MATTHEW 6:2b (part two)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 6:2b “. . .when thou doest thine alms,. . .”
We are considering wise Scriptural guidelines on giving. Our responsibility to give is not affected by how much we have. How we handle material things helps determine God’s willingness to trust other matters to us. The way we give helps us determine whether material things are our possessions or our possessors.
Now a fourth Bible guideline, giving extends our influence. The Macedonians never left home, but their giving fed “the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (RM 15:26 NAS). As a rock cast in water makes waves which seem to go on endlessly, a gift cast on the waters of life causes results which seem to go on forever.
This matter of influence should be important to believers. We ought to feel a never ending burden of stewardship, a need to live several lifetimes in one. I remember well, in my first pastorate I would write letters to church members and prospects and take them late at night to the post office so I could feel I was working twenty-fours a day, even in my sleep. Giving allows us opportunity to expand our influence, to be working even as we play, to be evangelizing even when we sleep, to relieve some of the “I am debtor” (RM 1:14) load we carry in life.
A fifth Scriptural guideline is, ten percent. Giving begins with the tithe. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (MT 23:23 NAS). Giving ten percent of mint, dill, and cummin is about the most inferior instance one can imagine in illustrating the duty of tithing, yet Jesus affirmed it should not be omitted.
Baptists have historically sought Bible precedents for all we do. We separate foreign and home missions not because someone had a good idea, but because in the Bible (GL 2:7-9) Paul was assigned Gentiles (foreign), Peter Jews (home). We believe in autonomy of the local church, for Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (MT 18:20). Jesus is in the midst of our local gatherings, and nothing can be above Him in authority. We bow our heads to pray due to the publican who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven” (LK 18:13). We dress up when we come to church, for David “washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes” (2 S 12:20) before coming to worship at the house of God. We take an offering in church on Sunday morning because Paul told the Corinthians, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” (1 C 16:2).
The Bible is our guide in belief, and also in practice. For all answers in life, believers should automatically look to the Bible, if not for a command, at least for a model, an example, or a principle. In the matter of giving, only one guideline is ever given–the figure of ten percent. The concept is pervasive in Holy Writ.
There is no virtue in seeking always to be innovative, to cast off the ancient landmark principles of Scriptural guidance. We are not under the law, but neither are we under anarchy. Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant (MT 5:17), to lift it to greater heights. He made requirements in many areas more stringent. Laws against murder were raised to laws against hate (MT 5:21ff). Laws against adultery were raised to laws against lust (MT 5:27-28). Laws permitting divorce were raised to laws against divorce (MT 5:31-32). It seems illogical to think Jesus would single out only one matter, the area of giving, and lower its standard alone.
Let me hasten to say, we do not try to lord over our people and force them to tithe, nor do we send out bills. Giving must be personally determined in each individual’s heart. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 C 9:7). I simply urge us to keep climbing higher heights, ever giving more than ever before.
A sixth Bible guideline is, riches given away are the only wealth we always retain. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “Give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven” (MK 10:21). Things given to God are never lost and never die. Early in this century Texas Baptists were blessed by a wealthy man who gave several million dollars for church, college, and seminary buildings. This man later lost all his wealth in the Depression. While he was walking one day near one of the many buildings he had generously built, a friend asked if he ever wished he had kept some of the money he gave away. The man replied, “Never. What I kept I lost. Only what I gave away can I still see and enjoy results of.” When we give, the blessing imparted to others and returned on ourselves goes on and on and on.
A seventh Scriptural guideline is, genuine giving entails sacrifice. David refused to give God that “which cost me nothing” (2 SM 24:24 NAS). For David to know he was giving out of love, he had to feel in the gift some pain to himself.
As our money goes in the plate, some pain must go in with it. A piece of one’s own self must die on a cross. What we put in the plate must symbolize the giving of one’s whole self. Giving a part pictures giving all. We put cash gifts in the plate only because we cannot find plates big enough to put our whole selves in.
Reflecting on the generosity of the Macedonians, Paul said, “They first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 C 8:5). Their giving was made genuine by their willingness to give themselves first and then their possessions. Since money and material things appeal to self, we gauge how much of our selves we have truly yielded to God by how much sacrifice we undergo in the giving away of our possessions.
Detached, uncaring giving counts little with God. May it never be said of us what was said of a wealthy yet aloof benefactor, “With all his giving, he never gives himself.” Years ago the church I was serving had an unforgettable December of giving. That month we had a couple of special guests come in on a love offering basis, we emphasized our annual Lottie Moon foreign missions offering, plus we had our regular budget needs. At December’s end our treasurer told me our people gave more to the church that month than in any other month in history. Elated, and wanting to congratulate and encourage my dear people, I asked how many had made a conscious sacrifice, had given up something in particular in order to give that record offering. Only two people raised their hands. I could not help but wonder, then why were we not giving at least that amount every month.
A way to determine the level of sacrifice in our gifts is to analyze how much we hold back for self. Generosity is measured not by what we give, but by what we keep. The widow’s two mites was a huge offering because she kept nothing back (MK 12:44). Jesus saw her gift because He was watching people give their offerings. He still watches what we put in the offering plate, and what we keep.