One of the most intriguing new shows on TV is Undercover Boss. The premise goes like this: the CEO of a company dresses up in disguise and works a blue collar job for one week, to see what life is like at the bottom of the corporate food chain. For example, a recent episode featured Bryan Bedford, the CEO of an airline who has an MBA. Bedford donned a wig and attempted to clean the interior of an airplane in less than seven minutes! He also loaded luggage and even cleaned lavatories. What is genius about the show is watching a CEO humble him/herself as he/she bumbles around. In one scene, Bedford accidentally sprayed himself with blue lavatory cleaner!
Amazingly, this hit TV shot has unwittingly promoted one of the Bible’s most essential spiritual disciplines: the discipline of service. In Matthew 6:1—4 Jesus said “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them…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 men….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.”
Notice how Jesus said “when you give to the needy”: this means giving is a presumed spiritual activity, like prayer or Bible study. Jesus EXPECTS us to give. To give what? In the original language “give to the needy” is literally translated “doing alms.” Specifically, it means financial giving to poor individuals. Now, on one hand, giving is one of many spiritual acts of service for a Christian; on the other hand, it is a crucial and special one. When you give to a person, you are not only serving that person, you are also serving God. Proverbs 19:17 (NLT) says “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will replay you!”
Jesus also stated that our motivation for giving matters: he clearly condemned selfish giving, giving in order to get something in return. The “hypocrites” gave in such a way that attracted attention. They were giving as a show, so they would be seen as religious or pious.
That’s why Jesus instructed you and me to “give in secret.” He wants us to give discreetly, even anonymously so that our giving may be pure. God does not want us to give for the applause of men, but only for his applause.
Now keep in mind, when you give in secret, you are going to face resistance: giving and serving in secret are hard, because our sinful nature fights it. Author Richard Foster is right on when he says “More than any other single way the grace of humility is worked into our lives through the Discipline of service…Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition.”
So when it comes to giving, how are you doing? Are you giving and serving in secret?
If not, but you want to try it out, here are two suggestions. Firstly, be available to serve. If I see someone with a need but I am not willing to stop, then I cannot serve him. I encourage you to take a personal inventory: are you in such a rush that you cannot stop for five minutes to buy someone a cup of coffee, or ten minutes to help change a flat tire? If you don’t have time, start to make time. Leave for your destination earlier, or block out a few hours on a Saturday. I even heard of one person who took a day off from work so he could have a “day of secret service”: he made himself available to his family to do whatever tasks needed to be done, but he did not disclose his reason to them.
Secondly, help someone in need. Give a hug. Make a meal. Send a pizza. Buy a book. Pray with a person. Repair something. Write a card. And when you do, you are living out the words and the example of Jesus Christ, who has challenged you and me to serve in secret.