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Double-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

Matthew 6:1–4

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret. And you Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In this passage and those surrounding it, Jesus compares the rewards of “the hypocrites” and those who follow his words. But some of the subtlety of the lesson is lost in translation. When describing the reward of the hypocrites, the Greek word used for reward denotes giving of a receipt for a full payment—in other words, a commercial transaction.

This is important because it creates an important distinction, a distinction between giving because of what it gives the recipient and giving because of what it gives the giver. Should praise become the motivation of a gift, the gift ceases to be a gift because it has become instead the purchase of praise.

This is why our Lord warns us against announcing our good deeds. He wants us to love, to give of ourselves, to give ourselves truly as gifts. But even in this, there is temptation. If we allow ourselves praise for our good works, we risk falling into the trap of purchasing praise. And then we become self-directed instead of other-directed.

The idea is this: in giving, let us be so other-directed that we become self-forgetful. Let us be so focused the outstretched hands of the needy that our own hands are unaware of what the other is doing.