“Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. 3 But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your gift may be in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
Who is our audience?
Through the voice of Macbeth, the playwright Shakespeare talked about life as a performance:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
During your hour upon the stage, will you behave for the pleasure of men or the approval of God?
Matthew 6:1 states the principle that governs all of 6:1–18. Jesus answers the question: How do I carry out the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees?
The answer Jesus gives is equally simple: do everything before the searching gaze of God, not for the approval of people. This idea is treated in three classic areas of Jewish piety, giving to others, prayer and fasting. In this post we deal only with the general principle and giving to others.
The presence of the word merely in the NET Bible’s translation of 6:1 is questionable. [Take a moment to read the verse.] No Greek word explicitly underlies this word, and it gives the unfortunate impression that your performance of righteousness may have two audiences. That is contrary to what Jesus is teaching. It will soon be obvious that people need not see your righteous deeds at all! In the court of heaven, all that will matter is what God thinks of your deeds.
Jesus will contrast the way commanded for his disciples with that of the hypocrites (6:2). The hypocrites — read here the scribes and Pharisees — do their deeds for public show. In what way is this hypocrisy? The hypocrite wants you to think his actions are serving God, but in fact they are designed to get attention resulting in public approval. It is a sham, like the old sheriff who said, “Son, we’re going to give you a fair trial followed by a good hanging!”
What is the outcome of performing righteous deeds for popular approval? You get such approval, and that is all! NLT correctly translates, “I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get” (Matt. 6:2). The Greek verb was used in financial transactions and means “to provide a receipt for a sum paid in full.” God will not pay them again on judgment day.
The religious leaders not only performed for public approval but also did it with great fanfare; the trumpets (6:2) are probably figurative, but they indicate little subtlety in the act of giving!
To make his point in a memorable way, Jesus again uses exaggeration when he speaks of one giving hand not knowing what the other hand is doing (6:3). Craig Keener points out that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius used a similar idea when he said, “Do not let your own ear hear you.”
The charitable giving done by a disciple must be done in secret so as to clearly appeal to God alone for reward (6:4). And the Father, who keeps on seeing in secret, will reward the giver (6:4).
An exclusive performance
If you do acts of righteousness to impress people, all you will get is a receipt that says “Paid in Full!” But the deed done for God’s approval alone is the one that wins lasting reward.
If you have ever seen a minister or other disciple involved in self-promotion, it probably turned you off. What is more important is that you take a different path, one designed to please God. The reward that comes later from Jesus is far beyond the fickle praise people may offer now.
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 24-26.
 BDAG-3, apech?, receive in full what is due, q.v.
 Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999) 208.
 Keener, Matthew, 208.