem to know what each hand is doing.
He does not condemn the sounding the trumpet to announce giving, only saying that they have their reward in full just then. Nonetheless, He is telling us the better way – let your alms be in secret.
When I apply that to the kinds of giving commonly done today, I see:
- Small secret gifts to individuals – whether money or personal “treasure”.
- When we give to an organization, it can be difficult to impossible to give in secret. One can argue that cash in the mail with no return address is poor stewardship! So working within the way organizations operate, we give via cheque or credit card with our name attached. While this is not “secret” is some absolute sense, it is a long ways from announcing to all your friends and neighbors (the trumpet) that you are giving. Furthermore, when donations are tax-deductible, we find ourselves in the position of being poor stewards if we don’t take such deductions. In my opinion, to not report tax-deductible donations in order to give “in secret” is mis-guided. First, putting numbers of tax forms is hardly going through the streets with a trumpet. A human may barely see the numbers, let alone connect them to a person they know. And by not deducting, we actually reduce the amount we can give.
In a marriage, I think things become more interesting since in marriage we are to be “one flesh”. I believe there is a place for married people to agree to each have a “giving” amount to be given secretly – although I would reserve this for personal gifts where secrecy has meaning. Giving to organizations (as noted above) carries some institutional baggage. Remember the organization itself must keep track of its donations etc. So in a “pure” sense, giving is seldom truly “secret”, but I believe is very much “secret” in the contrast Jesus makes with sounding a trumpet before you!
In my opinion, disunity in marriage is more important than secrecy in giving. In giving, the worst Jesus says is that even when we “sound a trumpet before us”, all that happens is we get our reward in full right now, not from our Father in secret. But in marriage, Peter tells us that to not live with our wives in an understanding way is related to our prayers being hindered! Because of the power of united prayer, I believe God’s BEST is for married people to agree (what stronger agreement than two who are one flesh) in giving and then rejoice in the Lord’s provision to be able to do so and pray that the Lord blesses the receivers of the gift!
Now I would like to further consider what Jesus was telling us. For in the same Sermon on the Mount, He told us to “let our light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Now we know that Jesus was very much interested in our hearts, not our outward forms. He talked about worshiping in “Spirit and in truth”, not about how low to bow etc. He talked about lusting in our hearts. In thinking about the statement about not sounding a trumpet before us when we give alms, it makes sense that He is talking about MOTIVE. I don’t know if people then literally did this with a trumpet or He was making an extreme case to show the foolishness. In either case, especially because His statements about how to give in secret are figurative (left hand not knowing), I say He is talking about motives. Jesus never seemed very interested in forms, but in our hearts.
I think it is perfectly consistent to “let our light shine before men” without “sounding a trumpet before us” – sharing the life of Christ in cheerful giving – letting our light shine and thus glorifying God. If our heart is wanting to shine the glory of God, not shouting our “greatness”, we can rejoice in how He has taken our sinful nature and made it like His nature.
In fact, before He said to let our light shine, He said we are the light of the world and men do not light a lamp, and put it under a basket! From what I read of Roman history, this is all quite significant. Pagan Romans were known to be quite stingy – any charity was for selfish reasons and done with great fanfare (trumpets?). Those whose hearts are changed by Christ are quite different – motivated by love – this change was quite notable.
I get excited writing this when I see what a different world Jesus has for us when He has our hearts.