“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.Matthew 6:1-4 NIV
“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. 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.
A Warning About Practicing Righteousness
Matthew 6:1-18 discusses three related teachings, although many of our translations break it up into three discrete sections. You might call this overall section a warning about the outward practice of our faith. The three practices that Jesus touches on are all good and should be practiced as followers of Jesus. But there is a trap that we need to be careful not to fall into.
These outward practices Jesus refers to include giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. And there could be others. But when we do them, we need to be careful about our motivations. Are we doing them to impress others? Or as an act of devotion to God? Jesus’ warning to us, specifically in this opening verse, but also throughout the section, is that if we are practicing these ‘acts of righteousness’ to be seen by people, their acclaim will be all we receive. Only if we are focused on God in doing these things can we expect him to respond to us.
Giving to the Needy
Jesus starts off with, “So when you give to the needy.” He does not say “if you give”, but “when you give”. He is assuming that we will be doing so. We often think that giving to those with less than us is optional. But it was an expected part of Jewish life, and failing to care for the poor was condemned in the Old Testament. And you do see the early church carrying on that practice, caring for those amongst them who were in need (Acts 2:45).
It is probably worth pointing out that Jesus is not talking here about what we give to support the operation of our local church. That is good, and something we should do. But he is talking here about something that is beyond that.
Also, I believe Jesus is not talking about helping to support professional beggars or people who could work and support themselves, but choose to do otherwise. I do not believe we are really helping them by enabling that lifestyle. Jesus here is talking about those who have a real need, regardless of the reason.
Giving in Secret
Jesus’ primary instruction here is not that we should give. Rather it is the method of our giving that he is concerned about. Our giving to the needy should be in secret rather than publically. I believe the expression to not let your right hand know what your left hand was doing was somewhat metaphorical and not to be taken literally. What he is reacting against are those who made a public show of their giving, seeking to impress others with their ‘godliness’. All they would get from it would be temporary public acclaim. And no reward from God.
I believe what Jesus is telling me to do here is to give, when I see the need, without counting the cost. And without looking for a pat on the back. If someone else finds out, I will not lose my heavenly reward. Unless, of course, I was looking for a human pat on the back. My giving to the needy should be between me and God, as well as the one receiving the gift. Of course, the ‘me’ in the previous sentence is sometimes plural, often including my wife in the decision.
In the end, Jesus is simply telling me to care for the poor without thought for human acclaim. And then my reward will come from the Father above.
- An Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount
- Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:3-12
- Sermon on the Mount: Salt and Light – Matthew 5:13-16
- Sermon on the Mount: Understanding the Law – Matt. 5:17-20
- Sermon on the Mount: Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5:21-26
- Sermon on the Mount: Committing Adultery – Matthew 5:27-30
- Sermon on the Mount: Divorce – Matthew 5:31-32
- Sermon on the Mount: Taking Oaths – Matthew 5:33-37
- Sermon on the Mount: Turn the Other Cheek – Matt. 5:38-42
- Sermon on the Mount: Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
- Sermon on the Mount: Give to the Needy – Matthew 6:1-4
- Sermon on the Mount: How to Pray – Matthew 6:5-8
- Sermon on the Mount: the Model Prayer – Matthew 6:9-15
- Sermon on the Mount: Fasting – Matthew 6:16-18
- Sermon on the Mount: Treasure in Heaven – Matthew 6:19-24
- Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Worry – Matthew 6:25-34
- Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Judge – Matthew 7:1-6
- Sermon on the Mount: Ask, Seek, and Knock – Matthew 7:7-12
- Sermon on the Mount: Narrow and Wide Gates – Matt. 7:13-14
- Sermon on the Mount: False Prophets – Matt. 7:15-20
- Sermon on the Mount: True and False Disciples – Matt. 7:21-23
- Sermon on the Mount: Build on Rock or Sand? – Matt 7:24-27