Have you heard about the recipe for misery? Chas Kingsley once said, “If you wish to be miserable, think about yourself; about what you want, what you like; what respect people ought to pay you; and then to you nothing will be pure. You will spoil everything you touch; you will make misery for yourself out of everything good; you will be as wretched as you choose.” You see, when everything becomes about me, I quickly descend into misery. When everything centers around me, I quickly focus on those around me that seem better than me. That produces within me envy, pride, and resentment. One common response is to work hard so that people notice me. Keep this in mind as we begin in Matthew 6 and learn about Jesus’ teaching on charitable giving.
Chapter 6 begins with what appears to be a confusing statement by Jesus: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them.” It appears confusing because Jesus earlier said in the Sermon on the Mount that His disciples are the “light of the world” (Matt 5:14) and “let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). So, should we let others see our good works or should we be careful not to practice our righteousness in front of people? The answer is “Yes, both are true.”
In the earlier section, Jesus told His disciples that they are to do good works before others so that those who see it would praise God. In our current section, Jesus condemned using good works in order to gain the approval and praise of others. There is a difference between wanting to be seen/praised by others when you are doing good works and wanting God to be praised by others when you are seen doing good works. In the former, the motivation for good works was God’s glory. In the latter, the motivation for good works was personal glory. We must always ask ourselves: “Why am I doing this? Am I doing it so that people will see that I am a good person or because I want people to praise the Lord?” Let us consider this further by discussing the importance of giving generously, the danger of giving selfishly, and the blessing of giving secretly.
The Importance of Giving Generously
Our Lord Jesus Christ expects His followers to give generously; especially to those in need. He specifically said, “whenever you give to the poor.” Giving is not optional for Christians and the Church. We are expected to be generous and gracious with our money as we help those in need. The money and resources we have actually belong to God. Christians must not be hoarders, but givers because we are not owners but managers. Managers are responsible to use what is entrusted to them wisely and in accordance to the wishes/commands of the owner. Everything we have is entrusted to us by God for His glory and for the good of mankind.
This brings up a very common question: “Am I obligated to give money to everyone who asks?” Earlier Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42). Our default should be to give to anyone who is in need. It is wise to err on the side of generosity. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.” Where it gets complicated is if our giving enables someone to continue in sin or a destructive lifestyle. We must ask ourselves before we give: “Why am I giving to them? Do I really care about this person or do I want them to leave me alone?” Maybe giving money is not the best option. It may be more helpful to buy someone a meal rather than give them money for a meal. Give generously.
The Danger of Giving Selfishly
While we must give generously, we must not give selfishly. It may seem like an oxymoron, but it is possible to give selfishly and generously. Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them.” Whenever you give to the poor, don’t “sound a trumpet before you…to be applauded by people.” Our giving may be generous, but if it is given for the approval and applause of others it is selfish and not pleasing to God. Jesus condemned the use of charity in order to get applause and accolades. Ask yourself, “Am I wanting people to notice my good deeds and tell me how good I am? Or do I want to exhort others to love and good works?” For those who desire the applause of others, Jesus said, “I assure you: They’ve got their reward.” Give generously for the glory of God.
The Blessing of Giving Secretly
Jesus tells His followers that when they give to the poor “don’t let your left hand know what your right is doing.” In other words, examine your motive for giving. Are you doing it for the praise of others and the publicity? Are you doing it for the glory of God? Jesus does not mean that we hide our good deeds or that our reward is gone if someone finds out, but that our good deeds must not be just for show. It is great to give to the poor, but don’t give to the poor so that people will praise you for giving to the poor. Jesus says we must not use our good works to garner the praise of others. If you give in order to receive the praise of others, you will receive it; but you will not receive a reward from God. What kind of reward does Jesus have in mind? It is a “reward in heaven” (Matt 5:12) that is promised by “your Father in heaven” (Matt 6:1). It is difficult to guess what the specific rewards will be for those who faithfully give, but we know they will be wonderful. Another type of reward is the satisfaction and peace that comes from obedience. God blesses obedience with peace and joy.
Have you heard about the recipe for JOY? Jesus, Others, Yourself. Keep your eyes on Jesus! Consider Others more important than Yourself! Give graciously for an audience of One!