When giving, what’s your right hand doing anyway?

Monday Musings for July 29, 2019

Good morning, Musers,

I find Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:3 very compelling. “…when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” But I also find it very un-American.

Now, by un-American, I am not saying that we should not give in this manner. I’m saying that it’s off-brand. From the outside, America is an in-your-face kind of place — and our giving is in-your-face, too… but in that, we are just like the Pharisees.

Take our celebrities, for instance. Any celebrity worthy of the name has a charity they promote publicly — and I applaud this tradition. But there’s more at stake than just the money they personally give. They also leverage their public images, and many people who might not otherwise give decide to give because of public pleas of these celebrities — and Americans do give a lot to charities!

But this kind of giving — the giving of your goods and your public self in the name of good — is not all altruistic. It becomes part of that celebrity’s brand. As such, even if the intents of their hearts are 99% pure, they are 100% suspect — and how could they not be? Where there is even the appearance of giving-to-get, every potential motive will be discussed in the public square.

The fix here is to give as Jesus taught us to give… in a manner where the non-giving hand doesn’t know the giving is taking place. Such a process is decidedly private, of course… and that thing about the hands is just a saying. (We can’t quite pull that off!) But we can take Jesus’ point: be careful how you give… because you don’t want to look like you’re fishing for praise.

So, who is this teaching for? I think most of it is for us believers — and don’t get mad at me here. In my opinion, we Christians tend to think that our motives are purer than they are — and what better way to stay out of trouble than to be exactingly private in our giving!

But some of it is for outsiders, too… although you’d think that seeing Christians give would enhance the Kingdom-of-God’s brand. But unbelievers are quick to call us hypocrites (with or without reason) — and because of this hyper-sensitivity to hypocrisy, I think public giving on our part could do more harm than it would good.

Now, all giving is good; it’s a Christian grace, and it relieves the poor… but not all giving is perfect — nor can it be. The thing we cannot do is stop giving out of fear that we are doing it wrong. Instead, we should give prayerfully and carefully — trying to maximize our effectiveness in God’s kingdom. Let’s just also do it privately when possible to avoid even the appearance of hypocrisy.

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