Read Matthew 6:2-3
2-3 “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘playactors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. (THE MESSAGE)
We imperfect human beings have a couple of problems with doing the right thing. One is that we often struggle to even do the right thing in the first place. Our tendency is to do what serves our purposes, whether it be right or wrong. We need the strong power of the Holy Spirit to resist that tendency.
The other problem is that even if we do decide to do the right and proper thing we may do it for doubtful reasons. We might do good in order to be praised for doing good. Our unselfish acts have a selfish component in them. Which is what Jesus is addressing in our passage. We make sure that if we do good then others know all about it.
And there is another level of subtlety here. Some translations have Jesus saying that we ought not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. Which is another way of saying don’t even announce your good works to yourself. It is wrong to show off to others about how good we are. It is also wrong to show off to ourselves how good we are. It is sadly possible to be proud of our not showing off to others.
We long for honour and recognition and this can distort the good we do. Others might indeed benefit from our good works, and we may even earn some public applause. But we miss out on a deeper level. Pleasing ourselves or others is one thing; pleasing God is another.