How to Give – Matthew 6:1-4

Part eleven in my series on the Sermon on the Mount. This lesson will address giving the Jesus way.

6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness  in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward!  But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Verse 1 serves as an introduction to the section 6:1-18 warning against acts of righteousness before men and losing your reward from God the Father in heaven.

It should also be noted that verse 1 does not contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 as 6:1 is done for a selfish motive, and 5:16 is done to glorify God.

It’s also easy to forget that in Jesus’ time, there were no social welfare programs to help the poor, the widows, the orphans, or those who were sick. The programs that we take for granted were a void in the ancient world, often resulting in death to those who found themselves in one of the situations listed above. The Law addresses this back in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 15:11  For there will never cease to be poor people in the land;  that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

But the main thrust of the passage is Jesus warning against doing acts of kindness or charity for the wrong reason. Once again, it is the condition of the heart when taking action that is important. If a person’s motives for participating in charitable activities are to draw attention to themselves, then the only acknowledgment they will get is from other people, not God. The very act of public religious practices is dangerous, even if the original or intended motive is pure, as it is very easy to slide down the slippery slope and bask in the adulation and praise that may follow public acts of kindness. Churches or organizations that publicize the names of those who give should stop that practice. If their giving is from a pure heart, they won’t want their names revealed anyway. And if they do, maybe the church or organization should have a talk with them and refer to this passage. Although churches and organizations may wrestle with the idea of losing donors, possible large donors, by adopting this policy, it is the course prescribed by Scripture.

Let’s consider three reasons people give.

  • People may give from a sense of duty. They may give not because they wish to give, but because they feel that giving is a duty which they cannot easily escape.
  • People may give from motives of prestige. They may give to take for themselves the glory of giving.
  • People may give simply because they have to. They may give simply because the overflowing love and kindliness in their hearts will not allow them to do anything else.

Only the last reason is from a pure heart. Don’t get confused by the phrase “because they have to.” This compulsion comes from their heartfelt concern for others and not any selfish reason.

Another point that is not stated explicitly here but is implicit as it flows from the character of Jesus is the concept of sacrificial giving.

2 Cor 8:9-11  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich,  for your sake He became poor,  so that by His poverty you might become rich. 10 Now I am giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you, who a year ago began not only to do something but also to desire it. 11 But now finish the task  as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have.

In Judaism, there were three great works of religious life:

  • Almsgiving
  • Prayer
  • Fasting

Jesus will address all three of these topics in Matthew 6:1-18.

Let’s look at verses 2-4 as one bundle.

The word “when” implies that giving is expected; it’s not an optional act but a lifestyle. At the same time, Jesus was saying they shouldn’t act like the many in the temple and on the streets acted. The outward appearance looked like they were concerned for the needy, but they were actually looking for praise for they were doing. Jesus is condemning them for being motivated by the wrong reasons, seeking personal glory for their actions instead of giving glory to God.

In verse 3, Jesus says, “but when,” indicating a contrast between how His followers were to act and the false piousness of the hypocrites. Since God sees all that we do, even our publicly hidden acts of kindness will be noticed, who will reward us.

The reward that Jesus promises here follows the central theme of the Sermon on the Mount – the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. The rewards will lead to spiritual growth in this life and final perfection when we are resurrected.

While Jesus is encouraging generous giving, He is not advocating being irresponsible with an individual’s money. Stewardship of our financial situation is still expected.

Applications

  • First, if you don’t give, why is that? Giving falls into several areas.
    • Our offering to our church. If you belong to a local body of Christ, you should give an offering. Tithing is an Old Testament concept, but offerings are still
      • 2 Corinthians 8:12    For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
      • 2 Corinthians 9:11  You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. Note: This is not speaking of a prosperity Gospel.
      • Hebrews 13:16  Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
    • Offering to charitable organizations. There are many that support orphans, widows, and medical needs, to name a few. Find one or more that tug on your heart to support.
    • Helping those in need we might meet in our daily lives. Examine each of these areas. This can be challenging as we never know when someone may be playing a game and aren’t really in need. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in those cases.
  • If you already give check, your motive for giving. I’ll re-list what I wrote above.
    • People may give from a sense of duty. They may give not because they wish to give, but because they feel that giving is a duty which they cannot easily escape.
    • People may give from motives of prestige. They may give to take for themselves the glory of giving.
    • People may give simply because they have to. They may give simply because the overflowing love and kindliness in their hearts will not allow them to do anything else.
    • If you are doing it for any reason other than the third one, ask for forgiveness and give from a pure heart and with pure motives.
  • If you see a brother or sister not giving or giving for the wrong reason, challenge them. This is never easy and may result in a strained or broken relationship. However, we are called to walk alongside our spiritual brothers and sisters and help them grow. Knowingly ignoring a situation where they are acting contrary to Scripture is also sin on our part.

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