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. “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.
Matthew warns us of a common temptation to be righteous not for the glory of God, but for the glory of self. If this was a common practice when this passage was written, imagine how exponentially it has grown since the dawn of the internet and social media. In fact, this problem is so widespread, we even have a term for it, the ‘humble brag.’ The humble brag is the too often used way to inform others of our own good deeds while attempting to not seem arrogant about it. Our complete failure to do so is betrayed by the name of the act itself. We brag about even our own humility in order to receive the approval of other men. Our social media profiles are littered with stories of our good deeds and pictures of us alongside the poor children we deigned to bless with our presence and a small fraction of our wealth each month.
We have all fallen into the trap of self-praise for our righteousness. We forget that these acts ought not to be exceptional but ordinary and it is only our rife sin and selfishness that makes them stand out from our normal self-serving ways. If we had a real grasp on our own depravity, we would be more disposed to be not proud of our obedience but ashamed at its scarcity. We make fools of ourselves before heaven when we laud our own righteousness.
Many of us deceive ourselves regarding our own intentions for sharing our good deeds. We want to encourage others to do likewise, but we could easily encourage them toward righteousness without ever mentioning our own obedience. We could use pictures and stories to light a fire within them without including ourselves in the narrative at all. But we don’t. We find the picture that shows us looking the most generous, the most appreciated, the most self-sacrificing, and we share the story of what we did instead of what Jesus has done and called us to do. And what was, hopefully, initially intended as obedience to the call of Christ becomes repurposed as a tool to honor ourselves instead.
Matthew tells us to prevent even our hands from knowing what the other is doing. This hyperbole is his way of saying that we should not only not share our good deeds ourselves, we should go out of our way to keep them secret to prevent the temptation from taking glory that is due only to God. After all, as creatures born in sin, the only righteousness we have is what has been imparted to us through the blood of Jesus Christ. We certainly cannot take credit for that; we can only offer Him grateful praise and obedience that seeks His glory and not our own.