Giving is assumed
“So when you give…” (6:2)
“your acts of righteousness” (6:1)
Giving where needed
“… to the needy” (6:2)
Giving in secret
“ do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” (6:3-4)
God will reward you
“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (6:4)
The When, What, Where, How & Why of Giving
Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24
This week I am pleased to say I received a letter from Ernie 4… The Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment. Yes, I’ve won a Premium Bond prize! I’ve only had them a few months. I got fed up with the abysmal interest rate my bank was paying on savings. I don’t regard it as gambling because you can get my money back at any time. I feel quite good about lending my savings to the government to help bail out the banks.
I have already won more money than I could have earned in a year’s worth of bank interest. Rest assured, the prize won’t change my life style. I will be generous with my prize – all two and a half thousand… pennies… (£25)
These Sunday mornings during the Spring we are considering the privileges of church membership. And today we come to the privilege of giving. I want us to see that this is so much more than simply placing money in the collection or giving by direct debit.
In a most profound way, our attitude to money is shaping not only our legacy but indeed, our destiny. Lets begin by asking five simple questions - The when, what, where, how & why of giving.
1. When? Giving is Assumed
Notice Jesus does not say “If you give…” but “when you give...” (Matthew 6:2). If you are a follower of Jesus, he assumes that you give financially. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says,
“On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
We are to give regularly and intentionally. Furthermore, we should give to the Lord of our first fruits not our left overs. It is a sign that we trust him and want to thank him. What is the Lord getting back from you each month? The first fruits or the left overs? Have you ever got home late and found the left overs cold in the fridge?
That’s what our giving appears to God when we are not thoughtful and intentional but only give out of guilt or reluctance.
A frozen offering instead of a fragrant offering. That is why giving by direct debit, at the beginning of each month, best reflects the idea of first fruits. Giving is assumed.
2. What? Giving Generously
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others…” (Matthew 6:1)
In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to tithe 10% of their income to the Temple. This was one of their acts of righteousness. Giving was a sign that they were in a right relationship with God. It demonstrated their thankfulness for all he had provided. In the New Testament God does not lay down any set figure. We live by grace. We are not under the law any more. Nevertheless, many Christians follow the 10:10:80 principle – giving 10%, saving 10%, and learning to live on the 80%. Looking back over 35 years of full time ministry, I can testify that God has always provided for our needs, just as he promises. Paul in his second letter to the Church in Corinth gives us a number of principles to follow based on the example of the Christians in Macedonia.
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
Generously – “whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Intentionally - “what you have decided in your heart to give”
Voluntarily - “not reluctantly or under compulsion”
Prayerfully reflect on where God comes in your giving, your budgeting and spending. Giving assumed. Giving generously.
3. Where? Giving Where Needed
“So when you give to the needy…” (Matthew 6:2)
While we will rightly prioritize gospel ministry, there is much teaching in the Bible on the importance of compassion for the poor, irrespective of background.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
The word Jesus uses for ‘giving’ describes a deed of mercy.
God is a merciful God, ‘kind to the ungrateful and the selfish’ (Luke 6:35), we must be kind and merciful too. That is why a proportion of our mission tithe goes to relieve poverty and suffering. Giving assumed. Giving generously. Giving to the needy.
4. How? Giving in Secret
“ do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” (6:3-4). This is a proverbial expression for doing something spontaneously, with no special effort or show. Some question whether this contradicts what Jesus said earlier where He had specifically commanded, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
The difference between these verses has to do with purpose and motivation. The discrepancy is only imaginary. In the first passage Jesus is dealing with cowardice, whereas in the second He is dealing with hypocrisy. A. B. Bruce gives this helpful explanation, “We are to show when tempted to hide and hide when tempted to show.” Jesus says, 'beware' meaning pay attention to me, be on guard about what I say. The expression 'to be noticed'' is related to the word theatre. In other words, Jesus is warning about showing off. As you know water is scarce in the Middle East, and a water carrier is a welcome sight even today.
In those days, when someone wanted to perform a charitable act and bring blessing to his family he would find a water carrier with a good voice and instruct him to give the thirsty a drink without charge. So the water carrier would go into the market place and cry out "O thirsty ones.. come to drink the offering" The giver would stand beside him saying "bless me who gave you this drink." Today people do it in more subtle ways, like publishing a list of benefactors to some good cause, or putting little plaques on donated church furniture to remind people of their generosity.
The most satisfying giving, and the giving that God blesses, is done and then forgotten. It is done in love in response to a need and when the need is met the giver, does not seek recognition. The principle is this: if we remember, God will forget; but if we forget, God will remember. Giving should be our normal response, done simply, directly, and as discreetly as possible. The when, what, where, how & finally,
5. Why? Giving will be rewarded
“and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:4)
Running right through the Bible is the principle - giving from the heart is investing with God. Jesus promises a reward if our motive is pure. What kind of reward is promised? John Stott says,
“It is probably the only reward which genuine love wants when making a gift to the needy, namely to see the need relieved. When through his gifts the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick healed, the oppressed freed and the lost saved, the love which prompted the gift is satisfied. Such love, brings with it its own secret joys, and desires no other reward.”
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes,
“Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it.’
Jesus makes a similar promise in Luke 6:38.
“Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).
Jesus is describing the reward of being entrusted with more as we prove faithful with what he has already given us. Worldly reward promises the chance to put our feet up.
The reward God gives is often of more work to do. To those who are faithful with mundane things such as money, the Lord will entrust things that are of far greater value (Luke 16). The greatest reward we can have is the knowledge that we have pleased our Lord. We have asked five simple questions - The when, what, where, how & why of giving.
In Matthew 6:19-24, paints two portraits to crystallise the choice before us. There are two alternative treasures (on earth and in heaven). There are two opposite spiritual conditions (light and darkness). There are two mutually exclusive masters (God and Money). Jesus wants us to choose well and enjoy a long life. Jesus wants us to be stress free and live at peace with ourselves. He wants us to live in harmony with our God and with one another. To help us choose wisely he asks us three questions.
1. Where is your security? A Question of Treasure (6:19-21)
What is your ambition? A Question of Vision (6:22-23)
3. Who are you serving? A Question of Loyalty (6:24)
1. Where is your Security? A Question of Treasure
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Jesus is comparing the relative durability of two treasures. It ought to be easy to choose which to store up, he implies, because treasures on earth are corruptible and therefore insecure, whereas treasures in heaven are incorruptible and therefore secure.
What is Jesus forbidding? "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Jesus is not saying ‘no’ to making sensible provision for the future, but being self centred, greedy and wanting more. Jesus is not criticising being provident but being covetous.
Earthly treasure, Jesus reminds us, grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves will break in to steal. (6:19). We may and try and protect our treasures with insecticides, mouse traps, rustproof paint, padlocks, CCTV, burglar alarms and offshore bank accounts. But even if these measures succeed we are still vulnerable to inflation, devaluation, taxation and disintegration. Even if our treasures carry life-time warranties and unconditional guarantees, or we have them buried with us, we cannot take them with us into eternity. If we want to have treasure in heaven - we have to send it on ahead. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” urges Jesus. What is this "treasure" in heaven? Jesus doesn't explain, but it must have to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity. There are many ways we can make deposits in our heavenly bank account. What shall we be doing in eternity?
Deposit 1: Worship
Bill Hybel says, “One joy-filled investment plan is the commitment to be a regular and passionate worshiper. Worship is never wasteful in the eyes of God. Every act of private and corporate worship is a deposit in your heavenly bank account.” Would you buy a used car with no service history?
Bit of a risk isn’t it? While you might gamble with a car is it worth gambling with your life? The Bible tells us the correct service interval to ensure a long and healthy life is what? Every seven days. If you want treasure in heaven, make the minimum of weekly deposits. Worship is one way of making a deposit for eternity.
Deposit 2: Christ-like Character
”The Bible clearly teaches us that if we want to lay up treasure in heaven, one of the best investment strategies is personal character development.” Bill Hybels. Peter put it like this:
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)
Christ-like character is the only thing we take with us to heaven, and those who come to know Jesus through us.
Deposit 3: Expressions of Generosity
Every time we act with compassion, generosly, we add to our treasure in heaven. There is a record of our deeds in heaven.
“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them." (Revelation 14:13).
Ultimately acts of kindness, especially to believers, are made to their Saviour and ours. Remember Jesus’ parable we looked at a couple of weeks ago.
"The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40).
If you want to see your treasure in heaven… you need to send it
on ahead. Worship, Character formation, Generosity and compassion. The very
things we have been left on this earth to do - prepare us and others for
eternity. Where is your security? The Question of Treasure.
2. What is your Ambition? The Question of Vision
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)
Jesus turns from the comparative durability of the two treasures to the comparative benefit derived from two conditions. For the way we view life will determine what we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone who can see. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, cook, paint. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet. In the Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, our motivation, our desire.
Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light on everything we do. A money-focused life on the other hand leads only to fear and darkness, to introspective self-centredness. What do you want to be known for in this life?
Greed or generosity? A light or a warning to others?
is your security? The Question of Treasure.
What is your Ambition? The Question of Vision
It is all summed up in the last question.
3. Who are you Serving? The Question of Loyalty
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)
Jesus now explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (whom we are serving). It is ultimately a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object of our own creation. We cannot serve both. When I was a teenager, one summer, I had two part time jobs on the go at the same time. I worked in a fish and chip shop at night, and a garage as a petrol pump attendant during the day. Neither boss knew of the existence of the other. It worked out fine. Until that is, the August Bank Holiday Monday. Both employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working for someone else. I had to choose.
It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. For single ownership and fully devoted service are expected.
A question of treasure, a question of vision, a question of loyalty. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between worship and idolatry - between the intrinsic worth of knowing and being known by the Living God, and the intrinsic worthlessness of being known for our love of money, it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do. As Bob Dylan put it – “You’re going to have to serve somebody” In fact we already are.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”