Having directed his followers to practice kingdom righteousness with the heavenly Father and his glory as their center of motivation rather than their self-glorification, Jesus moves to elaborate through specific examples, the first of which is giving.
He says “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men.”
It is doubtful people literally blew trumpets as they gave offerings. This is more likely a reference to the noise of the coins clinking into the money chest, some of which were actually sculpted in the shape of trumpets. By dropping large handfuls or bagfuls of clanking coins into the chest, they were essentially turning their giving into an act of show. The word hypocrite literally means actor, one who pretends to be someone he’s not in order to please onlookers and garner their praise. Jesus incorporates this imagery many times in calling out people whose piety is duplicitous; here he applies it to those who give.
Whereas charitable giving was an inherent part of Jewish piety, in Greek culture it was utilized as a means to magnify one’s social status to be known as a benefactor. It was apparently a practice that had taken root amongst Jewish culture.
The twisted heart of hypocrisy beats for the recognition and acknowledgment of spectators. It makes giving about getting. It twists giving into a self-revolving indulgence instead of a loving benefit to one in need. It turns service into self-gratification. It’s a self-at-the-center sentiment that warps Jesus’ words to believe it is more blessed to receive than to give. Hypocrisy diminishes the holiness God has purposed for the hearts of humanity.
Jesus would not have this hypocrisy. Charitable giving was not for incurring applause, honor, esteem, or respect from men. In fact, if that is our motive in ministry or Christian living, we should beware; Jesus says bluntly “Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full”.
If we give “to be noticed” or to “be honored by men”, it reveals our driving conviction that the esteem of humans is the highest and most valued appraisal we can receive and is worth spending our lives and energy in its pursuit. While exposing an idolatrous regard for man’s affirmation, it also reveals a very low regard for God’s glory. An intent so bent on getting man’s glory has no room and no need for God’s blessedness. Indeed, since it was not sought, it should not be expected.
Jesus continues “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
With the imagery of hands hiding from each other Jesus illustrates a generosity that is maintained in secrecy. This is the first of what will be three times Jesus stresses secrecy in this conversation. Why is secrecy so emphasized in this giving context?
Secrecy is the functioning framework of humility. A donor’s willingness to maintain secrecy in their generosity reveals a heart satisfied in the Father. They see the Father, are contentedly captivated by His wondrous glory and immeasurable goodness poured upon the people of Earth, and simply reflect His generosity in their lives knowing He sees and is pleased. They know there is no need to pine for people’s pleasure when their lives and love hold the delightful attention of the Father. Self-aggrandizing hinders how others perceive God’s glory. Giving that is done with the humility of this secrecy and simplicity moves the giver out of the way so the recipient beholds God alone and rejoices in His demonstrated goodness.
Giving is both an act of proclamation and participation.
In giving we proclaim the Father’s concern and care for His creation to those in need. When people receive the gift, they receive kingdom reality; the redemption of God is laid before them in gift form.
In giving, we participate in the character of Christ. Giving is a way we follow Jesus. The person of Jesus, who most clearly expresses the fullness of the Father’s goodness, is formed in us.
Our giving is kingdom dynamics at work. By giving with God’s glory at our motivational center, we both participate in and proclaim the redemptive reality God is establishing. As the Father’s most glorious gift was Christ, our gifts are redemptive reflections of Christ. When disciples give, it is Jesus being received; truly “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”