As a result of Phil Colgan’s Couldn’t Help Noticing piece in Briefing #332 (May 2006) and Sandy Grant’s response in Briefing #334 (July 2006)—both of which have been reprinted below—we thought you might find it useful to compare and contrast the approach taken in the ‘guidelines for giving’ for both Phil and Sandy’s churches in order to think a bit more about the issue.
- St. George North Anglican Church giving guide (PDF 2.1 MB);
- St. Michael’s Anglican Cathedral Church giving guide (PDF 688 KB)
Originally published in Briefing #332 (May 2006).
“Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matt 6:3)
These famous words of Jesus are often used as a basis for the claim that what a person gives to church should remain a secret, known only to God and the giver. Therefore, it is suggested, electronic giving is inappropriate because the church treasurer might know how much I give. Similarly, it is claimed that giving envelopes should be used to ensure our giving remains secret. Yet I wonder whether this was the point that Jesus was making.
Consider the wider context for a moment: Matthew 6:1-4. Firstly, this passage directly applies to giving to the needy. While it can be applied to the question of giving to church, this is not its direct application and there are other passages that speak more clearly on that topic.
Secondly, the passage is primarily concerned with our motivations rather than with our actions. The key principle is not that we shouldn’t do any acts of righteousness before men; the point is that we should do no such acts in order to be seen by men. Some people focus on the less important action instead of the motivation behind it. But Jesus does not have a problem with giving in public per se, except where the motivation is to bignote oneself before others.
Jesus makes the same point about prayer in the next few verses, yet noone would claim that Jesus is saying there should be no public prayer! He is saying that you should be careful of your motivations and aim to please God, not men. The same applies to his talk of financial giving.
The apostles had no such concerns about knowing what others give. Paul challenges the ‘rich’ Corinthian church by comparing their giving to the ‘poor’ Macedonian churches (2 Cor 8). In the famous story of Ananias and Sapphira, Peter confronts them because he knows that they have withheld money they claimed to have given (Acts 5). How does he know how much they gave? They laid their gift at the feet of the apostles.
So when do these famous words of Jesus apply to us? If you are giving so generously that you are tempted to let people know how much you give so they will think you are super-godly, then Jesus’ words apply to you. Be very careful and give in secret; do not announce to the world what you are giving. Having said this, if the church treasurer or the giving administrator knows, it’s hardly equivalent to the ‘announcing with trumpets’ that Jesus condemns! In addition, the purpose of giving envelopes is to aid regularity of giving, not to hide the amount of our gift.
However, if pride in the amount of your giving is not your temptation, then these verses do not apply to you at this time. Moreover, if this is not your temptation because the level of your giving would not make anyone proud, then you’re better off reading the Apostle Paul’s call to generosity in 2 Corinthians 8-9 before considering these words of Jesus.
Interchange from Briefing #334 (July 2006)
Giving in secret
Thanks to Phil Colgan for his note on ‘Ambidextrous giving’ exploring Matthew 6:3. He helpfully showed that this cannot be an insistence on absolute secrecy for all giving, any more than the parallel instruction to pray in private rules out all public prayer. He also notes how Paul did compare the Corinthian church’s generosity to that of the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians 8. As always, he is correct to say that the fundamental issue is attitudinal.
On the other hand, I think Phil may have over-simplified things. For example, he claims the purpose of giving envelopes is to aid regularity not to hide the amount. However this is reductionistic. I know many people for whom the envelopes function for both purposes. They wish the amount of giving to be anonymous, as well as regular, knowing how we are so often tempted to compare ourselves to others.
Further, Paul’s comparison in 2 Corinthians 8 was between groups of people, not individuals, which introduces a subtle difference in regards to individual pride. This is more akin to telling a church in a wealthy suburb that people are giving more per head in a church located in a poor area, than a reason for letting individuals know how much each other gives.
(And the example of Ananias and Sapphira is hardly a justification for letting everyone know what you give. Certainly Peter knew the amount they gave because of their public action. But Acts 5:3 and 9 seem to indicate he knew their sin of deception because of the Holy Spirit’s special revelation, not because of his own knowledge of the Jerusalem real estate market.)
Most of all, I think Phil has underweighted Jesus’ triple repetition of the importance of secrecy safeguarding sincerity back in Matthew 6. Again and again, Jesus urges us towards secrecy. Why? As an antidote to the strong temptation we face to do our righteousness to be noticed by men. Why are we so eager to say it doesn’t apply to this or that form of public giving? Perhaps we would be wiser to say we should apply secrecy wherever we can, unless truly impracticable.
If Phil is only trying to ease the consciences of people whose church treasurer knows about their electronic giving, I have no argument. But some pastors?including some I deeply respect?suggest pastors ought to deliberately reveal how much we intend to give at church so as to spur others on by our example. I am sure they are well-meaning and better leaders than I. But I still cannot see how this lines up with the words of Jesus in Matthew 6. For myself personally, I feel the temptation to self-righteousness would be too strong.
If you are a generous man or woman, who gives in secret, I am sure Matthew 5:16 will still apply. People will still see your generosity through, for example, your failure to quibble over split restaurant bills when you didn’t have the dessert, or by your frequent hospitality, or by other spontaneous acts of kindness, without ever knowing how much you put in the offertory plate.