“But when you do alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does…” Matthew 6:3
Today I am stopping to ask You, Lord, “What does that really mean? What does it mean when You tell me to not let my left hand know what my right hand is doing? What do You mean when You tell me that my giving should be in secret? Is this about never letting anyone else know when I give? Is this about anonymity? What is the heart of Your word here?”
If You didn’t want me to really think about Your words here, why did You take four verses just to tell me what my giving ought to look like, or rather be like? How can my left hand not know what my right hand is doing? Is this about other people’s perception, like the hands represent other people? Do I ask too many questions and think deeper about this stuff than I need to? Or is this what I’m supposed to be doing all along, trying to understand the heart of Your words, trying to understand Your very heart?
Well, I found no easy commentary on that exact phrase in Hebrew thought, “let not your left hand know what your right hand does.” I was thinking that maybe it was an idiom. And maybe it is, even though I wasn’t able to find it. But I did find some things about the significance of left and right in Hebrew thought.
Obviously left and right are opposites. In Hebrew thought and Scripture, the left hand often represents weakness, whereas the right hand represents strength. It is less honorable, while the right hand is honorable. It is associated with judgment, while the right is associated with mercy. The left hand can bring discouragement, yet the right bears encouragement. And it’s also associated with the direction north, while the right is associate with the south.
Joseph Jacobs and Judah David Eisenstein share that “The right side of things is recognized in many ways as better than the left. The south and north sides of the earth are distinguished as ‘yamin’ (right) and ‘sem’ol’ (left; Job xxiii. 9), the right being the sunnier, brighter side, and the left the bleak and dark side, ill-omened and unlucky, where evil generates. ‘Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land’ (Jer. 1.:14). The right side, or right limb, of a person receives special prominence; the place of honor is at his right. ‘Upon thy right hand did stand the queen’ (Ps. xlv. 9). Solomon placed a seat of honor for his mother, the queen, on his right side (I Kings ii. 19). The right eye was the most important and most vital member of the body. Nahash the Ammonite, as a reproach upon all Israel, purposed putting out the right eye of all men in Jabesh-gilead (I Sam. xi. 2). The prophet predicted, ‘Wo to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! . . . his right eye shall be utterly darkened’ (Zech. xi. 17). The priest in purifying the leper put some of the blood of the sacrifice on the tip of his right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the great toe of his right foot; he also used his right finger to sprinkle the oil before the altar (Lev. xiv. 14, 16), and received as his share of the peace-offering the right shoulder (Lev. vii. 32).” So, my question is, what’s the significance, Lord, of Your using these terms here for me to hear and understand?
What if it’s not really about who is seeing my alms giving? What if it is really about the heart of my alms giving? What if it has more to with the attitude of my giving? What if it is more about the heart of where my giving is flowing from, and Who is generating my giving? Maybe this all flows back to and out of the heart of where my Reward is already?
What if my Reward is interested in most whether He is the Reward of the innermost parts of my heart? What if this is evidenced by what flows out of my life? What if the “right hand” is that part of me whose strength and source is You, Lord, that part that is inwardly wholly dependent on You? And what if the left hand is anything, including my old nature in the “human” part of me that would draw me away and weaken me in You? What if the secret things of my heart aren’t really about those things no one knows, but about the things that are true in my innermost being? What if You are really telling me how the heart of the true me inside can either be full of You in Your strength or act against me like Kryptonite to Superman and be my own defeat?
When You tell me my alms ought to be in secret, and You see them in secret and reward me openly, is this is about something deeper than anonymity in giving? This is about the transparency of the most internal intents of my heart and my true motivation. This Greek word root, kruptos, does mean concealed, private, hidden, inward, secret. But it seems that when You use it, it has to do with Your deepest intent and motivation and ours. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:5 that “the Lord…will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” See, You Lord, search into the obscure regions of my heart and shed rays of Your light on what is truly in there. You reveal my inner motivations. Paul continues, “For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judges me is the Lord.” Now some translations say that Paul is saying he feels his conscience is clear, but You alone prove his innocence. And that’s true. But I think it does just stand to say that we know nothing about the truth of the motivations of our own hearts without You revealing it to us continually. I’m not an ample judge of my own heart’s motivations. I must allow You to continually check my heart.
So what happens when the secrets of my heart, the motivation of my heart, are made visible to me? It will drive me to You and to true worship. I will fall on my face and worship You and declare that You are certainly here! (1 Corinthians 14:25) But will I let the right hand rule my heart in Your truth or will I let the left hand of my own desires overpower my inward motivations?
Paul tells me in Romans 2:16 that Jesus has come to judge the secrets of my heart. But Your judgment Jesus, doesn’t just call me guilty. When You identify the guilty part of my inward being, You invite me to hand it over to You and allow You to transform that inward motivation. When I do, You take over my inward motivations and remove those which would act like Kryptonite against me. Inwardly, on my own, I would always have some form of selfish motivations, even without knowing. But You instill me by Your power and love and a new heart with new motivations, and it all happens inwardly and is shown outwardly. Paul tells us that “he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:29) Am I understanding that this is more than about “giving alms”?
In John 18:20, You, Jesus, shared, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret.” And of course that is true that You were open to all with Your teaching. But what if this goes deeper? What if You taught nothing that was not generated from the innermost motivations of Your heart, from the innermost part of Your very being?
I found it interesting this morning where You led me. Because in leading up to the next verse, what surrounded it was Your parable on the seeds sown in the different soils. It’s something that the seeds needed to be in the soil and only in the good soil could the true purpose of the seed be brought forth. Jesus even went so far as to explain that “nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17) If my inward most being is “hidden” in You, You will become evident, You will shine forth like the seed planted in the good soil that reproduced it’s own and fulfilled it’s purpose to the glory of the Maker. And what is in those secret, inward places of my heart will be brought forth out of the soil. Will what comes forth be motivated by my right hand of strength in You or by my left hand of strength, myself? Luke 12:2 tells me that the truth of my motivations will be revealed and will be made known. Am I prepared for that revealing?
You, Lord, have shown me how to prepare and how to remedy my most inward motivations. Will I let You be my inmost Treasure? Will I let You adorn my inmost being? When Peter talks about adorning “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious”, he’s talking about surrendering my innermost person to You. Am I willing to do that? Actually, I need to be more than willing to do that. That sounds like I really am giving You the privilege. I need to be desperate to do that because I am the one who You are lavishing this glorious privilege upon. Because the fact is that You owe me none of this, and yet You choose to take my unlovely inward parts and adorn them for Your glory with Your beauty. You invite me to “renounce the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfullly; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) Oh, where does that conscience come from? It’s a “co-perception” that comes from You giving us the ability to see as You see. Why? Because we allowed You to change our inward motivations to conform them to Your desires and then Your ways flow out of our everyday lives.
This is when You became the strength of my right hand because I am allowing You to see me in the heavenlies with Christ at Your right hand. In You, I have victory over my weaker left hand. You give me a new heart with Your motivations flowing from within. You take what once would have harmed me had it been allowed to be revealed and place within, instead, that which is not only for my good, but for the good of others and Your own glory, in my innermost being. You make me like You and when good things flow forth, it’s not for my glory or for praise from others. Instead, it’s straight from Your heart flowing from mine and out my life.
Lord, this is my prayer. That I would so let You have every speck of the inward parts of me. Please take my inward thoughts and motivations and make them Yours. I renounce that which is not of You and that which is of me. But I admit that I need You to reveal to me that which is of me. I once was lost but I’m not lost any more. I have been found. Your Gospel is not hidden from me. You have revealed it to the depths of my innermost being which way surpasses intellectual knowledge alone. You have shown Your glorious Gospel light in me. It’s Your desire that it shines out from my innermost being to a world in need of You. And here’s the alms You are talking about. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6,7) So, Lord, be the shining, public, outward reward of the work You are performing in me inwardly.