“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So 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 others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)
It is so easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. Jesus is taking aim at the religious hypocrites of his day who made a big song and dance about giving to the poor. Certainly, the poor got some benefit from this, and certainly those who were showing off like this got what they wanted: the applause of the onlookers. But they didn’t get divine approval. God was not terribly impressed with their ego driven “generosity”.
Jesus says it is far better to be generous without making a big public deal of it. Of course, there is nothing essentially wrong in people knowing we are generous. Anonymity is not an unbreakable rule. But we need to watch our motivation. Few of us would go to the extent of blowing a trumpet to draw attention to our good deeds. But Jesus wants to extend his challenge to us so as to cover a more subtle form of pride.
When he says we ought not to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, he is metaphorically telling us not to advertise our good deeds to our selves. It is not enough to refrain from telling the world how good we are. We need to refrain from telling ourselves how good we are. We can find ourselves keeping our generosity a secret and then patting ourselves on the back for such a righteous self restraint. In other words, we are humble, and we are jolly proud of it!
It is a mark of insecurity to insist that others know how good we are. If we have any sort of ethical integrity, any sort of Christlikeness, it will be apparent enough to others. We won’t have to publicise it. Besides, our ultimate audience is God himself. He knows the secret good things we do, which reassures us that they are not in vain. (The more uncomfortable corollary of this is that he also knows the not so good things we do…. a reminder of just how much we need his mercy).
Jesus invites us to be generous without blowing our own trumpets or without patting ourselves on the back for not blowing our own trumpets.