Read: Matthew 6:1-4
Alms giving is baked into the Christian ethos and it has been ever since the beginning of the church. Church history shows that where other faiths would have store houses of relics and icons, early churches treasured things like shoes, food, clothing, and other helps that were given to the poor and needy. The early church’s concern for the poor is expressed all throughout the New Testament starting in the early chapters of Acts and going all the way through the end.
Christians though inherited this concern for the poor from the Jews. The ethic of taking care of the poor and marginalized in society was codified as Law for the Jews (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). Prior to the church, synagogues did much the same in their context through the known world where synagogues were found. However, in the course of history, the giving of alms had become a way to show off one’s piety. In Jesus’ day, the offering box was located in a very visible spot in the temple. Worshipers would come by and place their offerings in the box. Those with great wealth would hoist the offering over their heads so that everyone could see it, then offer it. At the same time, those with less would not perform such a ritual, rather would merely place what they had in the box. This is depicted in the story of the widow’s mite in Luke 21:1-4. (Interestingly, the fact that a widow gave at all is phenomenal, as she would usually be the one who was the recipient of gifts!)
When Jesus expresses how one ought to give, he says to do so in secret. He uses a phrase, “do not let your left hand know what the right is doing.” This phrase in English typically expresses lack of communication in an organization, but here the idea is that one should really forget what the left hand gave and give from the right hand too then forget about it – it’s communicating the idea of generosity beyond that which was expected wherein one would merely open one’s hand (singular) to take care of the need (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). This is about going above and beyond the call of duty, which is precisely what the widow who gave everything she had did.
The rewards of God do not imply though that one will receive back in monetary gain what one gave. Likewise, it is not the size of the gift that matters. God’s blessings are spiritual blessings that come from the joy of giving and knowing that one is helped by one’s gift. In all things God’s sees the attitude of the giver, which is what he’s mostly concerned with anyways (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Lord, help me to give cheerfully and generously!