In Matthew 6:1-4, Jesus says: “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 secretwill reward you.”

To the Jew, there were three great pillars on which a good life was lived: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In Matthew 6, Jesus addresses all three and specifically challenges each person to evaluate their motives. Almsgiving in the Bible speaks to giving to the poor, showing God’s love practically by giving to those in need. It is a specific type of giving that was expected of all Jews, and Jesus passed on the expectation to all Christians.

Barclay says, “to the Jew, almsgiving was the most sacred of all religious duties.” The same word was used for both almsgiving and righteousness. So for the Jew, to give alms was to be righteous, they were inseparably linked. There’s a Rabbinic saying that reads, “Greater is he who gives alms than he who offers all sacrifices.” So in Jesus’ day, almsgiving stood first in the catalog of good works for the Jew.

Jesus takes no exception to the importance of almsgiving. In fact, it flows beautifully from Jesus’ teaching on the Christian ethic of love in general: loving your neighbor specifically, and caring for anyone in need (see the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus tells in Luke 10). But Jesus does address several things in these few verses that are important to ponder.

  • First, we need to give to the poor. He says, “when” you give, not “if” you give. For me, as I study and follow the recipe for faithful giving in the Bible, I give my tithe, and then I give over and above in offerings. Almsgiving is a part of my regular giving pattern because I see it in the Bible. It is one of the specific offerings I believe each Christian needs to prioritize. For Jesus, it was expected of all of His followers to regularly practice the three things he addresses here in Matthew 6. Namely, almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.Let me encourage you to begin giving alms on a regular basis. I give each month to our Bethany Compassion Center because I know how aggressively we are reaching out to the poor and needy in our community and I’m very excited to be a part of that effort. We are loving and caring for precious people who need a “hand up” and encouragement during this tough season. It is what Jesus expects us to do. I invite you to join me if you are not already practicing almsgiving.
  • Second, Jesus addresses motivation. He does not take exception to the act, but He does address one’s attitude. We don’t give for the glory of man, we give for the blessing of God. We give faithfully and obediently out of love. I am fascinated by the word “secret” here. Jesus tells us to give in secret. He also says to pray in secret and fast in secret.I’ve always thought about this passage in a fun way. I’m a James Bond [007] movie fan. I enjoy the action and how the good guy always wins. Bond is a secret agent. He’s undercover, if you will. Staying under the radar is important. Well, my application is this: I’m a “servant in His secret service.” I am a servant of Christ, and I do not live or give to bring glory to myself but to bring glory to Jesus. I give out of a heart of love and faithfulness. My heart attitude is to serve the King and point people to Him, not to draw praise to myself. This speaks to motive and attitude. If I live for the praises of others, then that is my reward. But if I live to honor Christ and give in secret, the Lord will reward me, which is far greater.
  • Finally, one more word about reward, which I addressed above. Jesus is not against reward. In fact, the Bible is full of scriptures that describe how the faithful will each receive their reward in Heaven and often even receive blessings in this life. Clearly, faithfulness is rewarded by Christ. But here Jesus makes it very clear that our attitude and our actions determine the type of reward we receive. And as I said above, we get to choose. Do we want the applause of man or the applause of the Lord? We often say this phrase and it is especially true here, “we live for an audience of One.” Jesus is the One we serve and He is the One who rewards the faithful.

Let’s lean into faithful almsgiving and, in so doing, align our hearts with the heart of Jesus. He will reward us for our loving faithfulness as we give to care for others.