The Wrong Way of Giving: Showing Off

Jesus said, “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 (Matt. 6:2). The words, “when you give to the needy,” reads in the Greek literally, “when you do alms.” Judaism teaches almsgiving as a core act of righteousness. The Jews followed three religious duties—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Islam followed it centuries later, but added two more duties—reciting the faith and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

In the book of Tobit 12:9, “For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life.” The Jews believed that almsgiving is a very important religious duty.

So Jesus says, When you give alms to the poor, “sound no trumpets.” In Jesus’ time, the Jews would hold times of fasting. During these times of fasting, whenever a large gift of money is given, they would blow trumpets. (G. Friedrich, TDNT 7:87–88)  It’s similar to how they thank donors of school buildings today. They would put the names of donors on the walls of schools. Have you noticed that whenever you pass by public schools? It’s a modern way of blowing trumpets for the donation.

In those days, there were thirteen money chests in the temple. These money chests were shaped like standing trumpets—narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom. Of the thirteen money chests, eleven were for voluntary offerings.[1] People would come in and put coins inside these money chests. Imagine the clang of the coins when people put them in.

Jesus said, when you give, don’t sound trumpets. When you give, don’t announce it. Don’t make others hear it or know it. Don’t show off when you give. That’s what the “hypocrites” do.

[1] “The Court of the Women in the Temple: The Temple Treasury.” Cited August 16, 2014. Online: http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/the_temple_treasury.html

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