Matthew 6:1-4: Giving

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!

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2: Being a Blessing

Read: Ecclesiastes 11:1-2

The reflections in Chapters 11 and 12 are the beginning of the end of the book of Ecclesiastes that reflects on the finality of life and how one should live in light of this. The Preacher begins these reflections by talking about charitable giving and being a blessing to others. He seems to be pessimistic and almost a miser in many ways as he massed fortunes. But in all this, the Preacher concludes, contrary to popular belief, that charitable acts have benefit. The Preacher says that one should “cast there bread on the water” and find it there later and that one should divide his fortune too. The preacher here is encouraging acts of a charity and being a blessing to others. Such acts can have a high return on investment.

Charitable giving is something that exists throughout the Bible. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 encourages those with means to give freely to those in need. Proverbs 11:24-25 and Proverbs 22:9 encourage the wealthy to be generous in their giving rather than miserly. The entire story of Ruth talks about the charity of Boaz towards Ruth and Naomi.  Jesus says that it should be done for charities sake rather than trying to be braggadocios about it (Matthew 6:1-4).  The early Christians sold their possessions shared the proceeds with those in need (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:34-37, Acts 11:29-30, Romans 15:25-28). The act of giving to others in need is undoubtedly an integral part of what could be called “normal” Christian behavior.

The ultimate purpose of blessings is so that the salvation of God will be known among the nations. The Psalmist in Psalm 67 asks God for blessing to this end. He wants the ends of the earth to worship God because of the blessings that God pours out on the earth. The ultimate blessing God gave came through Jesus. Jesus died on the cross and resurrected from the grave to make a way for everyone to receive salvation from God. At the end of the age, there will be a multitude from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping before God (Revelation 5:9). The Preacher is correct in noting that blessings have a good return on an investment. God uses it as a means to draw the nations to himself. In the same manner, Christians to should be willing to bless others through charitable giving!

Lord, help me to bless others through what you have blessed me with!