Matthew 6 is a chapter FULL of assumptions. By assumptions, I mean that when Jesus is teaching, He is not saying that giving, praying, fasting, spending, and living are optional. Far from it! He is assuming that you will do all of these things, and then He tells you how to do them well.
The first of these assumptions is found in verses 1-4.
“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."
Jesus ASSUMES that you will give. He assumes that you will give generously. He assumes that you will give to the church, to family, to friends, and to complete strangers. The question isn’t if you should, but HOW you should. Jesus starts with a summary of the problem:
“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.” -Matthew 6:1
Jesus does not condemn us for wanting a reward for our giving. However, He is saying that you only get a reward from either God or man, but not both.
So often people think that doing something for the reward or result is wrong, but Jesus doesn’t say that. When His disciples argued over who was the greatest, He didn’t rebuke them for desiring to be great. Far from it! He instead told them how to be great in God’s Kingdom. (Luke 22:24-30).
We see the same concept here: Jesus isn’t upset at our desire for reward, but He warns us that to gain a heavenly reward, we need to remove our desire for early ones.
When we give, we need to have the mindset of showing God’s love to others. When we give, we need the priority of doing God’s work on earth. When we give, we need a heart of gratitude for all that God has first given to us.
On the flip side, an extreme view of "giving in secret" can be damaging to many Christians. They take this passage to mean that if anyone finds out you gave, then all rewards from God are gone. This leads to people who are constantly in fear of their reward being stolen away and are trying to cover up their tracks in order to preserve their reward. Was this the kind of obsession Jesus meant to create?
I think not.
Jesus emphasized that the problem comes when people give in order that “they may be praised by others.” People in His day, and ours as well, would give with trumpets sounding before them and with other large demonstrations. This was all to gain the praise of men.
The issue isn't if someone finds out, but what the motivation is. You could have a heart of desiring someone to catch you putting money in the tithe box, but then no one does. The Bible teaches that your reward in heaven can be taken away even if no one sees you give, because it’s a matter of the heart.
So what do we need to take away from this?
1) We are expected to give.
2) We only get a reward in heaven if our motives and desires reflect the heart of God.
3) With all of these expectations we are given by Jesus, we need to remember that they all require the power and working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Money is naturally a snare because it feeds our sinful hearts in whatever way we desire. Power. Pleasure. Security. Fame. Popularity. Etc. When reflecting on what God would desire you to do with the money He’s given you and how He would desire you to use it, make sure you leave time to pray and seek God’s wisdom, guidance, and power to act in a way that will glorify Him.