Chromatius: Right-handed Giving is Righteous Generosity

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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 6:2-4

“Here the Lord is not speaking literally of the hands of the human body. Hands as such cannot know, having the senses neither of seeing nor language. Rather, “on the right hand” means righteous deeds and “on the left” signifies sinful deeds or persons.

Thus we read it written in the book of Kings that “hand” means people when it says “Do not I have ten hands in Israel?” [2 Samuel 19:43] that is, ten tribes of Israel. Therefore, there is no doubt that “on the right hand” means “the just” and “on the left” means “sinners,” according to what Solomon related: “The Lord acknowledges the divisions soon the right; the perverse are those who are on the left” [Ecclesiastes 10:2; Proverbs 4:27].

The Lord makes very plain the meaning of this “right” and “left” in the Gospel when He declares that the just are to be placed on the right, the sinners on the left [Matthew 25:33]. If something is to be accomplished according to the teaching of the Lord, then the right hand of the just must not know what the left is doing. That is, in order to labor religiously and faithfully, we should not boast in the sight of sinners and unfaithful people.”

Chromatius (c. 400) in Tractate on Matthew 26.5.2-4 in Matthew 1-13, volume 1a, edited by Manlio Simonetti (ACCS; Downers Grove: IVP, 2001) 125.

I read a great article yesterday by John Rinehart in the NCF Saturday 7 about “Should all your giving be in secret?” based on today’s Scripture text. I appreciated the content of the article which drove me to read ancient biblical perspectives on the “right” and “left” because I think commentators, such as Chromatius, draw out why Jesus said what He said.

Right-handed giving is righteous generosity. If our left hand is in the loop with regard to our giving, it will reflect worldly influences, sinful motives, and unrighteous desires. These negative factors must not be allowed to inform or shape our generosity. If we allow them to, we will shift the focus of our giving to be about us instead of about God desires.

So giving in secret does not mean that we don’t talk about giving. Jesus certainly does. The key is that we don’t make it about us. The teachings of Jesus must guide our giving. We must avoid worldly thinking on money. If we fail in this, we will store up treasures on earth (left hand) rather than store them up in heaven (right hand). And we will hoard (left hand) instead of help (right hand) in times like these.