It’s almost time to file tax forms again. As I gathered the information about the charitable donations we made in 2016, I started thinking about “good deeds” and what Jesus said about them.
I think most of us can agree that good deeds are desirable things to do. That’s why they’re called “good” deeds (duh!). There’s a real need for us to share our material wealth and our time with others who haven’t been as fortunate. It’s good for the folks who need some help, regardless of why we give.
But is it always good for us? The answer is…it depends.
There’s one question we should always ask ourselves. Why are we being generous?
Is it truly to share what God has given us with others?
Is it so we can impress our friends with how generous we are?
Is it to have our names on a plaque on the wall of a public building where many people might see it?
Is it so our names will appear in the book of donors that many United Way chapters distribute?
Is it to advertise our business to people who care whether it’s a generous supporter of the community?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us two seemingly conflicting statements about letting others know about our good deeds.
The first is reported in Matthew 5:14-16.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (NIV)
The second is in Matthew 6:1-4.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, 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 men. I tell you the truth, 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.” (NIV)
In the first case, Jesus is telling us to let others see our good deeds. In the second, he’s telling us to keep them secret. A contradiction?
Not really. It’s a question of whom we want to receive the praise.
Are we trying to impress others with how generous we are?
Or do we want God to receive the praise because we’re only sharing what the Father has so generously given us?
The question with eternal implications isn’t how much we give or even whether we give.
It’s whether we want the praise for God or ourselves. It’s our motive that really matters.
What can we do to keep our motives pure when doing good deeds that draw attention to us?