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Don’t Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand is Doing
Posted by Clare
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In the last month, I’ve been on the campuses of three Christian colleges. I noticed that every one had buildings named after their donors. I was immediately reminded of Jesus words in Matthew.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.   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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

So, how do Christian institutions justify putting the names of donors on buildings or publicly identifying a major donor of a lead gift, when Jesus clearly says, do not do that!

The answer is obvious. Christian colleges, ministries and even churches encourage donors to name buildings, athletic fields or scholarships because they can raise more money if they do. It works!

So, let’s talk about how some have tried to justify this fundraising gimmick and what you can do to discourage it.

An inconvenient truth
I’ve met with the leadership of a number of ministries or schools over the years to challenge them on this practice. Invariably, they will respond this way; “We don’t have a problem with Matthew 6, because the donor is the one who must make that choice. If they believe it’s wrong, then they shouldn’t do it.”

The second reason often given by development people is that it encourages other people to give if they know a big-time Christian business person, supports their institution.

I always begin with this question. “But, what do you personally believe Jesus is teaching in this passage?” I want to hear if they are hearing the same thing as I am. Most admit Jesus’ teaching is fairly clear. Christians should give privately and anonymously, if they hope to please God.

If that’s what they say they believe, then my second set of questions are usually these, “When you offer naming possibilities or even allow them to do so, aren’t you tempting fellow Christians to violate a clear teaching of Jesus? And, do you really think God gives us a ‘bye’ on a clear teaching of Jesus, if it encourages other people to donate?”

At that point, it generally gets very uncomfortable, because they know how much money they have, and can raise by appealing to the ego’s of wealthy Christians and they hate being reminded of this inconvenient truth. I had one development person actually walk out of a meeting at that point.

By the way, I don’t think there’s a problem naming buildings after a great professor, or college president, or ministry founder – someone they wish to honor. Just not the donor.

I’ve also seen buildings donated by a family, who didn’t put their own names on it, but the name of a family patriarch. But everyone knows where the money came from and it probably wasn’t the dead guy! So, that’s only a variation of naming the building after yourself.

In all fairness, most of the ministries we’ve spoken to about this practice, hadn’t really given the subject much thought. The practice is so wide spread, that it’s just assumed to be acceptable to the Christian community. It shouldn’t be.

Addressing the Problem
Here’s a policy Susan and I have adopted on this subject.

1. We will not give to any ministry, school or church who uses the “naming” technique for fundraising, once we let them know what we believe on the subject.
2. We will not give to any ministry or school that lists donors by category. (i.e. Gold, Platinum Donors, or Lead Gift, etc.) We don’t mind if names of all donors are listed to show who supports this ministry. But then the million-dollar donor should be listed right alongside of the $5.00 donor. No distinctions.
3. We will not give to ministries that honor a large donor publicly at a banquet or other events.
4. We try to educate ministries and friends about what we believe the Bible teaches about giving in secret. Therefore, consider forwarding this to friends who sit on ministry boards or who are generous donors.

The truth is, a ministry will probably raise less money if they adopt a no naming policy. Appealing to vanity, generally raises more money. Nevertheless, according to my reading of Matthew 6, it’s wrong and God neither values the gift, nor gives credit to the giver. The purposes of God can never be accomplished by violating a clear teaching of God.

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Comments (13)
  1. Brett said...

    Great article. One thought? What if the organization were to change their motive on raising money, from as you described above, to relying on Jesus to provide rather than man? John 16:24 comes to mind as I read this.

    • Clare said...

      Brett, there are plenty of examples in the Bible of godly people letting their needs, or the needs of other people, be know to other believers. The building of the Temple was one, when all the people were asked for a contribution. Then in II Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul makes it very clear who needs what and why and really strong arms people. So while there is a place for going to God privately and asking him for what ever we need, it’s also acceptable to ask others for help. The problem I’m trying to address is the questionable motive of both the giver and the “asker” of a donation.

  2. Dan said...

    Clare, it seems to me that Jesus is using “giving to the needy” as simply one example of “practicing righteousness.” There are many other ways that we “practice righteousness”. Your book, which I devoured in 3 hours yesterday, is full of examples of you and others “practicing righteousness.” As we know, God looks not only at our acts but more importantly our hearts, and I believe this passage speaks mostly to the motives of our hearts. I think, in the specific case of “the needy” our Lord is also speaking to the negative affects and embarassment of being the one who is “taking a handout” because they are unable to help themselves. Clearly, it is easier and less degrading to accept help from an anonymous donor. Clearly donor anonymity benefits and respects the needy. My 1st question is do you believe Jesus intended to include Christian schools and ministries when he referred to “the needy”? If so, should I be making all of my donations anonymously so those institutions do not know where the gift is coming from?

    My second question has to do with motives when Jesus says at the end of the 1st sentence, “to be seen by them.” That is the motive I believe Jesus is warning us about. What if our heart is in the right place and our act of righteousness is seen publicly, but not for the purpose of being seen by others? Public acts of righteousness can be done for many motives, not all bad ones. I always begin to worry when we ascribe motives and start believing we can understand or judge someone else’s heart. You’ve made many acts of righteousness quite public in your book. I’m glad you did, and I’m quite certain your heart was in the right place as you did. But only God knows for sure.

    Sorry to ramble on, but I’m not sure it’s quite as black and white as you see it. Your book inspired me, and tomorrow I begin my 10-4-30 journey. Thank you and God bless you.

    • Clare said...

      Dan, thank you for your thoughtful comments. First, when Jesus in Matthew 6 gives us this warning, I don’t think it has anything to do with who we give the gift to.
      All the warnings in Matthew 6 about giving, praying, and fasting are meant specifically to address the motives of the heart. Here are three virtuous acts that Jesus encouraged his followers to do, that could actually be a sin if our motives are self serving. So where you give isn’t the issue Jesus is addressing here, it’s “why” you’re giving.

      As to your second question about public righteousness and in particular how does my writing about my “acts of righteousness” not violate that warning. Great question and it’s one I really wrestled with while writing. Here’s the naked truth; There are times in my life that I love it when people notice or mention my virtuous behavior. The question is, am I virtuous primarily to be seen by others? More naked truth; yes, I have been. And when I am, I think these passages of scripture tell me that I’ve received all the reward I’ll ever get for them. They will not be credited to me in the final judgement.

      Regarding the stories in the book. I honestly tried to balance my “acts of righteousness” with stories of failure as well. But then, I’ve had people compliment me for my honesty which I received with great pride. It’s complicated! I have to constantly examine why I do anything. If my motive is truly to bring God glory, or do something kind for someone, and not win the praises of men, but they subsequently are noticed by others, I can live with that. I think God can also.

  3. Jim McNaughton said...

    Clare, thank you for bringing up this topic. When I became a Christian at age 27 I was very sensitive to christian hypocrisy such as this. Unfortunately, now at age 56 I don’t say as much about it. I’m glad you do. While I am a hypocrite many times myself, I believe talking about our failures is the first step in recognizing them and then we can ask Jesus to cleanse us of them. By the way, God told Charles F. Stanley of to start and grow his ministry by not asking for donations. God told me to donate the $200 I had been saving for a laptop computer and 2 months later God provided a laptop costing much more than that. God’s math is not my math. Can colleges raise more money if they appeal to ego? I think they have to first trust and obey the God they are supposedly serving to find out.

  4. Jim McNaughton said...

    Clare, I think I asked the wrong question at the end of my last comment. I don’t think raising more money is the issue. I think obeying God is the issue. If you don’t obey God you can’t follow Him. And if you are not following Him you are irrelevant until you do follow Him. And, if you are not following Him you can’t lead others to Him, which is the reason for raising the money in the first place.

    • Clare said...

      Jim, I agree. God isn’t interested in what “works” He want us to trust him enough to obey him. Whatever is the result of that IS HIS WILL!

  5. Randall Richnow said...

    Jesus when you give to the “poor”, the “needy”. He didn’t say that for anything else. It’s not about being “righteous” when you donate to a building. It may be out of love for the work being done and you want others to know you loved helping.

    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Richard, I realise Jesus was talking about the needy. However, the point of all three of the illustrations in Matthew 6 giving, fasting and prayer, is a warning about pride. Giving, praying and fasting, without anyone knowing is the best test of our true motives. jesus’ teaching in this chapter has almost nothing to do with the actual practice of stewardship, prayer or fasting.

  6. Salvador said...

    I think this is a good example, on how we tend to keep putting The Word of God in full context (literally) The teachings in the Bible are not complex, and are clear when interpreted the way it is meant to. One thing is for sure, and I think anybody who follows the teachings this Text, there is no contradicting in the Holly teachings, God dislikes hypocrisy. So one thing bares in mind whenever somebody wants to challenge a thing like this, and I always think of God, and what He tells us about our life on earth. God gave us free will, to be and do whatever we wish. It makes no sense to me that if someone wanted to put the name of a donor on a building, they should be condemned for it, that’s their choice. What we are failing to see here is the message, and what God wants us to get from this is, be generous and give to the needs, if you have abundance, it wouldn’t hurt you to share. But let not your generosity be for fame, to be glorified or for any profitable gain. That is hypocrisy, and those who see it could been discouraged.

    The way I look at it, is that the commandments were not forced on us by someone who wants us to do, say and act as He says, that sounds and feels like a self-centered, self-glorified act from anybody. The commandments were given to us, as a guide, so that we could stand a chance of overcoming the evil that challenge us every day. The message is there to see, and if we could stop focusing in our desires we would see only His message, and not all of the distractions the evil in our minds has influenced us to be focused in. In all what I’m saying is, yes it’s bad to do things solely for attention, benefit, fame or to be glorified, it is hypocritical and sinful, but someone showing their works may not always be for selfish reasons even though it may seam like it. Regardless of the case, if there’s wrong doing, then they have to confront God at judgement, for may be wrongfully condemning someone. At the end of the day God gave us free will, and the choice to do as we see fit. Sure there will be wrong, there will be evil. Those who choose to do against God, if God has punishment for theme, then they shall have to face that when that time comes. For those who lived right in God’s eyes will find out when that time comes.

    From my perspective, we should pay attention to the message it gives us, and not focus on all the drama and what not that isn’t important. They were only put there to distracts us, and influence our minds so we can argue and fight amongst each other.
    Remember, love those who dislikes you, feed those who let you starve, cloth those who robbed you of your coat and give shelter to those who left you homeless. I think the main thing to get here is to learn to turn the other cheek.

    Like I said earlier, about taking things to literally. This don’t mean you go find people who stole from you to give them the rest of your stuff, buy a house to someone who left you homeless or feed everybody who did nothing when you where hungry. Just listen to the message, don’t let what other people do discourage you from doing good, no mater how bad it effects you (like loosing your home) stay good and don’t let evil influence your mind and your Hart. Don’t hate, Love. Don’t take, give. And when something hurts you, don’t inflict pain back, but turn away from that anger.

    Thanks for hearing me and letting me share my thoughts.
    Keep Love and God first, always. And may God bless us.

    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Salvador, thanks for writing your very thoughtful comments. Here’s where I would take issue with you. When God gives us a command, he expects it to be carried out by his people. Yes, he’s given us free will, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care which choices we make. The commandments were not given as a guide. They are called the “law” precisely because they are way more than suggestions on how we should live, and to ignore them is to do so at our peril.
      I wrote a blog some time back entitled, “What God meant to say was…..” The creator of the universe is not inarticulate. He has make himself quite clear. If he’s not, then yes, we may have personal freedom in that area. But in Matthew 6, when Jesus says, “Do your giving in secret” I think he means, do your giving in secret. Period.

      It’s not a hard thing to do. It’s simple really. You don’t have to pluck your eye out, or offer your first born. The only reason I can think of to violate that command is pride. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way….”

  7. Question said...

    I have a question, what about tithing and giving to church and putting your name and address on the offering envelope. Would that violate this teaching? It’s no longer in secret and you get your reward as in a tax exemption by donation but are you still given a reward by your father in Heaven?

    One clarification and perhaps you made it already. It doesn’t state you won’t get your reward it states you get the reward of what men offer in full (Matt 6:2AMP) and in this case your name on a building, etc. which is so much lower of a reward than what God gives in full.

    Also how does that verse tie into what we notice with Jesus. I noticed throughout the New Testament writings in regards to Jesus that people saw what Jesus did. They saw his prayers, they saw him heal the sick, they saw him raise the dead, they saw him perform miracles and He is seated at the right hand of the Father. (Best reward ever!!!) The difference, Jesus didn’t brag about it or do it for others to see,He just went about doing what the Father told Him to do. He also told people, do not tell who healed you, but they told anyways. What is the difference of giving in secret versus letting your actions that have to be seen to testify of God and Hos goodness. I am praying about all of this too.

    Thank you for your time. I so appreciate your truth and kindness to our responses. May Gods Holy hand continue to be upon you.

    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Jane, thank for you questions. I wouldn’t worry about writing checks with your name on it. In Matthew 6 Jesus is more concerned about our motives than the method. My rule of thumb is, just don’t go out of your way to be noticed by others.

      Regarding Jesus; when Jesus did miracles, it’s true that people praised him for doing them. And they should. When they praised Jesus, they were praising God! Matthew 5:16 is my life verse. It is a great reminder of who should always get the glory.

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