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 (Matthew 6:1-4).
This is an interesting passage isn’t it? How do we do all that we “have” to do without letting others know about it, or without compelling others to join us? This verse seems to fly in the face of our American need to get organized and send God’s army into the darkest and neediest regions as publicly as possible so that we’ll get funding and more volunteers.
Practice righteousness and give to the needy but do it in private? Really?
Compelled to Righteousness
In my experience, we American Christians do not brag about our work for the Kingdom as much as we tell you about it in great detail to compel you to join us because we really don’t fully enjoy what we are doing. Since we “had to be there” we want you there too.
I think that too much of what we Christians do in the way of practicing righteousness and helping the needy, be it within the church or without, is directed from church leadership or appointed sub leaders. There is the twinge of compulsion or guilt that is associated with it. And, if we can’t come up with a good excuse then we reluctantly go along. Or we wholeheartedly go along because of our love for our fellow man but it cannot be sustained over the long run because it’s not really our passion; it’s often not an organic extension of our gifts, our interests, our loves.
And that is not what our Lord wants for us. The good life in Him is about the free flowing expression of love. When we practice righteousness and give to the needy, it should be in such a way as to be sustainable for our lifetime and something that we’ll never grow weary of. Contrast that with the grumbling and complaining and feet dragging we’ve all experienced in our ministry work.
But can’t we get more “done” with a team of leaders, organized efforts, and large numbers? It really depends on what your goals are. Jesus dedicated his ministry to twelve men and poured His life into theirs for three years. If it were up to us, we’d have recruited a thousand and then sent them out after a long weekend retreat.
God is not dependent on our tiny acts to further the Kingdom. No, the acts are more about sanctifying us and giving Him glory as we love others as we were loved. But if the acts are not without baggage then we’re the losers for we have not tasted the sweet and the fat of service to Christ and we lose out on most of the intended benefits.
Rarely will you hear someone go on and on about how they wrote their beloved mother a kind note of encouragement or comforted a sad child. We don’t tend to boast about things we do as naturally as breathing. Think about the love you have for your children or your best friend or your spouse. Is doing something kind for them a hard chore or simply a very natural, very lovely, outworking of the deep feelings that you have for them? Do you get burned out loving them?
Well sure, it’s easy to do this with close friends and family but who will minister to the great unwashed out there? Can we love those people as well without a plan?
That is the model for all of our practicing righteousness and giving to the needy, be it in the home or in the world. We should be working without a tight script, without angst, without guilt and without boasting. Didn’t Jesus minister person to person, very quietly but very effectively?
Burnout for the Christian should not even be an option and the cure to burnout is to not grind any gears in the love machine. The neighbor, the co-worker, the acquaintance, are all desperately in need of the mother’s love that come so naturally. So when the Spirit moves and your heart is pricked toward another, act on that and do as much as you want. Because it is so freely given, it will be that much more powerful in its effect. You can’t hide real love and caring from another.
And those things that are dear to us, you could not stop if you tried. Imagine the artistic child who always has a guitar in their hand because they love it. Because the music is an expression of themselves and their gifts, they’ll play it ten times more than they would if they were compelled to do so but had not the love for that instrument.
I’d rather the Church did not start any programs of service but rather just encouraged the people to just follow their hearts. But that lacks something doesn’t it? We feel the need to get it all organized, and measure results and then report them to the “higher ups.” A report that read “we loved each other and our neighbors this year” doesn’t get much attention.
As Christians we have a wonderful and compelling need to serve and to love others. It’s a sign that we have been changed, made His disciples, workers for His Kingdom. But we have a lot of sin baggage we carry with us; we’re being sanctified but we’re not all the way there yet. And so we do things like perform acts out of guilt or feel guilty because we didn’t do them.
Real love for another person cannot be charted on a graph; the “accomplishment” is too ethereal—delicate, otherworldly. That is what frustrates us because we are conditioned by an industrial/business mentality that we must line up the needy on this line, the helpers on that and then measure meals given, stomach’s filled, hours logged.
But what would we do if no one was telling us what to do? It might be like that moment—rare these days—when you are singing a song of praise in worship and you look up and no one is staring back at you. The choir has been positioned elsewhere and the pastor steps to the side. We’re left alone with the awesome truth that we’re singing to God. But we’d forgotten that because there was always someone in front and directing us.
Our practicing righteousness should be for our God, not for a committee, to assuage our guilt or to look good to others.
So if there is no one in front of us signing us up for Needy Ministry A or Acts of Righteousness B what will we do? Follow our hearts? Let love guide our hands? Act if and when we choose and where the Spirit leads?
That sounds freeing doesn’t it?
Like it came from the same man who said: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”