Secret Love and Dwindling Lights

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:3-4)
I was in a conversation on Saturday night with a friend in which this passage was brought up as a reason that the church shouldn't be involved in corporate loving, i.e. loving people through the church with church funds. In their view, loving others should be done on an individual basis and in a completely private way. We were working through our thoughts, so I don't really know if that is the conclusion that he is going to end up at. However, I do think it is the conclusion that many Christians have ended up at.

This teaching of giving your alms in secret comes from Jesus in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, right after the section on loving your enemies and right before two other similar sections about praying and fasting in secret.

Right at the beginning of this same sermon, Jesus taught a principle that rubs differently:
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).
Despite popular thinking in the other direction, Jesus taught that we are to do our good works so that others may see them. There isn't any secret meaning to that teaching, no hidden message. It flat out says that our good works are supposed to be seen by others. So if you have been using "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing" to not do loving actions, I think you are sadly mistaken.

So what was Jesus saying? How do we do our good works so that others may see them if we are supposed to keep our good works secret? It seems very consistent with the Old Testament prophets. Religious acts like prayer, fasting, and tithing are not to be done for show because God is not glorified by other people seeing someone doing religion acts. It brings no attention to God, just attention to the doer. So if you are a great tither, or a powerful person of prayer, or an incredible and dilligent faster - keep it up but keep that to yourself. It doesn't bring God any glory for you to share your spiritual prowess.

However, good works, by their very nature, involve other people. They can't be done without another person. But here is the key. The passage ends with the reason of why we do good works: "So that they may see your good works and give glory to God." We live a life of love so that God may be glorified. If we do loving actions so that the attention is drawn to us, then I would say the principle that was expressed in the alms section applies to us. The principle to not do the things of God for the attention of others would be broken. However, loving actions always involves others so we need to make sure that our hearts are in the right place. Getting hung up on doing loving actions in secret is often an excuse to not love and a hindrance to us loving effectively. Instead of being a place of rescue for the emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally wounded, we just become a church of pious, religious people.

There is no verse that teaches us to love people in secret so that our light doesn't shine. We need to love others so that people will see those acts of love and - this is the main point - give glory to our Father in heaven.