“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Some have taken this passage to mean if we want a reward for the Father, we are to hide our good works. “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (v4)
Earlier Christ said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (5:16) A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Men do not light a lamp and then not allow it to give light to the whole house.
There appears to be a contradiction. What are we supposed to do? Are we to hide our good works? Or are we to let men see our good works.
We can resolve this tension with no difficulty. In fact, the two statements complement each other. First, Christ did not say we are to hide our good works. Jesus spoke towards the motivation of doing good works. Do we perform them with an intention of bringing glory to God or to ourselves? Are we seeking praise from men? (“in order to be seen by them” v1b) Or are we wanting men to praise God? And “both” is not a correct answer. “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another.” (Isaiah 42:8)
Second, we are not to hide our good works. We are to let men see them. They are to see them so they can praise God. But we are not to go around pointing them out. We are not to take out billboards or television ads. We are not to use them in marketing campaigns for our business. It may be good business to do so. We and buy a lot of goodwill by donating to charities. But that is all we get. There is no reward coming from the Father. We got all we are going to get.
Third, if no one notices your good works, don’t worry about it. God sees everything. And He rewards what He sees.
There is also something implied here that can go unnoticed. “Thus, when you give to the needy…” Christ presume we will give to the needy. There is no need to state God requires us to do so. Jesus said, when we give, not if you give. Giving is a forgone conclusion. We are to give. The command to give to the poor is throughout the Law, the Prophets, and the wisdom literature. The command to care for the poor is so strong Jesus presumes it. He did not need to state it.