Thinking of others and acting generously
Summary: Jesus commends a life full of discrete giving that benefits others, glorifies God, and results in personal reward.
Jesus hits all kinds of hot-button topics in the Sermon on the Mount. He’s dealt with lust and adultery, anger, divorce, anxiety, swearing, revenge. And now, money.
Listen to what He says:
Matt 6:1 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly
The “charitable deed” Jesus is talking about is giving alms to the poor; it was an obligation to faithful Jews. So this morning we’re going to take the time to dig into the subject of giving. To take some of the things Jesus says here and look at other Scriptures on the subject too.
In the church today you hear of tithing, and by that we generally mean, in modern terms, giving ten percent of your income to the Lord through the church. That idea comes to us from the Old Testament, where observant Jews, like the ones Jesus is addressing in the Sermon on the Mount, were told to give a percentage of their income for various purposes.
Ten percent went to support the work of the Levites and the priests (Nu 18:20-24). Then another ten percent was set aside to observe festivals like the Feast of Tabernacles (Deu 12:7-19; 14:22-27; 26:10-16). And then, there was a charity tithe of another 10% given every three years to support widows, orphans, aliens, and additional work of the Levites (Deu 14:28-29). So that gives us a total of 23% annual charitable giving.
On top of that, Israelites were commanded to conduct business in a way that didn’t try to wring every last shekel, or every last dollar, of profit out of their businesses. For example, when it came time to harvest the crops, they weren’t supposed to worry about getting every last grape or olive or head of grain off the plants or trees, but they were supposed to leave some for the poor to come and clean up (Lev 19:9-10; 23:22). This was called gleaning, and it’s central to the story of the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.
Now, as I mentioned last week, what is fascinating to me is that all this instruction was given to the Jews, God’s chosen people, regarding how to live in the Promised Land, a place described as “flowing with milk and honey.” Because God knew, that even under the best of conditions, there would still be accidents, misfortune, bad circumstances, and any number of other factors leading to poverty.
So, He had a plan. A plan to use people to care for and provide for other people – it’s a plan that continues to this day.
Jesus told His disciples: ‘you will always have poor people with you’ (Matt 26:11). He never envisioned a day when the needs of all people would be perfectly met and everyone would live happily ever after in this current system of the world. Instead, He directed His people to do something about the needs around them, and keep doing something until the day came when He returned to usher in His Kingdom. Then, and only then, at the end of time, will there be plenty and provision for all.
Until then, God wants to us to be generous and care about others, especially others in the family of God.
But notice that when we give there are two potential audiences: you can be noticed and gain a reward from other people, maybe they send you a thank you note, say nice things to you or about you, or put your name on something. This is common here in our city, isn’t it? We have balls and galas and gatherings and make a big deal about all the money we’re giving to a particular cause or campaign. We dress up and get our picture taken. Jesus says if you do that, you got your reward. They printed your picture in the Washingtonian.
But the other option is, you can give quietly and discreetly as an act of service and worship to God. And here He continues His habit of using extreme language to make a point about our hearts. There’s no way you can actually keep your right hand from knowing what your left is doing, but the idea is to keep things that casual, that discreet. You don’t make a big deal about it. You just give, and maybe you give big, but you give with no strings attached and no attention needed.
And that king of thing is HUGE blessing if you think about it in the right terms. It means God gives you the opportunity to be His delivery service. He lets you put finances or material goods in the places He wants to see them. You have the privilege of being the hands and feet of God, representing Him to someone in need, and He will reward you for doing it! “Your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
I want you to see here in this passage, from the lips of Jesus, that God notices when and where and how you give. And He says it can be done right, or it can be done wrong, but He never questions that it should be done.
So, what about us today? Let’s ask the big question: is tithing required? Well, I would respond: No, but, its a great place to start.
One of the things we have seen time and time again in this sermon is: Jesus doesn’t lower the bar; He raises it.
He’s not primarily interested in the things we do on the surface of our lives, He’s not tracking your dollars and decimals, but He is probing the depths of our heart. He’s digging down to look at the roots of our lives and bypassing everything else. He’s concerned about our motives, our desires, what we really think and feel regardless of what our life looks like on the outside.
We can pretend to be all kinds of things, we can cultivate our image and our reputation, we choose what to post, or not post online, we choose our clothes, our car, the decorations in our office, our language, even your purse or phone to broadcast a certain message: this is who I am, this is what you should think about me. But Jesus sees right through it all and looks at what is going on in your heart, in your soul, at the core of who you really are. That’s what He is dealing with here in this passage about giving.
Yes, on the surface, He’s talking about the subject of charitable giving, but only because there is cord that cannot be cut running directly from your heart to your wallet. Your money is just another expression of your life.
You give your time, your efforts, your talent, your energies, your experience and knowledge, your time, to someone or some organization, some client or agency, or customer, and in return they give you money. It might be a lot of money or a little money, but that is how the system works – you give them a piece of yourself, maybe a little piece, maybe a big chunk – and they give you some amount of money in return.
And then, you turn around and take that money, that condensed and transformed piece of your life, and you give it to other things. So, when you spend your money you are spending your life and you tend to spend your life to get things your heart wants.
And that is true even if you’re more of a saver than a spender because I would argue that the reason you want to save is that you actually want to buy something: you’re buying bigger savings to get a sense of comfort and stability. You think that having a certain dollar amount in the bank or in assets will give you piece of mind. But you’re still using money to get what your heart wants.
This link between our heart and our wallet is one reason why the Bible has so much to say about money. According to one count there are nearly 2350 verses dealing with money and giving in the Bible. You find the subject in the Old Testament and the New Testament, in the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, in the giving of the Law in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; it’s addressed by the prophets of Israel, and all over the wisdom books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The whole story of Job is predicated on the fact that he was a rich man who lost everything.
Jesus speaks about money more than love or sex, more than He talks about prayer, and more than He talks about heaven and hell combined. He talks about spending money, He talks about saving it, and as we see here in Matthew 6 He even talks about how we give it away. If you’re paying attention, it’s hard to miss the fact that it matters a LOT to Him. And of course, the rest of the books of the New Testament reflect what the apostles learned from Him so many of them address the subject too.
But, often times we don’t want to talk about money in church because we think it means the church is going to ask us to give. And there’s a reason for that. Some churches and Christian ministries ask for money too much and they ask in bad ways and for bad reasons. Here’s why: churches and ministries are run by people, so they tend to make the same mistakes about money that people do – they think having more of it is somehow going to solve all their problems.
Having money will solve some problems, it will let you do something things, but it can create plenty more problems if it was gained the wrong way or used for the wrong things.
There are radio stations I can’t listen to because they’re always asking for money or trying to sell you something. There are misguided churches out there asking people to commit to give a pledged amount so they can build something that might not be what God really wants built or pay off something that might have never been His plan in the first place. And if they have to use guilt, or coercion, or slick marketing tricks and principles they learned from the corporate world to pry some change out of your pocket well, there’s something wrong.
You should never feel guilted or shamed into giving, you should never give because you feel like they’ve worn you down with their pleas or tugged at your emotions.
And yet, you should give. There’s no getting around that. You just need to do it in a way that pleases Jesus. So let me give you three principles for giving if you’re taking notes.
Number one: our giving should be generous because we serve a generous God.
The apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:8 “let him who gives, give generously.” And again in
2 Cor 9:5 … prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.
Asking how much do I have to give is like an unmarried couple asking: how far can we go in our physical relationship and it not be sin? If you’re all you’re looking for is the boundaries, your heart is headed the wrong way. Why would you head out toward the fences instead of toward the throne in the middle? The better question to ask is: what do I really need, and how much, and where does it come from?
Number two: giving should be done joyfully
2 Cor 9:7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
God doesn’t want your giving to feel like a chore or something you ‘have to do’ He wants you to want to do it. You become a cheerful giver when you understand that you’re giving away what God has given you and that it’s going to bring joy to others when they receive it. It really is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
Number three: giving should be a reflection of our own prosperity
1 Cor 16:2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.
As you prosper, your giving should increase. So, for me, giving isn’t just something that happens with my paycheck, but if I receive a gift, or make a little money on the side, then I give some of that money too, or maybe all of it.
Let me just read some more Scripture to you here on this subject:
1 Tim 6:6 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
1 Tim 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
You can’t get around the idea that God promises you a blessing in Heaven for the giving you do here on earth. That’s where we started this morning too – Jesus said give secretly, without making a big deal about it, and your Father will reward you.
Some of that reward will be in Heaven, but some of it will also be here on earth – as you give, sometimes, though not all the time, but sometimes, God will give you even more. As you show that money doesn’t have a hold on your heart, as you demonstrate that you are not stingy, that you won’t hold on to everything He brings along, He often brings more so that you can give more.
2 Cor 9:6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
But it’s not just those who are rich who should be giving. We can all give something. Jesus praised the poor widow who put pennies in the box at the Temple. Why? God doesn’t need your pennies. But her giving reflected her heart. She wanted to worship and to declare her dependence on God and trust in Him even though daily life was a struggle.
That’s not uncommon. Study after study has shown that the more money people make, the less inclined they are to give, but poor people in general are more generous. Listen to what Paul says about the poor churches in Macedonia and how much they wanted to be able to help with the money he was collecting to help the church in Jerusalem.
2 Cor 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
Here’s the point this makes to me: we don’t just honor God with our excess, with our bonus, with what’s left over after we do all the things that are important to us, we honor Him with it all. This poor church was bubbling over with generosity and fighting for the opportunity to give and help others.
As you read the Scriptures there is no getting around the observation that happy, spiritually healthy, Christians give – whether they tithe 10% or not, whether that’s before or after taxes, healthy Christians give. They’re able to look at money and say, “You don’t run my life. I don’t need all of you. And to prove it, I’m sending some of you away.” And look, it feels good to be able to tell your money where it’s going to go and what it’s going to do instead of having it tell you what needs to happen.
So, where should you tell your money to go when you give?
Well, based on what I see in Scripture, I would argue that the first, and primary place for your giving is to your local church. Almost all of the giving we see in the Old Testament was directed toward the tabernacle and Temple, and almost all of the giving we see in the New Testament is directed toward the local church. And then the church has several things it takes care of.
It provides for the pastors. Jesus said that those who spend their life in ministry should be supported as they do it, he noted “the workman is worthy of his wage.” Paul spoke of how it was right for churches to support their pastors and that has been the pattern of the church throughout history.
But then churches are supposed to help missionaries and other churches. One of the big themes of giving in the New Testament is one we’ve encountered this morning, Paul was collecting funds from other churches to help with the needs of the church in Jerusalem. And churches like the one in Philippi were collecting and sending money to Paul to keep him going on his missionary journeys.
This is one reason we, as a church, give to help others locally and overseas. When you give to the church you’re not just helping pay the electric bills, cover maintenance costs, and pay the staff, you’re also supporting widows and orphans in Ethiopia, helping build churches in Mexico, and spreading the Gospel in West Africa. You’re helping strengthen local churches, make sure there’s a chaplain in the jail, and reach college students at George Mason.
Giving to non-Christian sources is nice, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but your priority, far and away and above everything else should be to support gospel-centered ministries that point people to Christ as the answer for all their eternal needs. Donating to the Red Cross is not going to save souls and, arguably, depending on the charity, might not saving much of anything else either.
So, the first thing you should do is attend a good church, a Bible-believing, Christ-following, God-honoring church and then give joyfully, generously, sacrificially, to support it’s work.
But don’t stop there. We also have an obligation to take care of our family, our flesh and blood family. The Bible says that if you don’t take care of them, you’re worse than an unbeliever. According to Titus, when someone asks the church for money the first question the church should ask is: how is your family helping you? Because that’s an obligation.
And, we should have our eyes open to other needs God might want us to meet outside of our church. Maybe there’s a missionary He wants you to support personally. Maybe there’s a ministry you feel called to support above and beyond our support of the church. And maybe there’s an immediate need right in front of us – an opportunity to do a charitable deed without letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing.
The bottom line is this: God has been a tremendous source of blessing to us, and is giving us the chance to be a source of blessing to others. God sent His Son to save you. He spared no expense in bringing you into His family and promises that He will not withhold any good thing from you. We need to know that
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
That our Father promises to meet all of our needs, and then invites us, as His representatives, to meet the needs of others as well. True Christian giving will never make you poor, after all, we are stewards, what we give never really belonged to us anyway – but it can make you spiritually rich.
I want to encourage you to take time today, and this week, to consider all that you have received from God, and let Him provoke you to give in response – to see needs and opportunities around you to reflect the generosity and joy of our great, great, God.