Today’s chapter: Matthew 6
When firefighter Ryan McCuen responded to a call in February, he encountered a unique situation. He met a mom whose bedridden 18-year old son was on a ventilator. Ryan discovered that the electricity service to the home had been shut off because of an unpaid bill. To make matters worse, the emergency battery power on the ventilator was about three hours away from running out.
Ryan’s response to this crisis was where the story takes a turn. He took a picture of their electric bill, and then personally paid it in full. The total came to $1,023.76. The generosity and kindness he showed this family have brought him national recognition as a hero. You can read the full story here.
Although I’ve not read anything indicating whether Ryan is a Christian, his example models some important lessons that Christ followers would do well to note.
“Wait a minute… what? I thought in today’s passage Jesus said when we give to the needy we’re not supposed to announce it. He said our giving is supposed to be done in secret.”
Yes, that’s exactly what Jesus said. But it isn’t ALL that He said on this subject. That’s why it is important for us to read His sermon in its entirety to find out (as Paul Harvey used to say) the REST of the story.
I’ve seen Christians use the first few verses of Matthew 6 to beat up on other Christians when they got recognition for doing something good or helping someone in need. “They shouldn’t be publicizing when they help somebody. That’s not what it’s about. The Bible says they have their reward in full.”
It always amazes me when someone launches this sort of criticism of others, then a week later I see that very same person posting on Facebook about the awesome thing he/she did to help someone else. Maybe I’m weird, but sometimes people’s hypocrisy just makes me laugh. I realize they weren’t concerned about the do-gooder’s spiritual growth. They were just jealous of the attention they got. They want people to know they’re like Ron Burgundy: kind of a big deal.
Firefighter McCuen initially wanted to keep his good deed anonymous. He realized, though, that the family needed more assistance than he was able to give on his own. His desire to call attention to their plight outweighed his inclination to stay unidentified, so he let others know about what he had done. In a similar way, a Christian’s desire to give in secret should sometimes be outweighed by another inclination…
What the critics often overlook is what Jesus said earlier in this very same sermon. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Jesus teaches that when people see the ways you show God’s love to others, they now have an opportunity and reason to praise Him. That means: 1) sometimes I need to let people see my good works, and 2) I need to make sure I connect the dots from my actions to God’s love.
When we compare what Jesus said in Luke 5 and Luke 6 to put it all together, we realize He isn’t saying don’t ever let anybody know when you do good. He’s saying: don’t do it for personal praise. If the underlying motive for your kind actions is so that others will notice you, then Jesus says you’ll get exactly the reward you wanted. People will think you’re awesome and brag on you and celebrate your compassionate heart, but don’t expect any reward from Him. Because He knows why you really did it.
But if you get the motive right and are wanting people to see God’s love through your actions, then He specifically tells us to let people see our good deeds. Help them connect the dots so they see that the real source of this love isn’t an awesome neighbor, but a loving Savior.
Find a need today and meet it. Do an act of kindness for someone. If you’re doing it to demonstrate God’s love, then be sure to make that clear. If you’re modeling compassion for someone you’re mentoring, then explain your motivation. But if you’re unsure whether your real motive is for others to be impressed by you, then keep your actions a secret. Allow God to continue to grow your heart so that soon you can let your light shine so that others see Him more clearly.