Have you ever wanted to buy a gift from one of those charitable gift catalogues? Maybe a goat, or chickens, or school supplies for people in need. These are incredible opportunities to teach your kids to think of others – I’ve done it in Children’s Ministry – and for those of you without kids, it’s also just a really fun way to do charity.
But most gift catalogues also imply that you will tell people about the gifts you buy, suggesting that you do it “in their honour” over and above or instead of buying “stuff” for them. Have you ever given your grandma the gift of “books for Guatemalan schoolchildren”? I have. It’s awkward. It might’ve been thoughtful, “because you love schoolchildren, too, right?” But what grandma wants is a token – and it doesn’t have to be big – that communicates I care about her.
But let’s not give up on those gift catalogues just yet…
Jesus, I’m sure anticipating the temptation to use Christmas to buy baby goats for people and brag about it, said this:
“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.” Matthew 6:2-4
I’d say that’s a Biblical imperative not to give your gift catalogue gifts away if there ever was one. Just give to the Guatemalan schoolchildren, and your Father, who sees what you do on the internet, will reward you.
But back to the Bible for a sec. Why the hyperbole? Commentaries suggest that the trumpet thing might’ve happened, but was likely as extreme sounding as suggesting you could keep something secret from one of your hands…
Jesus challenges us about the danger of public piety with such forceful language precisely because we don’t think it’s a problem for us. – IVP NT Bible Commentary
This isn’t saying that if you could do something good that will draw public attention you shouldn’t do it, but rather that we have a tendency to see an opportunity for doing good and use it to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others.
Doing good isn’t for the sake of doing good, rather it’s for the sake of deeper intimacy with our good God.
If you want to know what intimacy with God looks like, look to Jesus. He loved – and trusted – the Father enough to say “thy will be done, not mine.” Jesus’ actions were not an attempt to win the Father’s approval (Jesus was given that before he even started his ministry; Jesus was his son, after all, not his employee). Jesus wasn’t oriented towards impressing people, either (he made lots of enemies and continued walking towards the cross even when his closest disciples had abandoned him). Jesus lived with his eyes on his Father – the only one whose approval mattered – so that we can now say, “Our Father.”
When you follow Jesus (even to the cross) it may be hard and lonely at times but God’s way is the truth and life: God’s way is Jesus.
Here’s a prayer you can pray. It’s my prayer, too.
We adore you because you sent your son. We see perfect love in Jesus Christ.
We confess that the hopes and yearning of our hearts often point in the wrong direction, away from you. We vie for position over and above others. We compare ourselves to others, and compete in an imaginary race, when you have already made us children of God.
We thank you, Lord, that you offer us acceptance and a love that satisfies our deepest need because of what Christ has done. We thank you for the scriptures and ask that you would help us have eyes to see the truth: to see your son, Jesus Christ.
Please help us be aware of where in our lives we’ve oriented our heart towards people’s approval before yours. Give us your courage and strength to follow you even when it is unpopular. Please be our source of security, our peace, our hope. Orient our hearts towards you.
This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. – Psalm 91:2 (NLT)