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. Matthew 6:1-2
“If you give alms to men with thought of being charitable before men, and if you desire to be honored because of our generosity, we receive only the reward from men. If fact, universally, everything that is done by someone who is conscious that he will be glorified by men has no reward from Him who beholds in secret. For He renders the reward in secret to those who are pure.”
Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-254) 9.444, in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 10.
Origen is known widely as the “father of Christian theology” because of the role he played in a tumultuous time in the early church. Christians faced persecution from Rome and attacks from heretics. He is most widely known for his philosophical work, First Principles, which set forth doctrines like the Trinity, and his thoughtful response to pagan attacks in Against Celsus. God worked through him to help people think clearly in crisis.
“Universally” we need to think rightly about the glory side of generosity. In the ancient Mediterranean world, “love of honor” (Greek: philotimia) was a cherished value. The cultural patterns prescribed that people should give glory and exalt people who do good. The thinking prevails today, perhaps just with different forms pomp than we find in antiquity. For example, we don’t see many trumpets in streets, but we do hear a lot of horn-tooting.
Considering the context, which was both self-absorbed and antagonistic to Christianity, his universal counsel could not be more relevant for us today. The world may be watching what we do, because our generosity should be other-worldly, but our focus must not be on what they think of us or any praise they give us, but on God’s glory alone. Origen’s desire for followers of Christ and mine today is that we live for the praise of God and focus only on what He thinks of us in secret.
Jesus, cleanse us of impure motives related to our living, giving, serving, and loving this Advent as we wait for Your coming.