What kind of a giver is God? Consider the quiet blessings, those daily gifts you receive from him. Use your reflections as a springboard for your thanks.
Giving to the needy
6 ‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 ‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Giving, along with prayer and fasting, is a spiritual discipline which kingdom people practise. Notice that Jesus says when you give, not if! Godly giving starts from within (v 4). It is a matter of heart motivation. Are we secretly craving the good opinion of others (vs 1,2)? Or trying to make ourselves feel good, with ‘our left hand applauding our right hand’s generosity’?* What motivates that sponsored run? Whose approval are we seeking when we volunteer our time?
We are unlikely to herald our donations with a trumpet, but do we use social media to proclaim our good deeds? That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t raise the profiles of good causes or encourage others to consider supporting them, but it does mean we need to think carefully about why we post what we post.
God sees everything: the act and the motivation behind it (v 4). Jesus advises secret giving. It not only avoids the temptation of self-centred motivation but follows the example of our heavenly Father. He gives gladly and automatically (because it is part of his nature), unselfconsciously (desiring only to bless others) and unobtrusively.
*John Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, IVP, 1992, p132
Why not resolve to practise secret giving this week? Ask the Lord to show you a need that may cost you time, energy or money and give in a ‘God-way’.
Deeper Bible study
‘Take my silver and my gold; / not a mite would I withhold.’1
John Stott comments that the three practices discussed in this section2 – giving to the needy, prayer and fasting – are basic features of every major religious tradition. Jesus ‘expected his disciples to do the same’,3 but he warned against perverted versions of these disciplines and expected his followers to practise them in ways that are completely distinctive.
The background here relates to the cultures of the ancient world in which a social structure involving grotesque inequalities condemned vast numbers of people to a daily struggle to stay alive. This system was underpinned by the values of honour and shame. The rich and privileged retained and increased their honour by very public displays of beneficence, while the poor were treated as the scum of the earth, lacking honour and kept in their place by their dependence on charity. So when Christ dismisses the public display of giving to heighten the donor’s prestige as hypocrisy, he is attacking a practice which lay at the centre of the culture of the ancient world. The quest for public esteem is specifically challenged when Jesus condemns ostentatious giving ‘to be honoured by others’ (v 2).
Our world is not so different from this. The gulf between rich and poor continues to grow and people with vast wealth are celebrated by newspaper rich lists and a plethora of TV programmes depicting the accumulation of money as the supreme goal of life. However, Jesus’ challenge is directed to his own followers who are urged to give generously to the poor, but with their eyes firmly fixed on God and not motivated by the desire for either public reputation or private self-esteem.
Consider what is implied in not knowing ‘what your right hand is doing’ (v 3). How do we work this out in practice?
1 Frances R Havergal, 1836–79, ‘Take my life’ 2Matt 6:1–18 3 John Stott, A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount, IVP, 2013, p107
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Genesis 26,27; Matthew 10
Pray for Scripture Union
Give thanks for the many Scripture Union movements around the world who are using Guardians of Ancora in their mission with children. Please pray for the newest English-speaking partners: SU Trinidad and Tobago, SU Uganda and the eight movements in Australia (ACT; New South Wales; Northern Territory; Queensland; South Australia; Tasmania; Victoria; Western Australia), as they find ways to use the app.