Giving Your Treasure Back to God
“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4, NRSV)
Alms were contributions given explicitly for the poor or needy. Alms would be like the contributions we make for Room in the Inn, Room at the Table, Christmas Boxes for Honduras, United Methodist Committee on Relief (Disaster Relief), United Methodist Children’s Home (White Christmas Offering), the Help Center, and a seemingly endless list of other benevolences.
Giving to the poor and needy is necessary because charity plays a vital role in maintaining the moral fabric in our society. Giving to the poor and needy also generates an opportunity for some notoriety, especially for those who have the means to contribute substantial amounts to charitable causes. The fact that our giving can draw attention to ourselves as much as it can benefit those in need creates a dilemma for the giver: Am I giving out of a desire to relieve suffering among the poor and needy, OR am I giving to draw attention to myself? As is the case with most questions of this nature, the answer is complicated.
If we’re honest with ourselves about our motives in giving, the most accurate answer to the question of “why we give” is that while we have a genuine desire to help others, we also enjoy the benefits to ourselves, whether it be some acknowledgment of others concerning our generosity or another feeling derived from our giving that affirms a need within us. There is no need to beat ourselves up over this fact, but the awareness does give rise to the opportunity to keep any selfish motives in check.
Jesus’ reference to “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing” is perplexing. In some ways, it makes no sense. Our hands are controlled by our nervous system, and the only way they move is in response to the signals received from the brain. My left hand not only has no control of itself apart from my brain, but it also has no knowledge of what my right hand is doing, nor does it care. Its actions are an autonomic response generated by my brain.
So how does this apply to our giving? Meaningful giving for both the giver and the receiver is giving that is generated from the heart. It flows out of a heart that is filled with love for God and for others. It’s an autonomic response. The giver seeks no attention for the gift; however, if any attention is directed toward the giver, he or she humbly receives the recognition, and then the giver turns his or her own attention back to the person in need. Focusing on the person in need prevents the giver from focusing on themselves, and helps them maintain a proper motive in giving and creates an even more generous heart. Whatever reward results from our giving, is left in God’s hands—who also autonomically gives out of his great love for us.