What does it mean that we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3–4)?

The phrase "not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing" is used by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount in reference to our behavior in giving. In full, Matthew 6:3–4 states: "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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Clearly, this command from Jesus is not literal, but what does it mean?

Really, Jesus is talking about what the condition of our hearts should be when we give. There were hypocritical people in Jesus' day who would give charitably to the poor and were very public about it. They wanted others to notice and recognize them for their generosity. While they may have been recognized for their generous acts, Jesus assured His hearers that "they have received their reward" (Matthew 6:2). In contrast, those who give "in secret," for the joy of giving rather than for the appearance of generosity or spirituality, will be rewarded by God.

In Matthew 6, Jesus discusses giving, prayer, and fasting—and ties all three of them in to the promise of storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21; cf. Colossians 3:2). Jesus talks of keeping things secret between our left and right hands as an illustration of how confidential we should be with our giving, and, even more importantly, how humble the posture of our hearts should be. When we give to others without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing, we are avoiding hypocrisy in our motivation and storing up eternal treasures. The focus in all of these acts is worshipping God, not making ourselves feel righteous or trumpeting our sense of holiness for others to applaud.

Does this mean that we should never tell anyone about our giving? Not really; there is no inherent hypocrisy in the act of giving. In general, it is wise to refrain from the temptation to be prideful that could come from making our generosity a public display. The primary thing that we need to keep in check is the motivation behind our giving. We should give from a place of loving the Lord and focusing on eternity instead of human praise and validation.

Related Truth:

Why is giving such a focus in the Christian faith?

How are Christians not of this world?

What is a Christian's inheritance in Christ?

What does the Bible say about things with true eternal value?

How can I glorify God? What does it mean to glorify God?

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