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  • Writer's pictureKent Chevalier

Secret Serving

Let me start by saying that I’m guilty of what I’m about to write. However, in the last few years and months, God has been convicting me of my motives.

Since the epic rise of social media, the serving and volunteer work of churches, non-profits and businesses has been blasted across our feeds. It’s not a new concept, but it’s in our faces now more than ever. There are livestreams and Instagram posts of churches serving public schools and doing neighborhood prayer walks. Businesses are making commercials to show their community service with their logo watermarked in the corner of the screen throughout. Non-profits are highlighting the clients they’re helping while flashing statistics that conclude with their giving link or website.

I am struggling with this public display of serving. Most of us would look at this and think it’s great. I do too, but I also question my and their motives.

Our culture has fed the desire to let everyone know how good we are by making it normal to post our good deeds online. After all, did anything happen if it’s not posted on social media? Like the fallen tree that does or doesn’t make a sound if no one is around to hear it, did serving really take place if no one is there to see it happen?

What are the motives of people posting their serving and good deeds?

Jesus preached a famous sermon on this very topic. In what is now referred to as the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus said,

"Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

If you ever wonder if the Bible is relevant to your life today, this is another good example of the living nature of God’s word. This teaching is as relevant today as it was when Jesus originally spoke these words.

Two People. Two Rewards.

Jesus refers to two types of people and two different rewards.

Jesus said don’t be like the trumpet-blowing hypocrites. Ouch! Consider me Miles Davis. I’m that guy! My guess is that you are in that group too or you know someone who fits Jesus’ description here. A “look at me doing a good deed” hypocrite. A “get in the picture while we are on a mission trip” hypocrite. A “capture this moment for the website” hypocrite. That’s been me.

I don’t want to be that guy anymore. This is where God has been working on my motives. My heart. My perspective. I didn’t even realize that I was doing it, or maybe I did, but I still wanted people to see me doing the things that Jesus said to do in secret. I can be a good actor (which is what hypocrite means).

In the past, I’ve even convinced myself that posting or talking about my good deeds was the right thing to do to invite others to join me on the serving journey. If I give of my finances to meet the needs of others, and I invite people to join me, then they will catch the generosity bug. If I know the right thing to do is lead a servanthood lifestyle, it’s a good discipleship step to invite people to take the first step to serve.

As a pastor, I think there’s some evidence for imitation-based preaching when the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to “be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” (see 1 Corinthians 11:1) This is a good discipleship strategy. I serve, and you watch. I invite you to serve with me. You serve, and I cheer you on. You invite others to serve with you. Serving is taught and caught in discipleship.

However, I struggle with the fine line of leading by example and Jesus’ straightforward teaching about secrecy here. He really leans in on the motive of the heart when he said that all of the Louis Armstrong Christians have already received their reward. Recognition of others. More business. The applause of men. Social media followers. Funds raised. These aren’t necessarily bad rewards, but Jesus makes it easy to understand that all of these fall short of the second reward.

Jesus is clear. Don’t be the hypocrite who only serves for the claps of the crowd.

Be A Secret Server

Jesus said to be a secret server. Be a quiet giver. He went so far as to say don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is giving.

Do Jesus’ words “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” mean we should never let others know? Not necessarily. The focus is on the motive.

Our serving and generosity are to be motivated by our love for God and our focus on eternity rather than the temporary praise of people. Because of the temptation for pride that comes with public displays of serving and generosity, it is best not to draw attention to ourselves and our gifts to those in need.

Jesus never asked his followers to do something he didn’t do himself.

After healing a man of leprosy (a life-threatening skin disease), "Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ’see that you don’t tell this to anyone...'" (Mark 1:41-44). From our way of thinking, it would seem that Jesus would want everyone to know about the miracle and how he served this man, but Jesus knew that the publicity might hinder His divine mission and divert public attention from His overall message. Mark records that this is exactly what happened. In this man’s excitement over his being miraculously healed, he disobeyed Jesus’ command. As a result, Jesus had to move His ministry away from that city and into the desert regions. “Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere.” (Mark 1:45)

There’s something so attractive about Jesus when he chose to serve this man without drawing attention to himself. Jesus wanted this man to keep his miraculous healing a secret. Jesus modeled a different motive for serving. Jesus was after a different reward.

What is the second reward? Jesus is not really specific in this text, but you get the sense that it’s much better than the fleeting accolades and temporary recognition.

This is why it’s so important to allow the Bible to interpret the Bible in the context of the entire narrative. In an earlier section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to the motives of our hearts and this reward. Jesus said (recorded in Matthew 5)…

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

There it is. The reward is the glory of God. The reward is pointing people to God. The reward is watching people praise God. The reward is God Himself.

I have seen this reward firsthand multiple times. I want to share two accounts that happened to me and my family that caused us to experience this reward Jesus is talking about.

Beaver County Kid

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, my parents struggled to make ends meet. My dad lost his job when the steel industry collapsed, and he was out of solid work for a long time. During that season of struggle, I remember standing in line with my mom to get a box of non-perishable food items and food stamps from the local food bank. My dad drove a school bus and worked odd jobs while my mom babysat to help pay the bills, but there were many times when they came up short.

I’ll never forget two times when someone secretly served my family.

I could sense the stress of my parents. The bills were coming, and they were forced to make a choice. Pay the bills or feed us. We walked out onto our front porch, and there was a box of groceries. No note. No name. Just a box with a lot of food. We were all shocked, and my parents were able to pay the bills that month. As a discipleship lesson, my dad said, “Son, always remember this. God provides for His children.”

Another similar moment a few months later is seared into my memory. Again my parents were short on cash to pay the bills. My dad went to our white wagon-wheel mailbox to get the mail after work, and I watched him open an envelope and cry. He came inside to show me and my family a white envelope with the exact amount of cash my parents needed to pay the bills that month. No note. No name. All cash. My dad reiterated the discipleship lesson. “Son, when God guides, He always provides.”

I’ve always wondered who did that for us, but without a doubt, I’ve always connected those miracles back to God.

That is what secret serving does. No name. No note. But a box and envelope full of God’s glory. No one got the credit except for God. No one got the praise but God. No one (still to this day) received the glory but God. Here I am 35-40 years later recounting the goodness and faithfulness of God, and I still don’t know who did that for us. However, there will be a day when that person or those people who secretly served us will receive their reward from God. Maybe they already have. Maybe it was a neighbor. Maybe it was someone from our church. Who knows?

God does, and Jesus said they will be rewarded for their secret serving and secret generosity. We all want to know what the reward is, but that’s the mysterious beauty of secret serving. God surprises us.

Reward Me, God!

God does not always define reward the same way you and I do. When we think of God rewarding us for obeying His commands and doing life His way, we usually think of tangible, material goodies. Like a dog receiving a treat for doing the trick, we expect a reward now for serving. But God has something so much better in store for us…relationship, eternal life, and eternal rewards in mind that are beyond our imaginations. And not just a relationship with us or eternity for us. Jesus said that we shine our lights so that others will be in a relationship with God and give glory to God.

The heavenly reward is not even about you or me. The reward is God. For you and for others. That’s why we secretly serve. To give God glory.

The reward is not followers or funds raised. The reward is not brand recognition. The reward is not higher attendance in the Sunday service. The reward is not even that warm and fuzzy feeling we get when we serve.

The reward is God Himself. People are drawn to Jesus. You coming closer to God because you look more like Jesus when you serve in secret.

God’s been taking me to school on this. Like I said at the beginning, I have been the ‘Dizzy Gillespie’ of public displays of serving in my preaching and social media posts, but I want to get better at following Jesus’ instructions. I want to get better at secret serving.

I’m not going to get this right all the time, but I want to be the guy who reflects God’s glory by shining Jesus’ light that’s inside me. I also want to be the guy who deflects the glory that doesn’t belong to me. I want to put the spotlight on the King of Glory, and his name is Jesus.

Jesus made it clear that we can increase God’s glory by serving and giving in secret.

Oh, man…that’s a good line…I think I’m going to post it. 😉

Before You Go…

I want to invite you to go on a secret serving journey with me. What if we practiced serving as Jesus did? Not drawing attention to ourselves, but keeping the focus on God and the person we’re serving. I think it will be a fun experiment. It will be good to practice what we’ve just talked about. I want to give you a few ways to walk this out.

Try this idea. Serve someone this week without them knowing and watch what happens in you and in them. Work hard at not revealing that it was you.

Here’s another idea. The next time you’re tempted to post a good deed, don’t do it and see what happens inside you and the others you served. Really pay attention to how this makes you feel. Fight the urge to tell others.

Here’s another fun idea. Invite your family to think of ways you can secretly serve a neighbor, or Invite a co-worker to secretly serve another co-worker and watch what happens. My guess is that you’ll have way too much fun!

OK…last idea. If you know someone who is financially struggling right now, ask God to bring an amount to your mind that you could put into an envelope. Figure out a way to secretly deliver it to them. Be careful of those Ring doorbells. People are always watching, and you might end up on video.

I’m excited for you to try this. Have fun secret serving. God bless!


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