MATTHEW 6:2b (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:2b “. . .when thou doest thine alms,. . .”
Jesus assumed His followers would be givers. May our generation not disappoint the assumption. Willing, generous giving has always characterized God’s people. Despite multitudes of faults, Christians do tend to respond overwhelmingly to local or global calamities. The present famine in North Korea could be an opportunity for us. If their government will let Christian groups in, I am confident that we the churches of North America would undertake the project of trying to feed the starving masses of North Korea, even though the latter has long been one of our bitterest enemies. I have history on my side in making such a bold claim.
Even those who malign organized Christianity are forced to admire our Founder’s influence on the history of charity. Jesus remains the driving force behind Western generosity. One would have to look long and hard to find a benevolent institution among us that cannot trace its roots to Judeo-Christian influence.
Giving is God ordained, Christ inspired, Holy Spirit prompted, and Bible regulated. As we pursue the goal of absolute perfection in the area of giving, we need to know the rules. Otherwise, we may fall victim to our own greed or boastful giving. Scripture teaches wise guidelines which are to govern our giving.
First, our responsibility to give is not affected by how much we have. We are to give whether rich or poor. “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (LK 16:10 NAS). In order to calculate the amount we would give if we had more money, all we have to do is analyze how much we give now. The percentage will remain about the same. Thus it is wise to teach children good giving habits. Patterns learned when we are young tend to stay with us as we age.
When I was a boy, Dad gave me an allowance of fifty cents a week. Actually, he gave me forty-five cents and kept a nickel to put in my offering envelope for church. I remember this vividly because admission to a movie was fifty cents. I had to save two weeks’ allowance to go to one movie. Unfortunately, I never could refrain from spending the first week’s forty-five cents long enough to get enough from the second week’s allowance to go to a movie. I was always a nickel short. This helps explain why I am possibly the last citizen of the United States never to have seen a John Wayne movie. Due to this, I had a church member once ask me if I was a member of the communist party. I hope he was kidding. Dad may have kept me from learning a lot about John Wayne, but helped me learn a lot about giving to God. The habit he taught stuck. Whatever our financial situation, begin giving immediately. May we all start changing our ways for the better now.
God blesses Second because it is a giving church, and it gives because of its people. We do not have a printing press in the office making counterfeit money. Everything our church gives has been given by you, dear ordinary folks. Second has no sugar daddies, no patrons who can pay all the bills, no members who give huge and exorbitant amounts. No one can say we can leave it to others to pay the bills. We are the common people’s church. There has always been at Second a sense that everyone, whatever their financial station, helps carry part of the load.
Second, how we handle material things helps determine God’s willingness to trust other matters to us. “If you are not fit to be trusted with the wicked wealth of this world, who will trust you with the true riches?” (LK 16:11 Phillips). Scripture unflatteringly calls money “filthy lucre” (1 P 5:2) and “unrighteousness mammon” (LK 16:11 NAS). How well we handle this lesser important material stuff often determines what God allows us to do with more important spiritual things.
God cannot entrust many eternal things to people who fail in managing temporary financial things. This explains the spiritual frustration of some Christians. If we feel God is not opening enough doors of opportunity for us to serve spiritually, examine ourselves. Are we being faithful in the elementary ABCs of giving? If not, more mature XYZs of spiritual responsibility will continue to elude us.
A trait of the great 1978 Gosnell revival was a transformation in our attitude toward giving. Ruth and I knew our church was not ready to buy busses, but we also knew we had to start a bus ministry. Realizing leaders must carry the vision until others catch the vision, Ruth and I bought with our own money used busses to begin the ministry. As revival began to spread among our people, church members eventually reimbursed to us every dime we had spent buying those busses. As the people continued becoming more generous in opening their purse strings, God opened the windows of heaven and let ever greater spiritual blessings flow.
Speaking of twenty years ago, that was when the people of Second began stretching themselves in the area of giving. For a generation now, our church has sustained its ongoing day-to-day affairs through our people’s regular tithes, and has built needed buildings through our people giving above and beyond the tithes. Twenty years ago–very interesting–I remind us God’s extraordinary blessing on Second began about then. Seeing our faithfulness in the lesser matter of giving, God has placed on our shoulders greater responsibilities and opportunities. As we remain faithful in finances, He will entrust to us His work and Word in the world.
Third, the way we give helps us determine whether material things are our possessions or our possessors. A rich young ruler (MK 10:17ff) fell at Jesus’ feet and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, knowing the man’s possessions had a death grip on his heart, replied, “Go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” These words saddened the ruler. “His face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.” The young man’s wealth possessed him.
Ted and Dot Lewis, a couple I served as pastor, took early retirement to do volunteer mission work around the world. As they began to divest themselves of their possessions, they went through anxious days, but once the house, car, furniture, and other possessions had all been dispensed with, Dot said she experienced the most freeing moment of her life. A huge life-long burden suddenly vanished.
Interesting, is it not? It is not what we give away that grieves us. Our burdens and sleepless nights are caused by what we have. No one in this congregation stayed awake last night worrying about the offering they would bring to church today, but several lost sleep due to a house or car which is producing payments beyond our ability to pay, or due to items purchased on a credit card which is tightening like a noose around our neck. According to pollster George Barna, one-third of born again adults say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt they have incurred.
Are material things our possessions or possessors? Our attitude toward giving answers the question. Giving is God’s way of setting us free from the shackles of stuff. God certainly does not need our gifts. He is sufficient. There is need in those to whom we give, but God could directly intervene and help them without requiring us to give. He obviously sees that the greatest need is in us, in the ones who ought to be giving. Giving keeps us free from being owned. If I can let it go, it does not possess me. Do not deceive ourselves. What we clutch possesses us.