Matthew 6:2-4 Is Charity a Waste?
“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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2–4, ESV)
Open your Bibles to Matthew chapter six. We started last week into chapter 6, looking at verse one. We’ll be looking at verses two to four today, but as we noted last week, verses 1-18 is the whole unit with a couple of threads that run through all 18 verse: 1) the idea of hypocrisy, and 2) the idea of rewards. As we did last week we will do again this week, reading verses 1-18 and then we will focus in on verses 2-4. Before I begin reading, I will let you know that we are doing the offering at the end of the worship service, so it’s coming. There’s a reason for that – we’re going to be talking about money today and I thought it would be fitting as an application for us to just pass around the offering plate at the end.
Now, getting into the text, Matthew 6:1-18
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.
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. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Let’s bow for a word of prayer:
Father, we thank you for speaking to us. Thank you for sending your Son 2000 years ago to die on the cross for our sins and to teach us about you and what it is to know you and what it is to share in life with you and to have fellowship with you, to be called friends of God, children of God. Lord, we just pray that as we look at this text this afternoon about giving and being charitable with our money, I pray that if there are any in this room who consider giving or performing charitable acts of kindness a waste of time or just a waste of their money, Lord, I pray that you would convict us and show us just how much you desire for us to be merciful with all that you have given to us. I pray, Father, that you would drive that truth home to us today, that as your people, as your children, our money is an instrument of righteousness to be used for your glory. I pray that you would show that to us today. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Charity as Advertisement
This past decade has seen the near collapse of a number of rather large banking institutions and it has seen the actual collapse of a number of other energy businesses and large corporations, companies which folded and declared bankruptcy largely as a result of fraudulent business practices and accounting, largely as a result of greed – companies desiring to spend their money on their high executives and top agents within the corporation. You know, when corporations think about charity and giving money to kind and benevolent causes, they almost invariably do so with a view towards enhancing their reputation within the community. Giving money to shelters and homeless organizations and Red Cross and other various non-profit organizations, companies that do so advertise it. They advertise it because they want to purchase your respect and admiration for them. Their running a business and they know that when it comes time for you, the consumer, to make business decisions about which banks you’re going to use or which corporations you’re going to go with, those are things that are going to stick with you. So when they give money to these charitable organizations, they have no intention of actually wasting those dollars on the people those charitable organizations seek to benefit. That is a rather crafty ploy on their part to advertise their good-will and thus earn and secure your business.
It’s no different with the Pharisees, with the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. Their business is ruling the nation of Israel. Their hole-in-the-wall, the position they fill in society is that they are the go-betweens between the Roman empire (which couldn’t care less about their religion and every concern about their money and their taxation) and those individuals that they (the Romans) have to tax, those individuals who don’t really think it’s right to be honoring Caesar as some sort of a god. Yet, you have these guys in the middle: religious as well as political. When they perform their acts of righteousness, when they live out the so-called Christian life, they’re not authentic in what they’re doing – we saw that last week. They are acting the part.
This all raises the question for us today: What is it that Christ desires from us with our money? What is it that authentic Christian living looks like when it comes to charity? Is charity a waste?
Is Charity a Waste?
Christ doesn’t think so. Look as verse 2: “Thus, when you give to the needy”. Verse 2 begins with “Thus” which is referring to what came before, which is verse one, which (as we saw last week) is not that we are to be flaunting our good deeds or our righteousness in order to be seen by others, but at the same time it’s not that we are to be so super secret about what we’re doing that not even we know exactly what it is that we are doing. We are to be lights that are to shine in the community but we are not to shine in such a way that we are seeking the applause and the approval of those around us. We are only to be seeking and only to be interested and concerned with what God thinks of us.
In verse two, He begins this next section of teaching which is about charitable giving which is referenced back to verse one; “Thus” – in this way, when you give you are to have no regard for what other people think of you. And He’s going to draw a contrast with the religious leaders of His day: “when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets”. Some individuals reading this passage have inferred that a practice that the religious leaders of Christ’s day might have had is that they would literally blow a trumpet any time that they gave money to someone. All of the historical research and scholarship shows no evidence of this anywhere. Nobody is actually blowing a trumpet. That’s significant because, right off the bat, what you see Christ doing is exaggerating for effect. He wants you to see something so He’s deliberately engaging in a form of hyperbole to make sure that you get the point. And the point that He’s making is that when the religious leaders of His day give money, they do so with a view to making sure that, in some way, other people notice them. In other words, their giving is done specifically in order to enhance their reputation. They’re not really concerned with, not really motivated to bring blessing into the lives of the needier individuals. Sure, they’ll give to them, but ultimately the heart condition, the purpose for what they’re doing is to get other people to note what they’re doing so that they will applaud them. Christ is exaggerating and that’s significant, also because He’s going to exaggerate in the second half as well. But here in the first half, He’s saying, Don’t blow a trumpet before as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.
He references to locations: “the synagogues”, that is the worship facilities where they would gather and have their worship services on Saturday, and “the streets”. Now, when you’re giving money to someone, they’re going to notice you’re giving them money, and there were two locations where these guys were obviously involved in this sort of practice. One was in the synagogues, where they would meet and have worship services. No doubt there would be poor individuals, beggars, who would gather at the synagogues, perhaps outside, perhaps participating in the worship services inside the synagogues with them. During these worship services, either as they were coming or going or perhaps even in the middle of the worship service, it would not be uncommon for these guys to walk over to just casually give money to poor people, people who needed it – that was going to be noticed, whether they did it in the synagogues or on the street corners. These guys had such a reputation and such standing that they just walk over in the midst of a worship service or immediately upon entering or leaving the synagogues before and after the worship services, or even on the street corners and in the market places, people are going to take note of them; they’re going to watch what they’re doing. They’re not hiding it, but they’re not blowing trumpets, necessarily – Christ is exaggerating. By virtue of the fact of who they are, by their position, their status within society, people are watching them; they are noting what they’re doing. Knowing that, knowing that people are watching them, they take their money – knowing that all eyes are on them – they walk up, they’re not literally blowing a trumpet, and they hand it to somebody who might need it.
Of course, all they audience sees this and they begin to think, “Yeah, those are good guys. They really do care about poor people.” But as far as Christ is concerned, it’s all show, all for their reputation. There’s no actual substance to it. He says that you are not to do that. That should hurt us a little bit. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a good deed for someone. If you have, I’m sure you have experienced the temptation to talk about it, to offer it up as a “praise report” at Life Group perhaps – “Yay. I did a good deed for a guy today,” or “I gave money to this organization today.” But Christ’s teaching here is that should not be your heartbeat. You’re always kind of itching to share with people and that’s not how you’re supposed to be.
How to Give
He goes on in the next verse, “when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”. You’re hands don’t actually possess any cognitive intelligence. Again, Christ is exaggerating for effect. In the first half He exaggerates by saying that the Pharisees were blowing trumpets in giving their money. Then, as He is challenging that notion of giving, He’s saying that as you give, there shouldn’t be a lot of back-and-forth between your hands, almost as if they were having a conversation about it. That’s just imagery to show that when you give money, when you give to charitable organizations, it’s not to be done with a whole lot of regard, with a whole lot of consideration for yourself.
Early church father, Chrysostom, in one of his homilies made this comment:
“Jesus is not talking about literal left and right hands [having a conversation]. Rather, he is speaking spiritually with intentional exaggeration. If it is possible,” he says, “for you to remain unaware, let this be your goal.”
What he’s hinting at is that when you give, you shouldn’t be giving a lot of regard to yourself, either before or after the act. If it’s possible, you are to do it without giving it a second thought – out of just who you are as a Christian, with the relationship that you have with Christ – if it’s possible, you are to just give and not worry about whether or not they noticed it or whether or not they’re thanking you or whether or not other people noticed it or whether or not other people are clapping and applauding. To give no thought and no consideration, you’re not really trying to keep it secret, because, again, that would be giving it a lot of thought and consideration to make sure nobody could possibly notice it – and as we’ve already seen from last week, that’s not what Christ is really shooting at here. But you are just to give.
How do you give with the right Heart?
How do you have that kind of a heart condition, where you can give with disregard for yourself, not really giving a lot of thought to your own personal well-being. You just reach in your pocket, you see someone who has a need and you give it to them – how do you do that? It has to be and it can only be from a trust relationship with God the Father. He says here, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” In other words, when the Pharisees, the scribes and the religious leaders give money, they do it to be noticed and they are noticed and they are respected for what they do, and that’s all the reward they’re going to get. When they hand out money, they’re paying for their reputation and they get their reputation and nothing more. When you give, don’t take a whole lot of thought to your reputation, but “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret,” and Christ’s promise here is that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” So, the secret to giving money without regard to yourself, without worrying whether people notice it, without making sure you get a pat of the back, the secret to all of that is recognizing that God’s eyes are on you all the time, that He sees everything you do. That sounds good, but how many of us really live every second of our day noting that every second is being watched and observed carefully by God? He’s saying that without giving a second thought to it, not having an extended conversation, you reach in your pocket you give somebody some money – you don’t even think about it, you’re just going on with your day. And you don’t need to give it a lot of thought because you know your Father is watching you every second and you know who He is as your Father and you know that He is a good God that has to reward you and bless you if you do those things. Now, if you know that and it is always at the forefront of your mind then that is the answer to not giving a lot of thought to these things.
Think about why it is that we refuse to give money – well, we’re not entirely sure that we can do without. We have to sit back and calculate; we have to count the cost – “Can I afford to give this much this month or can I swing it if I live on a lesser budget next month? Can we squeeze this in with our finances?” What Christ is teaching here is to do it in secret, quietly, without a lot of consideration.
Don’t misunderstand me or what this passage is saying. Christ is not saying to go out and give away all of your money and then that He’ll reward you with ten times more. That’s obviously the “health and wealth/prosperity gospel”. What He is saying is that when you see somebody in need, you’re to meet those needs. The only way you can really do that is if you know your Father is watching you at every second.
What’s behind Door Number 2?
There’s been a game show that’s been running on TV for a long time now, maybe 40 or 50 years: The Price is Right. It used to be Bob Barker, now it’s Drew Carry. I haven’t seen an episode in probably 20 years, but in this TV show, you guess the value of certain products. It all revolves around money and you being able to correctly identify the value of certain things. At the very end of the show, it comes down to two individuals. They both come down to these two bright, neon podiums from the 70’s and they stand behind them and they get shown what’s behind “door number one” and the first contestant is shown all of these luxurious things, and if his guess of the retail value of all of these things is closer than the other contestant’s then he wins that prize. And the first contestant gets something that the second doesn’t: he gets to see behind door number one and he gets to choose whether or not he wants to make a guess for the items behind door number one because he could win all that stuff if he’s right, or he can choose what’s behind door number two. I’ve never been on the game show; I’ve never gotten the opportunity to guess and amazing prizes and how much they might be worth, but I can’t imagine that tension. It sounds like just a game show, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t make a big difference – it is just stuff: a trip to Tahiti, a car, some furniture, etc. – it’s really not that much, but it’s significant.
But here’s the thing – if you’re that first guy, you see all that’s out there and you know it’s good. You’re not entirely sure what’s behind door number two. You can bid on this or you can bit on what you don’t know yet.
In this passage, that’s exactly what we’re looking at. What we do know and what we can see with our own eyes and what we can measure is the value of other people liking us and respecting us and thinking much of us. That’s door number one, and most of us – if we’re willing to be brutally honest with ourselves – that’s what we’re bidding on; that’s what we’re shooting for. But what Christ is saying is, “Choose door number two. Don’t worry about what’s behind door number one. Don’t worry about what you can see with your eyes. Shoot for door number two.”
That’s what Christ is saying here – take a risk, trust Him, trust what He’s saying and wait for your Father’s reward.
That’s not the Whole Story: When you Give
So now we’re all here today, and we’re hearing this, and we’re thinking, “Okay, good. So, if and when I give my money I need to not worry about whether or not people see me, I need to recognize that God sees me, and He’s going to reward me and whatever reputation, whatever I get, He’s going to give it to me and it’s going to be way better and worth way more than what I can see in this life, right? Lesson learned, great sermon – way to go, Josh! That was short – let’s go watch the Super Bowl. It’s all said and done,” right? I know that’s what some of you are thinking – “If and when I choose to give.” That is not what Christ is saying. This is a parallel statement. In the first half He’s saying, “When you give, don’t blow a trumpet.” In the second half He’s saying, “When you give, do so in secret, that your Father will reward you.” We jump to that right off the bat – easy application: keep it a secret, don’t brag on it, keep it quiet, go with what’s behind door number two and not what you can see front and center behind door number one.
Okay, great. But you’ve missed the first half of the statement, which is repeated both times. Look at what He says here – go back, verse two: “When you give to the needy”. Look again, verse three: “When you give to the needy”. The front and center application that just jumps out at you is that you, as a Christian, are not to be doing charitable acts for the recognition of others – lesson learned, straight and simple. But, if that’s as far as you’ve looked, you’ve missed what is built into the lesson from the very first word: “When you give”. Christ is assuming that all of us in this room are going to be giving. He makes the statement in verse one to do your good deeds, not so that you’ll be noticed by other people, but you’ll be seen by your Father. Verse two He says, “Thus [in this manner], when you give”. Verse three, “Don’t be like that, but when you give”. Both times the assumption is there that as a child of God the Father, your heart will be moved towards giving.
Doing Acts of Mercy
I want you to look at this real quick, verse two He says, “Thus when you give to the needy”. In most of your translations that’s what it will say. The literal Greek behind the English translation there is eleēmosynē is alms; it’s charitable giving. It’s the same word that you find over in Acts chapter 10 – Cornelius, one of the centurions of the Italian cohort, gave alms to the people and he prayed continually night and day. An angel of the Lord appears to Cornelius and says, “Cornelius, your alms and your prayers have ascended before God as a memorial.” (Acts 10:1-4)
What the angel of the Lord is saying is that God has been reminded of you based upon all the righteous things that you’ve done. The same word is used there, eleēmosynē. Charitable giving, what does this word mean? The word means “act of mercy”. In Acts 10, he’s performing an act of mercy for poor people, and so it’s translated there “alms” – something you give out of devotion or reverence for God, but it’s something you give to poor people, so the best English rendering of that would be “alms”. Here, in Matthew 6, it’s translated “giving to the needy” but the literal meaning of the word is “act of compassion” or “act of mercy” – something that you sacrifice, something that you give in order to be merciful or compassion or kind to somebody who is hard pressed under adverse circumstances. That’s what the word means.
The first word “poieo” means “to do”. So, if you want to back up and get an extremely literal rendering of this passage, what Jesus is saying here is, “When you do your merciful acts”; “When you do your sacrificial benevolent giving”; “When you do something that is kind and compassionate for someone else”. When you do that, 1) don’t sound a trumpet and 2) don’t give it a lot of thought. On the front of the passage, what He’s saying there is, “When you do merciful acts for others”. This idea of giving alms is really Christian. In all the other world religions there are generous things that you can do for poor people – giving alms and helping them out, being generous, being benevolent, being kind, being merciful. But in none of the other world religions, none of them, do you find that the god of that particular faith exemplifies the concept of alms - that is, acts of sacrificial mercy – the way you find that in Christianity. Alms, or having mercy on another person, giving sacrificially to bring mercy to another person, that is a thoroughly Christian idea because our entire faith is built on the greatest of all alms: Jesus Christ; He didn’t give us money. He didn’t sacrifice lambs for us. He gave Himself for us.
The Story of Sacrifice
This idea of sacrifice is pretty interesting. The first sacrifice recorded within the Scriptures is found in Genesis 4. Cain and Abel offer up an “offering” (there it’s not called a sacrifice). The most basic idea related there is that in sacrifice and giving we offer back to God what is already His. They are making an offering to the Father. It’s sort of an act of tribute or honor, but ultimately they are just giving back to Him what is already His. That’s really probably one of the most basic idea of all alms giving, all sacrifice, that you are giving what belongs rightfully to the Father. Everything that we have is God’s – it all belongs to Him in an ordinary way. So when you give anything to God it’s not that you’re actually giving anything to God. You’re not giving anything that He didn’t first give you. What you are doing in alms giving, in all sacrifice, is that you are paying tribute to Him, utilising things that He has given you in order to pay honor to Him. That’s the most basic idea of sacrifice.
The next time we encounter sacrifice in the Scriptures is Genesis 8. It’s not mentioned anywhere in between. After the flood, Noah comes out of the ark, and he offers up whole burnt offerings. What we learn from that sacrifice is that God’s heart can be moved by what we give. His attitude and disposition towards us can be fundamentally changed as a result of what we give back to Him. It says, “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man...” The sin that prompted God’s judgment (in the flood) remained in the hearts of Noah and his children – they weren’t really different people; they were still sinful, but because of their willingness to honor God in giving back to Him, His heart condition was changed. He made a covenant, saying that He would never completely destroy the earth using a flood ever again. So we learn from that some sacrifices, when they’re offered correctly, they impact His heart emotionally. They move Him.
Then we go another 14 chapters to Genesis 22 to where Abraham is offering up Isaac. That’s the next time sacrifice is mentioned in the Bible. That sounds pretty horrific to some of us. We can’t imagine what it would be like to be asked to take our very own son, our very own flesh and blood, something that’s been promised to us from God and being told to give it back. And yet what we learn there most basically is that God has the right to demand anything from us, since it is always, all of it, all His, including our very own firstborn children. He’s entitled to all of it. So Abraham takes Isaac up onto the mountain and he goes to sacrifice him and at the last second, after his devotion has been tested and proved, God stops him from killing Isaac, but you’ll notice the sacrifice does not stop – He then provides for Abraham a ram so that Abraham doesn’t have to kill his own son but he can still worship God by giving something back to God, which God Himself gave. So He does. We learn from that that God, rather than killing us or killing our firstborn sons, will accept a substitute.
So far we’ve learned that sacrifices are an act of tribute, giving to God what He deserves. We’ve learned that some sacrifices can move Him emotionally. And we’ve learned that He is willing, rather than taking our own life, to accept a substitute in our place.
Then we turn to the book of Exodus, and the story of sacrifice takes an unusual turn. A whole nation deserves to die. All the firstborn sons – not just Egypt, wicked as they are, but Israel too. Everybody’s firstborn son. Everybody is guilty. Everybody has sinned. Everybody is called to account. But God promises to spare the firstborn sons of Israel if they will take a substitute sacrifice in the form of a Passover Lamb, slaughter it and smear the doors of their homes with its blood. They do so, and you think, Okay, that’s pretty consistent with what we’ve seen so far. But immediately upon doing that God passes over them, strikes down the Egyptians, leads the people out of captivity in Egypt and He says, “You are now my covenant people.” The unusual twist in the story of sacrifice at this point is that whenever you offer sacrifice to God, when ever you offer substitute to Him on behalf of yourself, you yourself are still forfeit to Him. You belong to Him and you are concecrated to Him, even though His wrath has been spared.
In the book of Exodus, not a whole lot happens. They go on into the wilderness for forty years and then all of a sudden an entire book is written about sacrifice, the book of Leviticus. As they’re coming into their country, as they are being brought into Israel, they’ve got all kinds of sacrifices they have to be offering up; they’ve got fellowship offerings, whole burnt offerings, firstborn offerings, guilt offerings, freewill offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings, scape goats and Passover lambs, there are offerings to begin and end every single day; there are offerings that mark the beginning of each week, each month, and even sacrifices that mark the beginning of seasons. There are all kinds of sacrifices. You can slaughter all kinds of stuff! I mean, the blood can just flow freely – you’re just murdering animal after animal after animal. And what we find there is that after God commands all these sacrifices and all of these animals’ blood to be shed, after pouring forth thousands upon thousands of gallons of animal blood, what we find is that Israel went from being faithful and contrite before the Lord, and repentant in offering these sacrifices, that they exchanged real repentance for religious ritual. And God makes the statement to them, “I do not want your sacrifices anymore.” What we begin to see after hundred of years, after thousands upon thousands of animals being slaughtered mercilessly left and right is that you can shed all the animal blood in the world; you can just pour forth unending streams of blood, and it will not satisfy Him if your heart is not right.
Ultimately what we find in all of the repetition of all of the sacrifices, even when your heart is right, those sacrifice always have to be offered over and over and over again. They do not effectively do anything for our sin. They don’t actually atone for anything. They don’t actually change the game at all. So much so that in Malachi, God makes the statement: “I am not pleased with you…and I will accept no offering from your hands,” (Malachi 1:10). Those are chilling words to you. You’re feeling pretty exposed and naked at that point. Probably like Isaac, laying on the altar as his father raised the knife. Probably like Israel would have felt in Egypt if they haven’t been told to paint blood over their doorposts. You’re feeling pretty much like there’s nothing to do at this point. If God will not receive your sacrifices, how do appease your guilt before Him?
Jesus is the Ultimate Alms
That’s where Jesus Christ comes into play. Jesus comes to give the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of mercy, to live a perfect life, and to die as a substitute for you, in your place, so that God will be satisfied. He can look upon the blood of Christ and have mercy on you. When Jesus dies on the cross, that is the ultimate alm, the ultimate act of merciful giving. When Jesus dies on the cross, He completely removes us from our guilt; He completely pays the price for all of our sins.
We MUST Give
Now, we all love Him and we all revere Him. As we consider living the Christian life, if we do not see it as a sacrificial lifestyle, then we do not know Him who died for us. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, preaching to His disciples, those who follow Him – He assumes that they will follow Him in leading a sacrificial lifestyle. Which means that He does not need, to anywhere in this sermon, point out to them that they need to make sure to give – He assumes that they will. And His instruction here in this passage is not “do this” but “when you do this, this is how you are to do it”. That’s what Christ is saying. That’s His heart. That’s the heart of the Father, and if we are His children that has to be our heart as well.
There is nothing we can give that will earn our salvation. There is nothing that we are commanded to give to earn our salvation. And yet, how can we realistically say that we are His children if there is no desire in our heart to be like Him in our giving. So many of us, when we come to church, we approach it with the attitude, “Well, do I have to give? No, I don’t have to give, so I won’t.” That’s basically how the logic goes. “Giving doesn’t earn any standing with God, any righteousness, so therefore I don’t have to give.” But I want you to stop and think about it from what the text is literally saying. What Christ is saying here is “when you perform, when you do your acts of mercy”. So turn the question around – do I have to perform mercy? Go ahead and say “No.” Go ahead and rationalize it for yourself, that you do not have to perform acts of mercy, but in doing so I want you to consider Christ, who is speaking to you in this moment. Did He rationalize not stepping down from heaven and performing mercy in your life? Of course not.
We’re selfish. Worse than that, we are merciless. We do not care about our brothers and sisters all around us who are in desperate need. We prefer to take our money and spend it on ourselves. And it’s not as though we even need it. We’ve got all kinds of abundance in this country. We are in the top 1% of the wealthiest population in the world. When you look at people living in Africa, in the Philippines, they are living abject squalor compared to how you and I are living in our heated homes with our running water and our electricity, our I-pads and our big-screen TVs, our 2.5 cars, clothing out the ying-yang, wearing a different outfit every day of the week, every day of the year, before using the same outfit twice, when there are people in other parts of the world who are basically naked, not even having any clothing that they can wear. Do I have to give? What a foolish question to come from the mouth of someone who claims to worship the supreme Giver, who sacrificed everything for you. How can you claim to worship Him when you have no desire to give?
Give to the Church
People say, “Okay, fine. I will give. I will support World Changers. I’ll support the children of Africa, the digging of wells in countries where they don’t have any clean running water. I’ll give to all of those sorts of things.” And those are good causes to give to. I support you in that. I would never tell you not to give to those things. But can I tell you something else that you should give to as an act of giving to the needy, an act of giving charity to those less fortunate than yourselves? Give to the church. “Ah, I’m not going to give to the church. I’m not going to support the church. All that money gets spent on overhead costs and administrative costs and turning the lights on, paying the electric bill and turning the heat on.” It does. You’re right, and I’m not going to deny it. If you look at our church budget, you’ll see that there’s a large percentage of our budget that goes towards those basic sorts of things.
But if you’re Joe Shmoe, at home watching the Super Bowl, and all you care about is your Saturday-Sunday weekend; you live for Friday night and you loathe Monday morning, which is how most people in this community live their lives; They don’t want to go to work – they just work to live and they live for the weekend. Their lives orient around two things, the evil of my Monday to Friday 9-5 and the joy and the pleasure of my Friday night to Sunday night. They live for the pleasure and the happiness of being care-free and they loathe the job that is required of them in order for them to have that. When they get up on Sunday, they’re thinking, “Super Bowl”, “Grey Cup”, and when they look up from their TV sets, from on their couches, they cannot help but notice that there are people who gather when they do not. There are people who have friendships and relationships that they do not. And there are people who have a passion and a joy for God which they do not have.
When you give to the church, yes, it’s true – a large portion of what you give is funding a meeting place. But did you ever stop to think about the meeting that takes place there? Did you ever stop to think about the relationships that are formed in the wake of a powerful message on a Sunday morning, on a Sunday afternoon? Did you ever think about the transformation that takes place in the lives of His children as they hear His Word preached, and how those transformed lives go back to that same place of business on Monday morning and make a difference in all of the lives around them? Did you ever stop to think that by giving to the church, though you are supporting a large portion of overhead costs, that those overhead costs are necessary to providing a witness, to this gathering that impacts the lives of untold countless numbers of others? You want to perform an act of mercy? How about being merciful to those who do not know the Lord just by showing up to church on Sunday, worshipping Him, being transformed by what He says to you and then sharing that around the office place when you’re back on Monday morning.
The best question I ever learned to ask, that started off when I was working in landscaping in Texas: “How was the sermon?” “How was the message on Sunday?” That was the first thing I would say to people Monday morning. None of them went to church. I knew it. They all knew I knew it because we crossed that bridge after the first week. Yet I did it every week… “You didn’t go to church? Man, I was so blessed by what happened yesterday,” and I’d tell them what had been preached on, to the best of my ability. They would think it was weird. They would mock me. They would make fun of me. They’ll do it to you, too. But then tragedy is going to strike in their life; they’re going to be broken and on their knees, and they’re going to want mercy. And you pay and you give and you support and you go to church and you go to work and you share truth into their lives, and when that tragedy comes and the people who you are closest to need mercy, you’ll be ready right in that moment to give it to them. You’ll have already planted those seeds; you’ll have already cultivated those relationships. You’ll have already sacrificed as an act of mercy for the good of others.
The Example of John Wesley
We take too much for ourselves and we do not give enough to be merciful to others. And it’s pretty silly because we have some pretty amazing examples, people who have gone before us and shown us the way. Take John Wesley, for example. He was one of the great evangelists of the 18th Century, amazing preacher gifted by God. He was born in 1703, and in 1731, at the age of 28, he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor.
In the first year his income was 30 pounds and he found that if he carefully managed his money he could live on 28 pounds in the course of a year; that left him with two pounds to give to poor people. And so he did. He lived on the 28 and gave away two. In the second year his income doubled to 60 pounds but he still lived off of 28 pounds, which means that he was giving away 32 pounds. Now, I’m not a math genius – correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s more than 50%.We’re quibbling over a 10% tithe – “I can’t give 10% away! I don’t have the money for that in my budget.” I think you do! I think you have more than 10% in your budget, and I think that we have an example given to us by God in one of the greatest evangelists of all time that making this commitment, in finding a way to live year after year on 28 pounds, and guess what God did in his life? He blessed him, doubling his income.
I have, in all of my years of working, never doubled my income in one year. And the truth is, I have never committed, no matter what, to live on a certain amount. Never have I made the same commitment as John Wesley and never have I received the same blessing as John Wesley. So now I know what you’re thinking, that that worked for the second year – he gave away 32 pounds and lived on 28, but surely he was like, “I’m entitled to some nice things. I’ll live on 35 pounds this year and give away 25.” That’s still good – that’s a 45% tithe. Do you think that’s what he did? What brought the blessing in the first place? A commitment to honor God with his money, to use his money to perform mercy in the lives of others.
So, the year after that, guess what happened. He went from 60 pounds to 90 pounds – he tripled his income in three years. I’ve never had that happen. I doubt you have either. You know what he lived on? 28 pounds. You know what he gave away? 62 pounds. I don’t know if you’re doing the math here, but that’s 66% of his income. That’s a good bit of tithe, guys. That’s way more than 10%. This is a true story. I’m not exaggerating. These are the exact numbers. So, over the course of his life, his income eventually advanced to as high as 1,400 pounds in a year.
Every year, as an evangelist, travelling around, preaching the Gospel, taking love offerings from the people he was preaching to, it eventually came to the point where he was making about 1,400 pounds every year. He was a hard working man and he earned every penny of it. Do you know how much he lived on? He wasn’t 100% consistent, though he was honest – he didn’t always live on 28 pounds, but with a straight face he was able to say at the end of his life that his expenses rarely expenses exeeded 30 pounds. He found he could live on 28; some years he made it, some years he didn’t, and he went as high as 30. But for a man making over 1,400 pounds a year, he’s giving away more than 95% of his income. He’s giving it all away. How much can you live on? And the question is not “Do I have to tithe?” but it has to be “How much mercy can I do for others?”
This so baffled the English Tax Commissioners that they were convinced that he was cheating; they investigated him in 1776 insisting that he must be lying, that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on.
He wrote them, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread." People were starving in Great Britain at that time. Just look downtown, church. Look at the people who are hurting, and even the people not physically hurting, not needing bread, not needing something to eat, but spiritually tormented, and then ask yourself, “Do I have to give?” No, we don’t earn our salvation with it, but remember, that’s not really what the text is saying. And the question you should ask yourself is “Do I have to be merciful?”
Your money is an instrument of righteousness. The way you give matters. How you give matters. But don’t miss the fact that God has called you to give. My prayer for you is that you would be a generous, sacrificial, giving, merciful church, in the spirit of your Father, in the likeness of His Son, your great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Matthew is a story about a once and coming King. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of David, the long awaited for Messiah. He has come once, and Matthew tells the story of His arrival, ministry, sacrificial atoning work on the cross, and His promise to return soon.