In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 6:3–4). Jesus’ command to give in such a way that one hand is unaware of what the other hand is doing is obviously not to be taken literally.
The context suggests that the injunction to “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” refers to giving alms in secret and stands in contrast with drawing attention to our giving. Those who give in order to receive accolades from others have already received their reward (Matthew 6:2). God will reward those who give in secret.
Of course, hands do not have a mind of their own, and a person cannot really hide something in one hand without the other hand knowing about it. Jesus’ illustration makes use of hyperbole—purposeful exaggeration to make a point. We should perform our charitable giving with such confidentiality that, if possible, our right hand won’t even know what the left hand is giving. In other words, we should maintain an extremely low profile when giving gifts and performing acts of mercy. Modesty, not ostentation, is the hallmark of a follower of Christ.
Jesus’ illustration of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing follows His serious condemnation of “hypocrites,” likely the Jewish religious leaders, in the previous verse: “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 6:2). Jesus also refers to these hypocrites in Matthew 6:5 regarding prayer and Matthew 6:16 regarding fasting.
After dealing with three common religious practices—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—Jesus says not to store up treasures on earth but in heaven: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21; cf. Colossians 3:2). When we give “with stealth”—without our left hand knowing what our right hand is doing—we avoid the temptation of hypocrisy and lay up a truly priceless reward in eternity.
Do Jesus’ words “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” mean we should never let others know about our giving? Not necessarily. The focus is on the motive of our giving. Our generosity is to be motivated by our love for God and our focus on eternity rather than the temporary praises of people. Because of the temptation for pride associated with public displays of generosity, it is best not to draw attention to our gifts to those in need.