“The paid off home mortgage has replaced the BMW as the status symbol of choice” (Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace). I’m not sure that everyone buys into that notion, but Ramsey has certainly changed the minds of many of his listeners in regard to their emphasis on “stuff.” But better money management that leads to the paid off mortgage is still about money. What we think of ourselves and what others think about us, in America, has so much to do with our money and how we use it.
Though perhaps archaic, “alms” is still the word most frequently associated with giving for spiritual cause. So I believe you’ll understand what I mean when I say that status, money, and church intersect at “alms giving.” The big giver has replaced the “service to all” as the status symbol of choice in the church. Righteous and giving were for Jews in the days of Matthew’s writing nearly synonymous. That’s why you see these different translations of the same passage in Matthew 6:1:
“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.”
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia comments about alms, “The later Jews often used "righteousness" as meaning alms, that being in their view the foremost righteousness.”
In the culture of Matthew’s readers, then, giving lots of money at the synagogue purchased lots of praise because giving lots was evidence of lots of righteousness. That says a lot, doesn’t it?
There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that givers were actually “announcing it with trumpets,” but they were making sure that their charity was known by all around in some way. Maybe you drop a hint, maybe you make sure your check is facing upward in the plate as it is passed, or maybe you hold the cash a little higher than you have to hold it. Maybe you can’t think of a way that lets people know about your “big giving,” but you wish you could. Jesus wants us to evaluate what our actions say about our motives. The question of the day is: Can you give generously without letting anyone know that you’ve done it?