Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:42a “Give to him that asketh thee,. . .”
Jesus, speaking in the context of seeking personal revenge, draws a mental image. The one who offended us is down on his luck, and asking us for help. Our natural response is to say no, to deny the request, to savor under our tongue the sweet morsel of revenge. Jesus, though, says to give, disregarding what our opponent has done to us. Give as we would give if the person had done us no wrong.
Some have wrested this verse from its context, interpreting it to mean we must give away everything we have if asked. Jesus is not demanding indiscriminate giving. Three truths help us understand our obligation in the area of giving.
First, we give not everything asked for, but do give to everyone who asks (Augustine). We are not obligated to give exactly what is requested. The lame man at the temple was glad Peter and John denied his request for money and gave healing instead (AC 3:6). Jesus, when asked to force one to divide an inheritance, did not grant the request, but instead spoke against covetousness (LK 12:13-15).
We do not have to give the specific thing asked for, but ought to give something. In any encounter be sure others take away from it more than we do. Never send them away empty. Give something, a gift, a reference, a hug, a look of love.
Do not be content with solely giving flippant mouth mercies. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (JM 2:15-17 NAS). Empty words were not enough in James’ day, and not enough today. From within us must flow a genuine love, a compassion perceived, felt, and enjoyed by the one in need.
Second, we cannot give everything requested of us because we have Biblical obligations to fulfill. The first ten percent of what we make belongs to God. Our second responsibility is to our family, “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 TM 5:8). Our third obligation is to pay our debts. “The wicked borrows and does not pay back” (PS 37:21 NAS). The godly are extremely careful to repay what they owe. The prophet’s “axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed” (2 K 6:5). When Elisha helped the widow, he told her to pay her debts first and then live on the rest (2 K 4:7).
This third obligation often veers out of control, becoming a noose around people’s necks. Many are so far in debt that they cannot fulfill their obligation to God and their families. I urge us all to get out of credit card debt, to beware college loans, to live frugally, to buy less expensive cars and houses than we think we can afford. Otherwise, our tomorrows will be mortgaged to our yesterdays.
Third, we cannot give everything asked of us because love requires us always to consider the effect our gift would have on the receiver. We must give as God gives. The Lord does not give us everything we ask for. He gives what is best for us. We must do the same for those who ask of us. We do not want to encourage wrong behavior, such as buying pornography, smoking, drinking, drug abuse, or laziness. “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 TH 3:10b).
Matt. 5:42b “. . .and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou
A person may be too proud to ask for a free gift. To save self-esteem, one might ask for a loan instead. Again, keep Jesus’ words in context. He is telling us to give loans to those who have hurt us as we would to those who have never hurt us. He is not telling us to loan money indiscriminately. Allow me as a pastor to offer wise counsel. Loan money rarely and carefully. As a general rule, loan only what we can afford to lose. The Bible teaches us to be especially wary of co-signing a note for another (PR 11:15; 17:18; 22:26). If at all possible, avoid loaning, give gifts instead. This relieves pressure on the recipient and saves relationships.
Having advised us to be careful in our giving and loaning, I now hasten to say, never let caution drown out liberality. Jesus expects His people to be the world’s most generous people. He will not tolerate tight-fisted penny-pinching. Seeking to give to others through us, Jesus wants us to hold, not clutch, what is ours. We are stewards and managers, not owners, of the possessions He gives us. We are to be Christ’s servants dispensing Christ’s resources at Christ’s pleasure.
Beware the trap of abdicating our own personal responsibility to relieve the misery of those around us. “In the organized charities of modern life we are in danger of letting the milk of human kindness dry up” (Robertson). Some give through official channels, and use that as an excuse for not being personally involved in relieving hurt. Seek opportunities to give directly. Retain the personal element in giving. “He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses” (PR 28:27). Rather than shut our eyes, ever be looking and listening for others to help. Develop a lifestyle of individual giving.
“Turn not thou away.” Turning away is a graphic way of expressing unconcern, of showing disdain. A follower of Christ should never treat others with scorn. All who enter the orb of our lives must sense we value them as treasures.
We have all been most blessed in life by those who treated us like a being of worth. When I was a homesick teen, having to return to school one Sunday after church, my Grandma stepped out of a crowd and said, “We love you, Johnny, and miss you.” When Ruth and I were poor seminary students, a deacon, James Hicks, gave us a one hundred dollar bill to carry in my wallet in case of emergency while we were traveling back and forth between school and church. I carried it for three years and returned it to him when I graduated. When a pastor in Fort Smith, I became lost in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. People were scurrying every direction around me. I finally panicked and yelled out loud, “I’m from Arkansas and need help.” A man stopped and personally escorted me to where I was headed.
We need the Good Samaritan to re-appear as an army of Good Missourians. Let us give as Christ gave to us. His personal death for us is not only the supreme proof of His love for us, but shall forevermore be the required standard for our love to others. The cross must call forth not only admiration, but also imitation.
We gaze at the cross, and are playing it pretty safe to say we would die for Jesus. Few of us will be called upon to do this in one grand event, but we are expected, for Jesus, to die a little more to self each day, to take up our cross daily for the Christ we see in others. Blessed are they who see the hand of Jesus in the hand of the needy. “Most of us are sacrificial by speculation. We like to project our thoughts to concoct a situation where we would be called upon to be the hero. Unfortunately, we are not willing to die a little bit every day to self and selfish promptings” (Landrum Leavell). In dying by inches daily for “the least of these” (MT 25:40), we die fully over a lifetime for the greatest of all, Jesus Himself.