“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.”
— Matthew 6:1–4
We all love the sound of it, especially when we’re the recipients. The universal sound of two hands coming together in appreciation of our words or actions is an exhilarating experience. That melodious sound is so intoxicating that it can become the object of our affection. We will do whatever it takes to earn and experience it, even if it requires a little self-promotion.
This behavior may be commonplace in our society, but it is certainly not unique to it. Jesus encountered the same kind of behavior when He walked the earth thousands of years ago. And He cautioned his followers against it.
In His day, there was a practice among some of blowing trumpets to announce an upcoming act of service or kindness. (While this may seem a bit over the top to us, consider that Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t have the convenience of social media like we do.) Jesus encouraged his learners not just to lay down their brass but to lay down their right to recognition as well.
Does this mean we should never serve in public? If someone else will see what we’re doing, should we refrain from doing it? No, the issue is not a question of visibility but of motivation. Public service tempts us toward impure motives in a way that private acts do not.
The secret, Jesus said, was not to serve empty-handed but one-handed. Our service should be so discreet that not even our other hand knows what’s going on. This may seem a bit exaggerated until we realize that sometimes we ourselves are the ones who most need to be kept in the dark about our serving.
Why is this? Because we are often the first ones to pat ourselves on the back, even before the applause begins. But if one hand is serving and the other is clueless, there is no hand left for back-patting. Instead, serving others simply becomes a rhythm of life and not an orchestrated performance.
So rather than back-patting, we should be head-scratching and soul-searching in response to Jesus’ words. Knowing that Jesus was a servant who did not seek the applause of others gives us a model we can follow. The One who deserved all recognition and praise did not seek it for Himself. And while we know about many of His miracles and good deeds, there are many others we will never know anything about this side of heaven. May it be the same with us as well. Let’s use our hands to serve others and leave the applause to the only One whose praise truly matters.