When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.—Matt. 6:3–4
When you give as Jesus directs—lovingly, unpretentiously, and with no concern for public recognition—“your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” In other words, if you remember, God forgets; and if you forget, God still remembers. You should simply try to meet every need you can and leave the bookkeeping to Him. This kind of giving is just a matter of realizing that “we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10).
There is nothing wrong with humbly anticipating our reward for true and honest giving. God knows our hearts, attitudes, and motives, and He will not fail to reward us appropriately. After all, our sovereign Lord knows exactly what everyone is doing (Heb. 4:13).
In giving and every other realm of good works, Jesus Christ is our perfect role model (cf. Eph. 2:10). He preached and taught before crowds large and small, and He did miracles of healing, compassion, and power over nature for many to see and benefit from. But He always focused the final attention on His heavenly Father and did not seek His own glory but the Father’s (John 8:49–50).
Our motive in hoping for any rewards ought to be the anticipation of placing them as offerings at the Lord’s feet, like the twenty-four elders who “will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power’ ” (Rev. 4:10–11).
Like with any sinful tendency you wish to conquer, the secret is daily obedience, even in the smallest ways, not wanting to give the enemy the slightest opening for victory. In what ways could the day ahead likely give you an opportunity to practice this—to seek God’s reward alone?
The Practice and Reward of True Giving
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (6:3–4)
To not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing was possibly a proverbial expression that simply referred to doing something spontaneously, with no special effort or show. The right hand was considered the primary hand of action, and in a normal day’s work the right hand would do many things as a matter of course that would not involve the left hand. Giving to help those in need should be a normal activity of the Christian, and he should do it as simply, directly, and discreetly as possible.
The most satisfying giving, and the giving that God blesses, is that which is done and forgotten. It is done in love out of response to a need, and when the need is met the giver goes on about his business, not waiting for or wanting recognition. What has been done should even be a secret to our left hand, not to mention to other people. Whether the person we help is grateful or ungrateful should not matter as far as our own purpose is concerned. If he is ungrateful, we are sorry for his sake, not our own.
It is said that there was a special, out-of-the-way place in the Temple where shy, humble Jews could leave their gifts without being noticed. Another place nearby was provided for the shy poor, who did not want to be seen asking for help. Here they would come and take what they needed. The name of the place was the Chamber of the Silent. People gave and people were helped, but no one knew the identities of either group. (Cf. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, vol. 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], p. 387; Joachim Jeremias,Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969], p. 133; and William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. [rev. ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 1:171, 188.)
Matthew 6:3 has often been interpreted to mean that all good works are to be done in absolute secrecy. But true righteousness cannot be kept entirely secret, and should not be. “How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!” (Ps. 106:3). Isaiah says, “Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness, and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God” (Isa. 58:2). John tells us, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had specifically commanded, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The question is not whether or not our good works should be seen by others, but whether they are done for that end. When they are done “in such a way” that attention and glory are focused on our “Father who is in heaven” rather than on ourselves, God is pleased. But if they are done to be noticed by men (6:1), they are done self-righteously and hypocritically and are rejected by God. The difference is in purpose and motivation. When what we do is done in the right spirit and for the right purpose, it will almost inevitably be done in the right way.
The teachings of Matthew 5:16 and 6:1 are often thought to conflict with each other because it is not recognized that they relate to different sins. The discrepancy is only imaginary. In the first passage Jesus is dealing with cowardice, whereas in the second He is dealing with hypocrisy. A. B. Bruce gives the helpful explanation, “We are to show when tempted to hide and hide when tempted to show.”
Never in the history of the church have Christians been so bombarded with appeals to give money, many of them to legitimate and worthwhile causes. Knowing how and where to give is sometimes extremely difficult. Christians are to give regularly and systematically to the work of their local church. “On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2). But we are also called to give directly to those in need when we have opportunity and ability. Both the Old and New Testaments make it clear that willing, generous giving has always characterized the faithful people of God.
God does not need our gifts, because He is entirely sufficient in Himself. The need is on our part and on the part of those we serve in His name. Paul told the Philippian church, “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Phil. 4:17).
Giving is described in the Old Testament as a part of God’s cycle of blessing. “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). As we give, God blesses, and when God blesses us we give again out of what He has given. “You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the Lord your God blesses you” (Deut. 16:10). We are to give freely out of what God has given freely.
The cycle applies not only to material giving but to every form of giving that is done sincerely to honor God and to meet need. The way of God’s people has always been the way of giving.
From Scripture we learn of at least seven principles to guide us in nonhypocritical giving. First, giving from the heart is investing with God. “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). Paul echoes Jesus’ words: “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6).
Second, genuine giving is to be sacrificial. David refused to give to the Lord that which cost him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). Generosity is not measured by the size of the gift itself, but by its size in comparison to what is possessed. The widow who gave “two small copper coins” to the Temple treasury gave more than all the “many rich people [who] were putting in large sums” because “they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41–44).
Third, responsibility for giving has no relationship to how much a person has. A person who is not generous when he is poor will not be generous if he becomes rich. He might then give a larger amount, but he will not give a larger proportion. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). It is extremely important to teach children to give generously to the Lord with whatever small amounts of money they get, because the attitudes and patterns they develop as children are likely to be the ones they follow when they are grown. Giving is not a matter of how much money one has but of how much love and care is in the heart.
Fourth, material giving correlates to spiritual blessings. To those who are not faithful with mundane things such as money and other possessions, the Lord will not entrust things that are of far greater value. “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use ofunrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:11–12).
Many young men have dropped out of seminary because they could not handle money, and the Lord did not want them in His ministry. Others have begun in the ministry but later dropped out for the same reason. Still others remain in the ministry but produce little fruit because God will not commit the care of eternal souls to them when they cannot even manage their own finances. Spiritual influences and effectiveness have a lot to do with how well finances are handled.
Fifth, giving is to be personally determined. “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Righteous giving is done from a righteous and generous heart, not from legalistic percentages or quotas. The Macedonian Christians gave abundantly out of their deep financial poverty because spiritually they were rich in love (2 Cor. 8:1–2). The Philippian believers gave out of the spontaneous generosity of their hearts, not because they felt compelled (Phil. 4:15–18).
Sixth, we are to give in response to need. The early Christians in Jerusalem shared their resources without reservation. Many of their fellow believers had become destitute when they trusted in Christ and were ostracized from their families and lost employment because of their faith. Years later Paul collected money from the Galatian churches to help meet the great needs that continued to exist among the saints in Jerusalem and that had been intensified by famine.
There have always been charlatans who manufacture needs and play on the sympathy of others. And there have always been professional beggars, who are able to work but would rather not. A Christian has no responsibility to support such people and should take reasonable care to determine if and when real need exists before giving his money. “If anyone will not work,” Paul says, “neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Encouraging indolence weakens the character of the one who is indolent and also wastes the Lord’s money. But where real need does exist, our obligation to help meet it also exists.
Seventh, giving demonstrates love, not law. The New Testament contains no commands for specified amounts or percentages of giving. The percentage we give will be determined by the love of our own hearts and the needs of others.
All of the previous principles point to the obligation to give generously because we are investing in God’s work, because we are willing to sacrifice for Him who sacrificed Himself for us, because it has no bearing on how much we have, because we want spiritual riches more than financial riches, because we have personally determined to give, because we want to meet as much need as we can, and because our love compels us to give.
As in every area of righteousness, the key is the heart, the inner attitude that motivates what we say and do. Public righteousness is not to be rejected, but it is to be done in the spirit of humility, love, and sincerity. “For we are [God’s] workmanship,” Paul reminds us, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Also as in every area of righteousness, Jesus Himself is our supreme and perfect example. He preached His messages in public, He performed His miracles of healing, compassion, and power over nature in public. Yet He continually focused attention on His heavenly Father, whose will alone He came to do (John 5:30; cf. 4:34; 6:38). Even though He was one with the Father, while He lived on earth as a man Jesus did not seek His own glory but that of His Father (John 8:49–50).
When we give our alms … in secret, lovingly, unpretentiously, and with no thought for recognition or appreciation, our Father who sees in secret will repay us. The principle is this: if we remember, God will forget; but if we forget, God will remember. Our purpose should be to meet every need we are able to meet and leave the bookkeeping to God, realizing that “we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10).
God will not miss giving a single reward. “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). The Lord knows our hearts, our attitudes, and our motives, and every reward that is due us will be given.
It is God’s perfect plan and will to give rewards to those who faithfully trust and obey Him. And it is not unspiritual to expect and anticipate those rewards, if we do so in a spirit of humility and gratitude-knowing that God’s rewards manifest His grace to the undeserving. We can meet His merciful requirements for rewards, but we can never truly earn them.
The greatest reward a believer can have is the knowledge that he has pleased his Lord. Our motive for looking forward to His rewards should be the anticipation of casting them as an offering at His feet, even as the twenty-four elders one day “will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power’ ” (Rev. 4:10–11).
6:3, 4 When a follower of Christ does a charitable deed, it is to be done in secret. It should be so secret that Jesus told His disciples: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” Jesus uses this graphic figure of speech to show that our charitable deed should be for the Father, and not to gain notoriety for the giver.
This passage should not be pressed to prohibit any gift that might be seen by others, since it is virtually impossible to make all one’s contributions strictly anonymous. It simply condemns the blatant display of giving.
3–4 The way to avoid hypocrisy is not to cease giving but to do so with such secrecy that we scarcely know what we have given. Jesus’ disciples must themselves be so given to God (cf. 2 Co 8:5) that their giving is prompted by obeying God and having compassion on others. Then their Father, who sees what is done in secret (Heb 4:13), will reward them. The verb “to reward” (apodidomai, GK 625), with God as subject, here and in vv. 6, 18, is different from that used in v. 2. Bonnard rightly notes it has a sense of “pay back,” and this is compatible with “reward” (see comments at 5:12). “Openly” (KJV), here and in vv. 6, 18, is a late gloss designed to complete the antithetic parallelism with “secretly” or “in secret.” Jesus does not discuss the locale and nature of the reward, but we will not be far from the NT evidence if we understand it to be “both in time and in eternity, both in character and in felicity” (Broadus).
- But when you give to charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. The two hands almost always act in unison. Together they often lift, carry, and catch things. They are together in work and in play. They can therefore be viewed as being thoroughly acquainted with each other. Whatever the one does, the other knows. Symbolically speaking therefore, for the left hand not to know what the right hand is doing means total lack of acquaintance, utter ignorance. And since the hands are part of the person, the expression probably refers to the fact that as much as possible a person must keep his voluntary contribution a secret not only to others but even to himself; that is, he should forget about it, instead of saying in his heart, “What a good man, woman, boy, girl, am I!” This explanation receives support from 25:37–39, where the righteous are represented as being totally unaware of their own past benevolent deeds. Continued: 4. that your deeds of charity may be (performed) in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. It is God who keeps the account. Nothing escapes him (Gen. 16:13; Ps. 139; Heb. 4:13; cf. John 21:17). It is he who on the judgment day will grant the reward (Matt. 25:34–36) to the surprised well-doers. And are there not anticipatory rewards even now, such as a good conscience and rejoicing along with the recipients?
As far as grammar is concerned, the correct Greek text can also be rendered, “… and your Father, the seeing One, will reward you in secret.” Objections to this construction: a. After the introduction, which refers to hypocrites who do their best to have men admire their good works, and in which Jesus admonishes his hearers that these works must not be advertised but must be kept as secret as possible, we rather look for a statement to the effect that unadvertised deeds will, nevertheless, be seen and rewarded, namely, by “your Father who sees in secret.” The sudden introduction of the Father as “the seeing One,” without modifier, would make little sense here. b. Scripture everywhere proclaims that all of men’s words, actions, etc., including what occurred in secret, will become public (Eccl. 12:14; Matt. 5:3–12; 10:26, 27; Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; 12:2, 3; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 3:13; 14:25; Rev. 20:12, 13). The idea that deeds of kindness toward the poor, done in secret, will remain secret forever, even the reward being bestowed in secret, clashes with this prevailing teaching.
 MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 138). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 356–360). Chicago: Moody Press.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 198). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, p. 321). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.