“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 6:2–4, ESV)
Jesus’ point is that we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. In this case, it is a good thing to help the poor, but it should be done for the benefit of the poor rather than for acclaim. Leon Morris, in his excellent commentary on Matthew, says this about the hypocrites:
“They were more interested in ensuring that they were known as benefactors than in genuinely helping the poor; reputation rather than relief of poverty was what mattered to them.”
We see this played out in our political arena today. One the one hand, some politicians make a great show of helping the poor and on the other hand, some argue that they are poor because of lack of effort. The functional question is whether the poor are actually helped or if they are being used for personal or political gain.
My point is not to make a political statement, but to illustrate that this is a universal problem. We can do what appears to be the right thing for selfish reasons.
The challenge for Christians is that we can make a great show of being willing to help without doing what is required to actually help.
For example, do our short term missions projects provide any lasting benefit? When we parachute in, spend a week and then leave, do we accomplish anything that lasts? Are we going there for our benefit or for the benefit of those who we are visiting? Are we doing projects and giving money because we are prompted by God to do so or are we doing it so that we can be seen as being generous or being spiritual? These are questions that need to be asked.
They need to be asked because we are fallen creatures and our motives are less than pure. Jesus is not saying that we should not give to the poor if our hearts are not exactly right, but we should be aware that our motives may be less than ideal when we do it.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that our minds are in need of constant renewal and an examination of our motives for doing charitable works is part of that renewal process.
Keep doing the right thing and pray that God will move us closer to doing it for the right reason.