Matthew 6:1-4, “‘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.
2 ‘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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
It is very tempting to do good works out of the intention to make others perceive you in a better light. But, according to Christ’s words, this is contrary to what God wants. Jesus stresses this reality by saying we will receive “no reward” from our Father in heaven if we do good works out of this intention.
1) When you give, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing
Jesus explains what we need to do if we want the reward given by God: give without telling anyone, so as not to be honored by others. Christ then doubles down on what He has said, saying, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:3). I love this verse because, 1) it provides such a great illustration of the humility God wants from us, and 2) it requires that we do not even recognize the good that we, ourselves, are doing. What does this mean? God wants all the charity that we do to be done in secret for Him. When we do good acts to others out of a motivation to feed our own pride by being recognized (honored by others), or even our own pride of self-assured righteousness, we fail to receive God’s reward in the good act.
God’s picture of how we should give in Matthew 6:3 is one of total submission. When we do good and seek no reward from man or recognition from people or ourselves, we are giving all the glory to God. For our left hand to not know what our right hand is doing, it’s almost like we have to look away from our right hand when it is doing a good work. What I mean by this is that, in order to give the way God wants us to, we have to look away from ourselves and look towards Jesus. When we move our eyes away from ourselves and shift our focus onto the Savior, our intention in giving changes; the glory to be had should no longer be ours, but belongs to God alone. It is in this space that God wants us to dwell and do good to others.
This space of humility that God wants us to reside in is different from the space that we are naturally inclined to go to within the world. By the world’s standards, when we do a good thing we should be praised for it. And while doing a good thing is a good thing, it can be a bad thing within someone’s heart if it is feeding the wrong intentions. When we do a charitable act out of the intention to be recognized--whether by others or ourselves--we receive the world’s reward. And the world’s reward is ultimately something that cultivates worldly treasures; worldly treasures can consist of the immaterial--pride, boasting, vainglory, reputation, recognition--and the material--money, awards, relationships, something in return. Christ is not saying we shouldn’t honor or thank people when they do good things, but when we do good out of the intention to be honored, then we are no longer doing good in the frame of truth.
The reward of the world is not the same as the reward given from God; there is a reason Christ compares the two. The reward given from the world does not lead to God, nor the eternal life found in Him. It then makes sense how Jesus moves into addressing the treasures of earth and heaven, and their differences, in verses 19 and 20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Ultimately, seeking praise and honor from men leads to treasures on earth that fade, but seeking to honor God leads to treasures that are everlasting.
2) God gives grace to the humble
The reward that God gives us when we do good out of an intention to glorify Him, and Him alone, is Himself. The greatest treasure and blessing upon our lives that we can ever receive is, and always will be, God. When we humble ourselves and seek to do good so that God alone is glorified, our reward from God is Him giving us more of Himself. We see God’s favor towards humility throughout scripture, and particularly: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6/Proverbs 3:34). God gives us His grace when we humble ourselves, and grace is exactly what we need. Grace is the heavenly treasure that does not tarnish or fade, and it is the glory of God. And what exactly is grace? Grace is the undeserved favor, love, and deliverance given by God, ultimately summed up in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the perfect representation of the grace of God, and when we seek the way of humility, we are rewarded with grace--God’s own personal favor.
Because, at the end of the day, Jesus represents God’s infinite and all-powerful love and favor; Jesus, who is entirely God, gave Himself for us so that we may live. God degraded and humbled Himself by taking on our sin and our depravity, to the point of dying on a cross--Jesus was the most humble person to ever live. And it is only in Christ that we have our perfect role model, “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12). But this exaltation and reward that is given to us by God when we humble ourselves and seek His glory is not the same as the world’s. We may not receive any “gain” according to the world’s terminology, but when we act charitably to honor God, He gives us His grace. And it is by His grace that we grow the fruits of the Spirit within us.
The fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). God rewards us with grace when we seek the humble route and give Him the glory, and it is through grace that we receive the fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are heavenly treasures that do not tarnish or fade, like grace, and are eternally stored up when we are rewarded by God. It is in this way that God “will reward you openly”; everyone will witness the reward that God has given, because the fruits of the Spirit are made manifest in our actions and treatment of others.
As we continue to serve God humbly and receive His reward, the love within us--His love--will continue to grow, and our love towards others will inevitably become greater as well. And it is in how we love one another that will determine whether we are disciples of Christ or not (John 13:35). For, it must come back to love, because that is where it all starts. When we commit a charitable act, or do something good for another person, if it is not done in love then it will not reap a heavenly reward. And if a heavenly reward is not reaped, then that means we are reaping the rewards of the world, which inevitably lead to death.
3) Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also
Let us not be deceived, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12). We can make ourselves think we are doing good and walking upright as much as we want to, but if we are not seeking God and glorifying Him in it, then we are lost. To seek after the rewards of the world leads to a worldly treasure; Christ tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). Are you storing up for yourself worldly gain, or heavenly reward? Our hearts will reveal the truth. And without Christ, our hearts do not truly change, for He alone “will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26). When we invest our heart into the treasures of the world, we lose our heart, because there is no true life in the world. But when we invest our heart in the treasures of heaven, we gain God's eternal life.
Christ is the One who infinitely humbled Himself, and it is He who will be infinitely exalted and glorified. And when this God who has overcome all things dwells within our hearts, we can shine His light through all that we do. By allowing God to take all that we are upon Himself, we allow Him to store up eternal treasures in heaven--and in our heart--that do not tarnish or fade. And it is in this wealth that we gain in God that we can love others as Christ loved--and loves--us.