If there’s one thing people have in common, it’s our desire to help meet a need. If there’s a legitimate need, project or organization raising money, most of us want to the help in whatever way possible. Although it’s not the only way, giving money is one the most effective ways we can contribute. It doesn’t have to be much, but when we join together, we can make a big impact.
That desire to give, however, comes with the natural desire for recognition. We all have good intentions, but we often like to know where our money is going, how it’s being used, and when we will be thanked for contributing. You may not think we often expect recognition, but I think it’s safe to say we often subconsciously desire to be appreciated. If you’re not sure, think about your reaction when someone doesn’t show recognition.
While our human nature pushes us to live somewhat selfishly and desire recognition, Jesus gives us a different message. Jesus calls us to quietly give selflessly so we protect our hearts and focus our generosity towards God.
Jesus’ Message (Matthew 6:1-4)
In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus moved from describing the believer’s righteous attitude to the believer’s righteous action. To do this, he gave three examples: giving money, prayer, and fasting. Here’s how Jesus addressed the first:
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
I often joke around when someone recognizes me by saying, “You just earned another jewel in your crown,” by responding, “Not anymore! You just took it away from me! If I receive praise on earth, I can’t receive praise in heaven, right?” Not exactly. Not to mention, you won’t find much of the phrase “jewel in your crown” in scripture anyways. I believe this has been affected by our hymnology (“Precious Jewels” in particular) than it does scripture (Malachi 3:17).
All humorous correction aside, I think we often miss Jesus’ main point here – our intention behind our giving. Too often we look at the reward, when in reality, scripture is pointing to the action and heart behind the action. In this case, the action of giving money.
Giving Money in the New Testament
Helping the poor was a very common and honourable thing to do, and Jesus clearly assumes that charitable giving was taking place (“…when you give…”). But giving money wasn’t the only thing happening. During this time it was normal for donors to have their generous gifts inscribed on stone monuments and valued based on their contribution.1 Trumpets were also used to signal to others that donors had contributed and needs were being met.2 Now, it’s no doubt that these donors were “good people” with “good intentions;” however, Jesus noticed something – their heart didn’t line up with their righteous act of giving money.
Giving Money “Hypocritically”
We sometimes use the word “hypocrite” in a few of different ways. We can refer to someone who is knowingly deceitful, or simply living with a double standard. But in this case, Jesus pointed to a “self-deceit” – when we fool ourselves to thinking we are giving selflessly, when in reality, we are looking for the praise of those around us.3 As believers, all of our giving should be done for God’s glory, not our own. If we do it for our own glory, we will receive the praise of others and not God’s reward. After all, God rewards selflessness, not our selfishness.
Giving Money “Righteously”
When it comes to giving money we often act to the extreme (all or nothing). So before I attempt to define righteous giving, it might be helpful to state what right righteous giving is not.
- It’s not avoiding reward altogether. Just because giving money can be full of natural tension, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to please our heavenly Father. It’s not about the reward, but the eternal reward shouldn’t derail us from giving money with the right heart.
- It’s not avoiding public gratitude. Jesus publicly noted and praised the widow for her sacrificial offering (Luke 21:1-4). The issue wasn’t found in someone recognizing the faithful actions of another.
- It’s not avoiding planned giving. It would be crazy to think that giving in “secret” means that we can’t pledge our support, plan a budget or write cheques to an organization. God honors planning (Proverbs 21:5), but we should be willing for God to trump our plan.
- It’s not a way into heaven. We can’t buy our salvation, it’s a free gift (Ephesians 2:8). Our salvation, however, should cause us to give freely.
Righteous giving is all about the HEART. It’s about putting away the selfishness of our old-self, and putting on the selflessness of new life. In terms of our giving, we should go from a “calculated giving” that reflects our personal piety and is known to those around us to an “uncalculated generosity” that reflects and points towards God the Father.4
The goal is to give to public matters in such a way that we focus on God and are not driven by our selfish desires.5 To help in this process, Jesus told us to give in secret (even secret from our humanity – perhaps so we don’t talk are way out of it) so that we can guard our hearts and truly focus our giving towards God (Matthew 6:3-4). John Stott wrote it this way:
“Christian giving is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation.”6
Giving Money and Meeting Needs
In our world of selfishness we must go against the grain. We can’t give money to receive something in return, to gain favour in some way, to gain a tax break, or even wish for a greater reward. We must give with the heart and let our quiet generosity point away from us and towards the freedom of the cross. Our reward will be found as we help build the kingdom.
- How can we guard ourselves against hypocritical giving?
- How is God calling you to GIVE today?
While we all have different financial situations and witness different needs, I know God is calling all of us to give money and support the needs around us. Sometimes we may feel like our contribution isn’t much, but God doesn’t require the same some everyone, He calls us to be faithful.
God calls us to give money with a quiet and generous heart.
|⇑1||John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmands, 2005), 274.|
|⇑2||John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1985), 129.|
|⇑3||D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 61.|
|⇑4||Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 130.|
|⇑5||Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 160.|
|⇑6||Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 131.|