When Thou Doest Alms – 3 Nephi 13:1-4

1 Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.
2 Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth;
4 That thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.
(3 Nephi 13:1-4)

Jesus opens this section of the Sermon on the Mount with three religious practices which can easily become corrupted: charitable giving, prayer, and fasting. In all three cases, He tells us that if our goal is to receive the “glory of men,” then “[we] have [our] reward.” My father taught me years ago not to interpret that phrase too harshly, but rather to see it as a simple statement of fact: If your goal is to look good in the eyes of others, and if, as a result of doing good, you do look good in the eyes of others, then you have accomplished your goal and received precisely the reward you sought in the first place.

Jesus wants His disciples to know that there are much better rewards available to those who have higher motives. If your goal is to please God and to draw closer to Him, then you might perform these activities differently. You might call less attention to yourself as you perform them, and you might even do them “in secret,” thus showing your Heavenly Father that you have no ulterior motives.

But here’s the hard part: just a little earlier in this same sermon, the Savior urged us to “let [our] light so shine before this people, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 12:16). In writing about this yesterday, I said, “Don’t hide your good works. Let them shine, and let them bring glory to God.”

How can we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory messages? Here are a few thoughts:

  • It’s about our motives. The problem with the almsgiver in the first passage above was his desire to bring glory to himself. In contrast, we are to let our light shine in order to bring glory to God.
  • Surely there are times when it is better to make our good works known and times when it is better to keep them secret. For example, when we donate our time, energy, or money to a worthy cause, others may be inspired to do the same. On the other hand, when we help a friend who is experiencing private challenges, it would be better for everyone not to draw attention to the service rendered.
  • There are times when it is most natural to perform service quietly, without fanfare, and then there are times when the service that is required is inherently public in nature. If we can overcome our self-consciousness and simply focus on doing the work that needs to be done, regardless of who may or may not be aware of what we have done, then we are likely living according to the spirit of both passages above.

Today, I will strive to bring glory to God through my service. Whether I serve in more visible ways or whether I do alms in secret, I will avoid either drawing undue attention to myself or hiding my light. Instead, I will simply focus on serving others in a way that will please my Father in Heaven and help me draw closer to Him.

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