When my husband was out of work a few years ago, we received a Christmas card in the mail with an envelope containing 10 $100 bills ($1,000 in total). The person who sent us this gift chose to remain anonymous, and to this day, we have no idea who gave us such a wonderful present. While we would have loved to personally thank the giver, we can’t, so instead we praise God for whom all blessings flow, and who put our need upon the heart of someone we know. It was a wonderful example of how God uses Christians to meet the needs of other believers.
But my example does raise the issue of whether all of our giving should be done in secret. Before we discuss if we should proclaim our giving or not, let’s remember three principles of biblical giving.
3 Biblical Principles of Giving
1. Giving should be from the abundance of our hearts. As the last part of Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (ESV). When God blesses us financially, we should be willing to give money to help support the work of the church, to charities whose mission aligns with our callings, and to family, church members, friends, and neighbors in need without expecting anything in return.
2. Giving should be an expression of our faith. When we open our pocketbooks to give, we are expressing our faith in a tangible way. We are showing the Gospel to others with our generosity. Our love of Christ should be our guiding principle when giving.
3. Giving should be done without expectation of anything in return. As we give financially, we should do so freely, without thinking of receiving anything for our largess. While the Bible does talk about giving and receiving, we shouldn’t expect a return on our investment in the form of “money out and money in” thinking.
Now let’s delve a little deeper into whether all of our giving should be done in secret. Some point to Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:2-4 as proof we should keep quiet about our giving: “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” (ESV).
I think Jesus is reminding his listeners to check their motives in giving. We must be careful we have the right heart when it comes to giving financially. Christ’s original audience consisted of those who gave expressly for the adulation—they wanted to be recognized and fawned over for their gifts. Those who give to receive praise from others are not giving with the right heart attitude. Those who give without expectation of recognition have a more humble heart. When we give from the right heart motivation, we will focus more on our eternal reward than any approval from man.
While giving in secret would eliminate the praise our gifts could gender, here are four reasons for not hiding our giving.
4 Reasons Not to Hide Your Giving
Following biblical examples. The Bible lists many generous people, including specific amounts of money given to charitable works, to the church or temple, and to support preachers or priests. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah wrote about the generosity of the people in chapter 7, while David recorded what he gave in 1 Chronicles 29. In the New Testament, Zacchaeus experiences a heart change and restores what he had stolen plus more (Luke 19). Other generous givers mentioned in the New Testament include Mary, Joanna, and Susanna (Luke 8); Phoebe (Romans 16); Barnabas (Acts 4); Macedonian churches (2 Corinthians 8); the Philippian church (Philippians 1 and 4); and Gaius (3 John). If their generosity was named, then it’s important for us to not be shy about our own giving at times.
Thanking. Yes, we shouldn’t give to receive appreciation, but there are times when this is appropriate. For example, charitable groups want to say thank you to donors—and to report what’s being done with your donations. Sometimes, it’s just as important to receive thanks as to give thanks.
Encouraging faith. Some charitable groups share testimonies of what your gift means to those the organization serves. Giving to your church publicly can help your pastor and board or session know its members are supporting the work of the church, which can encourage them as well. Reading about the impact your check made in the life of someone else can encourage your faith—and the faith of others. It can also spur others to open their pocketbooks and give too. During my husband’s unemployment, family members also sent us checks from time to time. We were very encouraged to receive their aid and we could then share with the givers how God used them to help us grow in our faith.
Bookkeeping. Recipient organizations of our giving need to know who’s sending money, both for tax reporting and for donor records. You’ll also need to keep a record if you want to record your charitable giving for your taxes, so having the receiving group know what you gave when allows them to provide you with the proper documentation. It can also provide a record over the years of faithful giving that shows how God has used you to further his kingdom.
But there are times when giving without recognition is appropriate. Here are three reasons we should cloak our giving in secrecy.
3 Reasons to Give in Secret
To shore up someone else’s faith. In the example I used at the beginning, receiving the anonymous cash showed us in a tangible way God’s love. During my husband’s time of unemployment, we also received grocery gift cards in the mail from unknown senders. Knowing God had laid our need on someone else’s heart—and they answered by sending us cash and gift cards—was a wonderful faith builder.
To answer someone’s prayer. Have you ever had someone come to mind and think you should send a check or gift card to them? There are times when we pray for a need we never let anyone else know about, and someone else giving in secret could be the answer to that prayer.
To build your own faith. When we give without expectation of receiving praise or acknowledgment, our own walk with God is strengthened. We’re allowing Jesus to be the one who knows what we’ve done and he’ll continue the good work on our hearts as we’re obedient to him.
Whether you regularly give in secret or not, we should develop a heart for giving financially to the church, charities, and those in need. It’s a wonderful, tangible way we show Christ’s love to others while building our faith and theirs.