One of the temptations of ministry and Christian service, whether it be a pastor or congregation, is to do it for show. This is nothing new. In fact, Jesus warned those in his day against this temptation.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with the trumpets, as hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men.
I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” —Matthew 6:1-4
The “acts of righteousness” referred to here were practices associated with the synagogue. Most understood that Jesus’ reference to the hypocrites were the scribes and Pharisees. It was not so much what they were doing, but it was their motivation. All the religious activities they were doing were good things, but their motive was wrong. They were not doing these things to bring glory to God, but to draw attention to themselves.
Jesus understood that it was a temptation for his followers to fall into the same temptation, and it was for this reason that he warned them to “be careful.” The terms "before men” and “to be seen by them” again indicated that their motivation was to be honored by others and not to bring glory to God. Those who were doing this were indeed hypocrites.
Our Lord also added one further point as to why his disciples should not succumb to the temptation to do acts of righteousness for show. He said that if they did, they would have no reward from their Father in heaven. The recognition from others would be their only reward. That recognition was temporary, but the Father’s heavenly reward is eternal.
As Jesus continues, he warns against “announcing with the trumpets” when giving to the needy, whether in the synagogue or on in the street. There is no consensus among Bible scholars as to the meaning of “announcing with the trumpets,” but his point was clear. They were not to call attention to themselves by whatever means. And again he reminded them that if they did, they would have received their reward in full.
In verses 3-4, Jesus uses hyperbolic language to make his point. When giving to the needy, he told them not to even let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. And why? “So that you’re giving may be done in secret.”
While in this passage Jesus specifically mentions acts of righteousness and giving to the needy, I believe his teaching would also apply to Christian service. While the temptation exists to call attention to ourselves so that others will notice us, Jesus said it all ought to be done in secret. And to encourage his followers to do so, he reminded them that even when no one else notices what we do, that our Father sees us and will reward us.
One commentator summarizes these verses in this way: “Do all you can to avoid drawing attention to yourself.” He also says: “The observation of this principle would change the face of much of the Christian ministry in our day!”
If one spends any time looking at the publicity of some churches, Christian ministries, or individuals, he would think that they are doing just the opposite. There are numerous photos of groups and individuals involved in some form or service. While the intention may not be to call attention to themselves, it certainly may be perceived that they are doing so with so much publicity
By the way, Christian service should not be just a scheduled event. How many Christians who never participate in a “Serve Day” are serving quietly behind the scenes? They are never noticed by others, photographed, or dressed in a t-shirt to call attention to their service.
If the goal of one’s Christian service is to bring glory to God and provide genuine service to others that will benefit them, then is all the publicity necessary? Let’s perform our Christian service with no fanfare, and then our Father who sees what is done “in secret” will reward us.
Chip Warren is the past president of the Albertville Ministerial Fellowship.