When You Give, Give in Secret – Matthew 6:2-4

Jesus tells his followers to do their spiritual disciples in private. He assumes they will give to the poor, pray and fast, but he does not want them to draw attention to themselves in these spiritual disciplines. Instead, Jesus says, when you pray, go into your closet, when you fast, do not tell anyone, and when you give, “do not even let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.”

The reason for this is that the hypocrite calls attention to themselves when they give. Jesus tells his followers to “sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets” Did anyone actually make a public announcement by blowing a shofar when they gave?

Contrary to popular teaching, there is no evidence anyone in the Second Temple Period announced their giving with trumpets. Imagine someone in the Temple blowing on a shofar to get everyone’s attention and loudly announcing they were about to give their offering to the Lord, maybe even announcing how much they are giving and what percentage of their income it represents.

The image Jesus creates here is intentionally ridiculous, it is a parody of how people draw attention to their wealth and generosity. John Nolland calls it “grotesque exaggeration” (Matthew, 274). Before objecting that Jesus would not exaggerate, a bit later in the Sermon he will say some people complain about a speck in someone’s eye even though they have a log in their own eye. This is a clear exaggeration! In Matthew 5:30 Jesus said “if your right hand offends you, cut it off,” a clear example of exaggeration.

Although Jesus intentionally exaggerates the activity of the hypocrites, people did in fact boast about their giving in the ancient world. There are examples of ancient synagogues with the names of the donors engraved on the walls. Ever Greek and Roman city had dozens of statues donated by some wealthy patron in order to demonstrate their benevolence and draw attention to their name in order to increase their honor and status in the city. Even ““do not even let the left hand know what the right hand is doing” is hyperbole, since it is physically impossible for a hand to know anything. Jesus’s point is simply “keep your almsgiving private.”

If someone does boast about what they give, what are they actually boasting about? Potentially it is their piety, the depth of their commitment to God, or how spiritual they are. But it is also likely someone who boasts in their giving is boasting about how wealthy they really are. If someone boasts about a large gift, they are really saying, “Look how wealthy I am, I can afford to give this huge gift!”

Who are these hypocrites? Based on parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 23, most agree Jesus has the Pharisees in mind when he describes the activity of the hypocrites in Matthew 6.

As with other elements of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focuses on the attitude behind the action. If someone gives in order to be recognized as a generous person, or to appear to be spiritual, or to be thanked publically for their gift, then they have “received their reward.”

This desire for recognition is certainly common in contemporary culture. A huge mega-corporation may fund some public philanthropic program, but it is not a completely an act of kindness since the company name is prominently displayed. Perhaps a company gives to deflect criticism, like an oil companies running TV ads about how much they care about the environment and how they make the world better for harp seals and snow crabs (without mentioning the thousands of tons of oil spilled into the environment every year). They are trying to build goodwill with people and show that they are a good a gracious company.

How does the follower of Jesus live out this teaching of Jesus? Christians are certainly going to support charities that help the poor, but how can that be done “in private”? If your name appears on a list of donors, are you violating Jesus’s ideal in Matthew 6:2-4? What if you take a tax credit for charitable giving? Jesus is focused on the internal motivations for giving: how should the Christian evaluate their motive for giving?

28 thoughts on “When You Give, Give in Secret – Matthew 6:2-4

  1. Your Q about taking a charitable tax write-off grabbed my attention. I’d like to hear what others think. I have done it for years without questioning the practice, and my immediate reaction is that it doesn’t seem to violate the principle. I’m not aware of a real human looking at my 1040 unless and until I was audited, though I just realized my accountant sees that. But, as I said, I’d like to hear some other thoughts.

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    • I thought that bit might generate some interest. I too am looking for some discussion here…

      In any church or non-profit organization, the best months for giving are November and December since the wealthy are looking to reduce income taxes by giving to charities. Every non-profit I have ever worked for has target donors at the end of the year to encourage them to give for the tax benefit, and I get dozens of asks in November and December from charities hoping to encourage me to give, pointing out the tax benefits.

      So, if your goal is only to reduce income in order to pay less tax, to use Jesus’s words, “do you already have your reward”?

      Full Disclosure: This is an American thing, sorry to the rest of the world for the analogy, and I do not make enough money to take advantage of this sort of giving strategy.

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      • I see your point, and though we are able to take advantage of the tax break, we are year- long givers, not year- end.

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      • It’s a republican thing, no matter what the try to do, they believe that if I give than I shall receive a tax break. Instead, do like some celebrities, and find how to incorporate their talents and gifts to inspire others and use the profits to bless those who need it and that gesture inspire people to do the same. Will Smith says the best way to inspire people is to become a better person yourself. If the acts are out of the benefits for yourself it shall not be done, because your heart is not pure. Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Therefore, you can tell that God doesn’t play with the showing out in the world. It’s sort of like in a basketball game and there are less then 10 seconds left of the game and let’s say the home team is up by twenty points, and a player of the home team decides to score a basket instead of letting the clock run out. That is looked at as a very bad move to make because you won the game but you wanted the world to know and you do a 720 windmill, through the legs dunk as the time expires. That’s so boastful, Proverbs 11:2-4 “Proud and boastful people will be shamed, but wisdom stays with those who are modest and humble.”

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  2. God knows everything we are thinking. And he knows everything we do both good and bad. We like to get noticed for doing things especially things that were good at. We want people to notice us and notice the things were doing. Something along the lines of “Hey Look at ME, look what I can Do”. There are people who donate to charities’ and non-profits, to show that either they care or they want others to see how much money they have and how much they are giving away. The point of this passage was for Jesus to tell us that if we do things like that for attention then our work is in vain. Work for attention and that in itself will be your reward. But for the person who works or donates without seeking attention and does it with the pure intentions of just doing something to help others will be rewarded by the Father.

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    • Very good point Charlie. Christians should be working for the rewards of the Lord, not the rewards of man. When man gives in secret, he is working for the glory of the Lord. He is not seeking attention from man, rather he is outworking his faith. It is great that God is all knowing and omnipresent. God knows man’s heart and intentions. Christians do not have to keep record of what they have done for the glory of God, God already knows. However, I feel that this verse is often taken too literally. Jesus’ intentions when he instructed to give in secret were not for man to go to extraordinary lengths to hide their giving. Jesus was making the point not to seek praise from others through giving. This does not mean that someone cannot write a check for Sunday offering because the church will know who it came from. Jesus is telling man to avoid earthly glory and praise. There are checks and balances to this, such as not discussing the amounts of money that is given by certain members, not favoring other members because one gives more money than the other, and so on and so forth. Jesus is asking his followers to give freely without worrying about how much is given. If one has given from the heart, God sees this and rewards those who do so.

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      • I agree that it was a very good point. Everything we do shouldn’t be out of our own gratification. Especially in this day in age with social media as well I know I’ve seen a lot of people post about giving something to someone in need and its only to gain the views and not actually for the greater good. Just How in the Bible Jesus reward the man who gave a small amount but while other laughed Jesus knew that the man was giving all he had and that was what mattered and not the actual amount of what he was giving. I think its good to keep in mind that God is always watching and that the little things do matter if it is done out the goodness of your heart.

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  3. The idea of giving in private has always been one that has interested me. It is interesting to see the different views that people have on this and how they carry it out in their lives. I have one friend who gives to the church but does not write her name on the envelope because she believes that only God needs to know that she is tithing faithfully. I also have friends that write their names on the envelopes without a second thought and they are not doing it in a way that is meant to be showing off. It is just something that they do to keep themselves accountable and making sure that they give each week or couple weeks. I found it really interesting when McKnight said, ” The act itself is not the problem, nor even its visibility, but instead the act itself is transformed into hypocrisy and self-preoccupation when the intent is attraction to oneself” (McKnight, 156). McKnight is stating that being seen tithing or giving is not an issue in itself. The issue is when someone is giving in order to gain attention and recognition from others. As Christians, we must make sure that our intentions are pure in everything that we do so that we are bringing glory to God in everything that we do. I have always wondered about the question of tax credits for charitable giving. I know that intent of giving is important so I guess that it depends on the person and their reasoning for giving in the first place. If they do have the tax credit for giving, hopefully they are not just giving for the tax credit.

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    • Alex,
      Very interesting post and a lot of good insight! I really enjoyed the examples of friends that you gave. That really hits home to me, because I have friends who do the same thing. As I mentioned in my post below, they have been blessed with money, but they do not feel the need to show it off. They see it as what God has given them. It really is truly amazing how much they give and it is out of the goodness of their hearts. I am sure they even give quietly, but some of it is recognized. McKnight said it best when he showed Matthew 5:13-16 in his text. This teaches that “Others are to see our good deeds and those deeds will lead to their glorifying God (McKnight, 2013).”
      Personally, giving to me is a very important topic. It is something that I believe needs to be done, but it also should be done in the right way. I don’t think that it should be done for selfish reasons. Most of the time when we think of giving, we are thinking in the context of money. I don’t believe that is the only way to give. Time is a big one that I try to capitalize on. Spending time with someone can impact them in more ways than they know! I know that I sometimes struggle with this, but it is something that I try to do, because in today’s world not everybody feels included. Giving just a little bit of time can change that.
      Excellent post Alex!

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    • “When the intend is attraction to oneself” (McKnight, 2013). This phrase also stuck with me. I often think about short term mission trips. They are often not short term mission trips until there are pictures of white people with colored kids hanging around their necks or on their laps. Are these pictures attraction to oneself? I’m not the judge, God is, but it is for sure questionable if the intentions behind are actually helping or getting a new Facebook profile picture. Too harsh? Maybe. Maybe I’m completely wrong and there are none of those intentions behind posting on social media, but I’d encourage Americans to be able to go on mission trips and not post about the trip. The donors need to see the progress? Write them personalized letters with real pictures and mail them directly to them. I’m sure that the letters will make them feel way more special than a general Facebook post everyone can see. That’s right, when you need everyone to see it is when the questioning behind the intentions begin. However, I conclude with the same thought, it is God who ultimately checks the heart and makes sure the intentions are “correct”.

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  4. Giving is more of a heart thing. “The hypocrites and the judges of hypocrites and the public may not see the person who prays in a home closet, but the Father does” (McKnight, 166). I have never been great with taxes and will likely have someone else do them for me the rest of my life, so I am not sure if this applies, but this verse is not telling you to lie on your taxes. Besides, I doubt anyone is thinking ‘Oh, the government is going to think I am such a good person when they see how much money I have been giving.” I think it is just saying, give anonymously whenever humanly possible. If you would have a problem with sending a blank envelope with cash to your church, because you prefer to place you cash into the offering plate in front of your congregation, then I think you might want to question your own motives. It is just a matter of knowing yourself and taking note of any feelings of pride when giving. God is watching, and He should be the only audience that matters to us.

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  5. When you give, give in secret. One of the things we have been asked of God is to give and give with our whole heart. Many times we want to see goals be reached and accomplished like families being restored and communities brought together but when it comes down to it most of us wait for someone else to step up instead of doing it ourselves. Church is a place where we can find ways to accomplish these goals but more and more often it’s a place where we say what we want to see be done instead of a place where we do it. God desires us to ask and do in privet and to see the reward in public, to see God’s hand work and move. Because we are a materialistic people, this should be easy in theory. Unfortunately, having a vertical relationship with a God who at this time is invisible and untouchable in a physical way, we struggle to have a relationship and talk to, ask and do things for. The Bible tells us that when we seek God we will find Him because He will meet us where we are if we are willing to look. Wherever we are, if we seek God, He will meet us where we are. Whether we are giving or asking His promise will never change and that is to meet us where we are. Giving back to God because He gave to us and asking God to show us or help us because He is the ultimate provider. We give in secret because that is how Jesus Christ is glorified, not in a public setting where it;s more about the show. Because we give in privet, the glory and attention doesn’t fall on us, it falls on God because He sees our heart, and when we are out continuing the work we will see how God moved. Giving in privet is how God is glorified and is how we see Him move in and through us.

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  6. How does a follower of Jesus live out the teaching of giving? One of the posts above I believe said it best. “It is a heart thing.” I think that it all depends on how you are giving. What is your attitude towards giving? I believe that this is how one must look at giving. As mentioned above, the point of giving is not for praise, but it should be out of the goodness of your heart. After all, Jesus does want us to give, but not for selfish reasons.
    The next question can be a difficult one to answer. How can giving be done “in private?” I don’t think that giving has to be done in private. If it is on your heart to give; then give. It doesn’t have to be quietly. With that being said, it is still all heart. How are you doing it? Is it all about you or is it for the right reason? McKnight mentions that Jesus went to the synagogues and was giving. These were large places with tons of people (McKnight, 2013). We are taught to live a lifestyle like Jesus.
    The next question sort of builds off my last answer. It says, “If your name appears on a list of donors are you violating Jesus’ ideal in Matthew? In my opinion, no I do not believe so. I know many people that are pretty wealthy and they give not to show how much money they have, but it something that they believe strongly in. They have been blessed with money, so they believe that they should give it for a good cause. So, their name may show up on a list of donors, but it is for the right reason. It is not for selfish reasons.
    Finally, the motive for giving should not be for selfish reasons. It should be how you live your life and should be what you feel. It is not to show who the wealthiest is, but it is to impact someone.

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    • Yes, Chris, it is all about the heart! I think people forget the real reason why they do what they do because they are so busy trying to show it off to everyone around them. If we do things but don’t have the right motivation, it’s just better if we don’t do it! God does not want us to do things halfway. He wants us to go all in, and all in for His glory and not our own.

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  7. This is a topic I feel very strongly about. This discussion goes beyond the giving it secret. I think living a Christian life should be a lifestyle that is noticed by others ( who are and who are not Christians). Matthew 6:1 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.” There are so many Christians nowadays who live a “show off” live. They are always bragging about how many lives they have saved, how many volunteer hours they have completed and whatever else they feel the need to brag about. They go up on stage portraying a perfect life, while many of us know very well the kind of life they live actually live.

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    • I agree with what you said when you stated that living a Christian life should be a lifestyle that is notice by others, both other Christians and non Christians. As Christians we are meant to be set apart from this world, and part of that is to not have pride. Pride is something that is easy to fall into though, because so much of the world thrives on this idea. They want to “show off” what they have done or what they have. Followers of Jesus are not to be of this world or love the things of this world, one of that being pride.

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  8. I would tend to agree that Jesus exaggerates certain aspects of his teachings. The examples give in this blog are great examples of things that Jesus did not mean literally, or even mean to go to that extent. However the point that each of these exaggerations make are clear. The one relevant to what the rest of the post is saying, is not blowing trumpets when you give. I think this entire passage is one that many people in the church today could learn something from. Not only to giving secretly but also the fast and praying in secret as well. The entire point to each of these things is to grow your relationship with God. That is not something done in the public eye, or while boasting about it on social media or anywhere else.

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  9. As the bible McKnight speaks on giving in secret instead of in front of people can go a long way. For example, in this day and age people who receive tend to always bring to light those who blessed them. To me, that is just as bad as the giver doing it to attract attention. Reason being, God knows it would be very shameful for us to act in that manner, but at the same time it might be embarrassing for someone to put anyone on the spot for doing something that thought would be nice. Since we are in the age of social media, it’s very rare to escape that no matter what we do. Overall I do believe we should do things in secret, because it takes away the intentions of the gesture. I remember when I gave a appreciation letter to a young at Grace, because I admired her personality and the way she let the light of the Lord shine through her in her acts of kindness. I could’ve easily given her the note and rose myself and risked the chances of being seen and having my peers that my intentions were romantic. Therefore, I used a friend I knew would keep my identity confidential. After she received it, I told about it maybe a year later and why I did it. I imagine if I walked up to her in the middle of the cafeteria with a rose in my hand it would stir up trouble. Be humble “It is a heart thing.” (Noblitt, 2018)

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  10. Giving is one of those things that we have managed to make highly acceptable but also highly frowned upon. What I mean by this is that when we give, the world tells us that we are amazing people who deserve to be praised. Christians say that we are being “the hands and feet” of Jesus or that we are blessing others that what we have been blessed with. But there is just as equal of an amount of backlash. I have friends who have given to someone asking for change on the streets out of pure willingness to love that person, acknowledge them and their circumstance, and then give them what they asked for and what we clearly have. I have heard other friends immediately question that persons motives rather than not make a big deal out of it. Another thing that is debated right now is what we are giving. It just seems like everyone has a double standard on giving. I don’t know how else to describe this weird conflicting that happens amongst one another when someone gives to another person. As much as I can tell it is all assumption based. Jesus tells us that the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing. What he means is that we do not need to broadcast it. We can love and give without letting the world know.There is no reason for the world to know that you just handed a dollar to a real and struggling human being who has to beg for change because of the situation he or she is in. Now when it comes to the donor list thing, I think that is a bit different. Nowadays, anytime you donate or give, it is documented. What would be the flaw here is that you donated in order to get on that list and gain dome reputation or something similar of the matter because you donated. McKnight says that “this passage forces the Bible’s behaviors through the sieve of motivation” (McKnight, pg.151). What he means is that he wants to know our true motivations tased on what we read out of scripture.

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  11. Giving is something that God wants us to be doing, and we should be doing it with the right mindset. He does not care how much we give he cares what our motives are when we give. If we are giving such to show how wealthy we are, that is not the reason why God wants us to give. We should be giving out of the kindness of our hearts, no matter who sees us give. We feel the need to praise when we give, but truly we do not deserve the praise, God does. That is why he wants us to give in secret. All of our belongings really belong to God and he is the reason why we have all that we have. “The hypocrites and the judges of hypocrites and the public may not see the person who prays in a home closet, but the Father does” (McKnight, 166). No matter what we do God sees everything. So when we are giving secretly and praying in the closet He can still see us and that is all that counts.

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    • Maddie Brown, I also think something that God wants us to do is give but with the right mindset whether a little or a lot I do not think that matters . As long as we have the right motives like you say in your post is what is important to God. I also believe that God is the reason we have what we have and we need to spread kindness.

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  12. When we give, God obviously knows our hearts intent. How much we give, what our intentions are to give, so no matter what, God is all knowing and is in the end, has the final judgment. If we give, and post it on social media, I gave 15 percent instead of 10, that is awful. I don’t think we should be boasting how much. In the beginning of the article, it states that Jesus tells us that when we have a spiritual discipline do it in private. Yes, this is definitely something that I agree on. The whole idea of giving in private, then allows you to not have the pressure from the surrounding world to tell you that you need to give more. And I think that is what is being said here. So that when you are in private, I feel as if you are purer. Your intentions are not based on others. As McKnight (156) writes, about when giving “to be seen” leads into self-preoccupation with the intent of attraction to yourself.

    However, the questions being asked, when we give to charity, or if our names on a list for donors, are we going against Christ? Which is a tough topic to be discussed because we are doing a good deed itself, just in public. I stated in the beginning that God knows our hearts. If someone feels so led to give, let them give! God has the final judgment.

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  13. Christians are called to tithe to the church and give to the poor, but where some fall short is when it becomes a popularity contest. As discussed in Matthew 6:2-4, giving should not be done in public where others can see how much you’ve donated, in an effort to seem like a superior Christian, but should be something done in private. Something that my family does is give anonymously. It’s not important that others know how much we give; it’s the fact that we give at all to those in need and for the workings of the church, as God knows exactly how much we give. It’s truly not about the dollar amount itself, but the fact that we give. McKnight speaks on how hypocrites and judges may not see you praying in your closet, but God does; no matter where we go or what people see us, but God always sees the work that we do for Him (pg. 166). We need to focus on giving with a humble heart, solely with the purpose of providing for others than to look good in the sight of others.

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  14. As a business major, I’ve seen how companies are using helping others as their main marketing campaigns. Take TOMS shoes, for example. Their business model is based on the “one for one” model. What this means is that for every pair of shoes purchased they give one to a kid in need. Their shoes are pricy, but the fact that the consumer knows their money is going towards giving another pair of shoes is the main reason for this company’s success. And this is just one example, more and more companies are using their “helping deeds” as their most successful marketing campaigns. So how do we respond to this as Christians? Is it wrong to support these companies because what they are doing goes agains what Jesus teaches? McKnights opinion is clear “Others are to see our good deeds and those deeds will lead to their glorifying God (McKnight, 2013).” How do we know they are indeed glorifying God? In any case I don’t think it’s our duty to judge others. God ultimately looks at the hearts (1 Sam 16:7) and the intention behind everyone’s actions. If one is to buy a pair of shoes with the sincere intention of helping others I don’t see anything wrong with it. However, if the intention is to show off and get other people’s recognition then we’ve already gotten our reward. Also, I wonder how ethical it is for companies to use “helping others” as their marketing campaigns. I guess it all lies on the intention behind it.

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  15. The idea of giving privately and not boast about it is something that intrigues me. When Jesus says that when we give, we should do so in private I automatically think about the fact that we should not take pride in what or how we give. When we give, we have to have the mindset that we are doing this in order to glorify God, not ourselves. People in general have a hard time doing this those. Whenever they give, they want credit and glory. As Christians, it is our calling to not be prideful in the things that we do, but rather in everything that we do glorify God (1Corinthians 10:31). If we have this sort of mindset when giving, we then are able to cease “the appeal to an audience to give with the promise of getting something” (McKnight 160). When we are able to give in private, we are able to refocus and see the person or organization that we are giving to rather than ourselves. When we are able to do just that, we are able to look past pride and we can glorify God. We have to give out of humility and not out of pride.

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  16. Giving is important God want us to give and wants us to do it for the right reasons. Being generous is something very important to do for others whether a lot or a little it does not matter everyone’s struggle is different. Giving in secret is something I would see as being an importance many people that give donations are most of the time doing it anonymously which helps so others do not think they are above or below somebody. Mcknight says “the heart is not ostentatious or desirous of gaining honor and reputation from it, but it is moved to contribute freely regardless of whether it makes an impression and gains the praise of the people or whether everyone despises and profanes it.” (Mcknight pg. 156) It is important to give but the amount does not matter whatever you can give is a generous amount everything and anything can help someone. As long as we give what we can God knows we have the right mindset to help others.

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