Matthew 6:1-4
The Definition of Discipleship

The Caution in Practice (v. 1)

  1. Virtue signalling
  2. Vanity satisfied
  3. Victory lost

The Caricature of the Proud (v. 2)

  1. Blowing their own horn
  2. Blowing God’s reward


The Character Preferred (vv. 3-4)

  1. Secretive giving for God’s glory
  2. Satisfaction given in God’s glory


More to Consider

Virtue signaling is off-limits for the follower of Christ. If people happen to see you giving money to the poor, so be it; but the motivation should never be so that people will notice you. God looks on the heart, not the outward man (1 Samuel 16:7). As one commentator writes, “The secrecy of our charity is one good evidence of its sincerity” (William Burkitt, Commentary on the New Testament, entry for Matthew 6:1). What about Matthew 5:16? Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Is this a command to engage in virtue signaling? No, this is not a reference to boasting or announcing our good works (in the same sermon, Jesus warns against such ostentation—see Matthew 6). The Lord’s words in Matthew 5:16 are telling us that, in living an obedient life, others cannot help but notice (cf. 1 Peter 1:15). The glory is God the Father’s, not ours.

It’s one thing to want to be good, to lead a virtuous life, to stand behind moral values of consequence. It’s altogether another to want other people to know just how good we are. Herein lies the danger of virtue signaling: it’s mostly talk. Signalers can trumpet their outrage or anger, or indicate support for fashionable causes, all without obligating themselves to any substantive action that might bring more hope and healing to the world. And this signaling relies on criticizing others, implicitly or explicitly, in order to boost one’s own image by comparison.   Peter W. Marty,

To sum up, our Christian giving is to be neither before men (waiting for the clapping to begin), nor even before ourselves (our left hand applauding our right hand’s generosity) but ‘before God’, who sees our secret heart and rewards us with the discovery that, as Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’  John Stott