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What Is Meant By 'the Left Hand Not Knowing What the Right Hand Is Doing'?

Many people may have heard the phrase, ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’. Sometimes this phrase is misquoted and used in ways other than what was intended, but did you know that there is a specific meaning to the phrase?

This phrase is actually from the Bible and it specifically had to do with the act of giving. It becomes a lot clearer when the full scripture is read and it comes from the Apostle Matthew. The scripture is from Matthew 6:1-4:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

When the entire passage is read, the meaning becomes clear. When we help others, we aren’t to “blow our own horn” (roughly translated from this passage). In other words, the goal isn’t to get recognition from other people, it is to genuinely help the other person. Put in a different way, the only motive we should have in helping others is to help the other person rather than to do so with ulterior motives.

We give freely without announcing to others that we’ve helped, especially not in regard to the form of help or amount we’ve given. Many people do announce that they’ve done this or that, hoping to get acknowledgment from other people. Clearly, from this passage, doing so is wrong. Hence, when we give, the left hand (other people) don’t know what the right hand (ourselves) have done to help.

It is for exactly this reason that our church (and many others) keep donations anonymous. Helping others should never be a popularity contest. 

  • Question of

    Did you know that ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’ was a biblical reference to the act of giving?

    • Yes
    • No
  • Question of

    When you donate to the needy, whether that is in time, effort, or money, do you let other people know that you did so?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Sometimes
    • I don’t give to the needy


What do you think?

12 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


    • I find it very interesting to think about, partly because the way a person gives to help others says a great deal about the condition of their heart. People who have a good heart tend to give freely without a second thought, never selfishly.

    • That is a good point of view and I’d take it a step further. When I help others, I don’t always think of it as being charity. It certainly can be, but many times the help I give to the needy isn’t in material goods or money, at least not directly.

      For example, my wife volunteers at the local clothing bank. Her primary role is to sort clothing donations and to hang up clothing that people can subsequently select and take home. She doesn’t donate the clothing, at least not often, but if she didn’t donate the time and the effort, it would be difficult for people to find the clothing they are looking for or need.

      Thus, she is helping the needy, but not in a material or monetary way. She also never brags about it. The closest she comes to it is to say that she works at the clothing bank and that is usually stated as encouragement for needy people to come in and see what is available. People are sometimes embarrassed about coming in and often have the idea that the clothing is all second-hand, well-worn items. In truth, it is often new or practically new and there is no reason to be embarrassed. If they have too much clothing, some of it is going to be thrown away, though it is perfectly good. The clothing bank is also available to anyone who wants to come in.

      The food bank is a little stricter, though not much. A simple form needs to be filled out that states the family’s average monthly income, but this is primarily to make sure that people who have plenty of food don’t abuse the food bank and the food ends up going to people who honestly need it. People who donate to the food bank often do so from their excess, such as when they have too much of some sort of food or know that they aren’t going to eat it. The food can be donated without even having contact with any other person. The people who volunteer at the food bank also don’t brag about it and they go out of their way to be courteous.

      In fact, even though the food bank and clothing bank are run by our church, they also don’t ask what religion a person has before they help. That would have nothing to do with helping others who are in need. A Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, or Druid would be equally welcome.

      There have also been times when I’ve been personally helped when it hasn’t actually been a charity. A few years ago, I drove to the store in a snowstorm and when I parked, I forgot to turn off my headlights. When I got back to the car, it naturally wouldn’t start. Several different people actually offered to give me a jump, so I was able to get home. It didn’t cost them anything except a little time, but it was greatly appreciated at a time when I was in definite need. I don’t even know who those people were and none of them introduced themselves. They simply saw that I had a need and stepped forward to help.

      • You bring an interesting point.

        with family, there is a shared responsibility.

        I believe charity, helping and things of that nature are outside of the family.
        In my words of my grandfather, you do for the family.

  1. Nice post,I also know about that,my religion also teach us about help needy and don’t see in needy eyes because he can feel something…..we pay zakat every year to help needy.

    • You are helping in the right way, then. It is rather interesting, the number of saying we have that came from the Bible. For that matter, many that are attributed to the bible didn’t actually come from the bible. “Money is the root of all evil” isn’t biblical, or it could be a corruption of the biblical phrase. The phrase is actually “The love of money is the root of all evil.”