Matthew 6:1-4, Proverbs 24:12, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 1 John 2:28-29
In these days of social media ubiquity nothing is hidden. Our discretion and privacy have nearly vanished. People live in digital “glass houses,” and do so on purpose. Life is a performance to please our followers. This means that every good deed is advertised. When we donate to a GoFundMe page, it puts the dollar amount next to our name. When we give to someone in need, we humblebrag about being “so glad to be able to help.” We live to be praised.
But this is antithetical to how Jesus tells us to give. Don’t practice your righteousness for others to take note of, He says. Don’t use generosity as leverage to heap praise on yourself.
When we live to be praised, one of two things happens. We receive no praise and are hurt, or we receive the praise we sought and are left desiring even more. And this is our reward, Jesus says. For those who give publicly and practice good deeds for the eyes of mankind have received their reward: the vaporous, temporal praise of people.
Instead, Jesus points us to the heart of giving and generosity. He instructs us to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing; to give in private. God will see and will reward us as He sees fit. The heart of giving is not praise from the recipient or from those who see the “good” deed; it is a heart of love. It is a heart marked by gratefulness for all that God has given us.
To give seeking praise is to not really give at all. It is to make a business transaction: I give and, in return, you praise me. Godly generosity, on the other hand, gives seeking nothing in return. It knows that God sees both our actions and the heart behind them. He takes note of those good deeds which are done in secret and is pleased by them. Not only is He pleased, He promises to reward them—whether in this life or in the next—and that reward will be so much richer than any adulation this world has to offer.
It is a difficult shift to go from doing good with the hope of receiving praise to, instead, doing good from a place of humility and love, confident that it pleases God. If we think more about the generosity God has shown us, we will find this easier. If we think more about the recipient of our generosity as an equal image bearer of God, it will help us. If we consider our ongoing need for generosity, both physically and spiritually, that will help too.
The heart of giving is not what we receive in return, but what we have already received from God. He sees. He knows. He is pleased and rewards. And no praise from our fellow man, be it online or in person, can compare to that eternal reward.
Written by Barnabas Piper