For His Eyes Only: Giving to the Glory of God (Part 1)

Matthew 6:2-4

Tom Pennington  •  December 2, 2012
Audio
  • Share:

We're studying together Matthew 6. And just to remind you, the theme of Matthew 6, as we discovered last week, is to love God more than you love anything else. The chapter is divided into two distinct sections. In verses 1-18, our Lord says: if you're going to love God, that means you must pursue His glory rather than your own glory. In the second half of Matthew 6, beginning in verse 19 and running down through the end of the chapter, our Lord explains that loving God means that we must pursue the advancement of His kingdom rather than our own.

Now last week, we began studying the first section – pursuing God's glory rather than our own glory in verses 1 through 18. And just to remind you of the structure of that paragraph, it's very simple. Verse 1 of Matthew 6 is the general principle. We studied this last week, but look again at verse 1: "Beware (Jesus says, be alert to the fact that there is a subtle yet ever present danger) of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." There's the general principle. Our Lord says, as we as His disciples live out our Christian lives and experience, as we participate in the spiritual activities we're commanded to participate in, there is an ever present danger of doing those in a hypocritical way. Jesus says beware the deadly danger of hypocrisy.

Now that's the general principle, but our Lord follows that general principle with three specific examples. The first example comes in verse 2: "When you give to the poor…" The second example comes in verse 5: "When you pray…" And then He develops how we should pray at some length. And then verse 15, the third example: "When you fast…" Those are three specific examples of the general principle found in verse 1. You can see this, by the way, in the link between verse 1 and the rest of this section. Notice the beginning of verse 2: "So…" That little word so is a very familiar biblical word. It is most often translated, especially in the epistles where it occurs frequently, as therefore. Jesus says, Here's the general principle, therefore… It's a word of logical inference. In light of the general principle in verse 1, here, Jesus says, is how you must respond practically in your giving, and in your praying, and in your fasting. Now why did Jesus choose those three spiritual activities as examples? Because in the Jewish thinking of the first century, those were the three greatest spiritual activities in which people were involved.

Now today I want us just to begin to examine the first of these three examples of the subtle and deadly danger of hypocrisy. Jesus warns us in verses 2-4 about the danger of hypocrisy in our giving.

Now before we actually study the passage, I need to stop just a moment and give you a caveat. Especially, I want to give a caveat for those of you who are visiting for the first time today, or for those of you who are relatively new to our church and you don't yet really have a feel for what goes on at Countryside. You need to know that today and next Sunday, I'm going to deal with the issue of giving. Now I say I need to give you a caveat, because sadly there are so many pastors and so many churches that are always talking about money, and frankly even abusing their people on this issue, that I need you to understand that is not what I and the elders are about. That's not what happens in this church. I have been here, next year it will have been ten years that I'll have been pastor of this church. Over seven years ago was the last time I preached on the topic of giving, alright? So it's not like an every week occurrence. The reason I did so then was because it was in the flow of our study of the book of Philippians. When you get to chapter 4, Paul deals with this issue. And the reason I do so today is because it is in the next paragraph in the Sermon on the Mount which we've been studying together for more than a year. By the way, you also need to know that the date for the special offering was set a year ago, and so that was long before I knew that I would come to this passage today. So it may be by God's design, but it's not mine. I'm just not that tricky, alright?

So with those caveats, let's read the text together. Matthew 6:2.

"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

Jesus tells us in these three verses, that as we seek to obey Scripture's clear command to give, we must be careful to avoid the danger of hypocrisy. Now this morning, what I want us to do is set the backdrop for our Lord's command. In fact, let me warn you. We're going to get no further than my first point, okay? So don't be looking for the others.

I want us to begin by looking at the required activity of biblical giving. Look at verse 2: "So (or therefore, in light of the fact that hypocrisy is ever present, an ever present danger in your spiritual activities) when you give to the poor…" Now stop there a moment. The idea here is not that giving is optional, that you get to choose to give or not to give. If you decide to give. That's not what Jesus is saying. Actually, there are a couple of Greek words translated when in the New Testament. This word typically refers, according to the leading Greek lexicon, to a regularly repeated action. It says it can be translated as often as or every time that. In other words, Jesus begins by assuming, expecting, even requiring that giving will be a regular spiritual activity of every follower of His. This is the same word He uses when He comes to verse 5 and says "when you pray." He's not saying if you happen to pray. That's an expected activity as we'll find with fasting as well down in verse 16. So this is an expected activity.

By the way, this is also underscored by the change in pronouns in the Greek text. It doesn't show as clearly in the English text but, between verse 1 and verse 2, there's a change in pronouns. In verse 1, the pronouns are plural. In, Texas, we might say you-all. Jesus in verse 1 is talking to all of His disciples who were gathered on that hillside on the north side of the Sea of Galilee that day. He says, You all beware of this danger. In verse 2, the pronoun is singular. Jesus is now speaking to each of His disciples individually. He says, When you give and you and you and you… He's speaking to you directly and to me directly. And He is assuming, expecting, requiring that each one of us will practice the spiritual activities referred to in verse 1. And part of those spiritual activities will be that we will regularly and repeatedly give. This has consistently been the spiritual responsibility of believers in both testaments.

Now to help us understand what Jesus is saying to us as New Testament believers, we need to set ourselves in the context of His comments, and so we need to go back. We need to go back and first of all, look at what God required of Old Testament believers when it comes to this issue of giving. There's so much confusion among Christians about what their giving is to be. Well, to clarify all of that, let's go back first and look at what God required of the Old Testament believer. The giving for an Old Testament believer is prescribed in the Mosaic legislation. His giving, when it comes to comparing to the New Testament, was not primarily the tithe. Let me explain what I mean. You may not be aware of this, but there really wasn't just one tithe; there were three separate tithes required of every Israelite. The first annual tithe recorded in Numbers 18 and Leviticus 27 consisted of a mandatory ten percent every year of your animals and produce. That was because it was an agrarian society. There was coinage. There were barter exchange objects but primarily commerce was done in your livestock and in your produce. And so a tithe was required, mandatory ten percent of produce and animals every year. And this tithe, we're told, went to support the Levites who ran the government of Israel.

The second annual tithe, which is recorded in Deuteronomy 12, consisted of a mandatory ten percent and this was to be used for the national religious festivals like Passover. Those huge celebrations – someone had to pay for all of that–and it came from a second tithe that was required annually of all the Israelites. It supported the national religious worship.

A third tithe occurred, not annually, but every third year. So it comes out to be the equivalent of three and a half percent a year. This tithe is found in Deuteronomy 14. This was the poor tithe or the welfare tithe. It went to support the stranger, the fatherless, the widow, the poor and needy in the society, in the culture.

Now those three tithes together were in reality the Israelites' taxes. And oh, by the way, the tithe in ancient Israel was not ten percent. Not ten percent annually, but (are you ready for this?) twenty-three and a third percent annually when you put the two ten percent annual tithes with the tithe every third year or three and a half percent: twenty-three and a third percent annually. And that was merely the tax base. There was also other required giving. There was a profit-sharing tax. There was the Sabbath rest, every seventh year when they had to forfeit much of that year's crops. There was the annual temple tax of a third of a shekel. So when you add all of those tithes and other required giving together, the typical Israelite paid an annual income tax of about twenty-five percent to support the government of Israel.

Today every single one of us in this room tithes. It's called taxes. You are not commanded in the New Testament – in fact, let me put this as bluntly as I can. Nowhere does the New Testament demand that believers tithe their income. Instead of tithing, we're told in Romans 13 to pay our taxes to secular government. Now in addition to the taxes that they paid of about twenty-five percent, Old Testament believers also were instructed beyond that tax system to offer what are called freewill offerings; that is, voluntary offerings. Now sometimes you were required to offer a freewill offering. So it wasn't voluntary in the sense that you chose whether or not you did it; it was voluntary in that you chose how much you would give. It was freewill in that sense. By the way, you can see a little of what this looked like in Exodus 25 when there's a freewill offering of monies to help build the tabernacle, and everyone gives as God has blessed them, as they choose to give.

But sometimes the freewill offerings were required; again, not the amount but the fact that you needed to offer a freewill offering. A good example of that's Deuteronomy 16:10. "Then you shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God (this was a harvest festival. You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God) with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand…" Wait a minute. I thought it was a freewill offering. I was just commanded to offer it. Well again, you are free to choose the amount, but you were not free to decide whether or not to offer it. This, by the way, the freewill offerings of the Old Testament, are the closest equivalent to what the New Testament requires of us, as we'll see in a moment.

But when you put the required tithes or the taxes if you will of Old Testament Israel and the freewill offerings together, that was the way the Old Testament believer gave.

Now that raises an important question in terms of our text in Matthew 6. How does giving to the poor that Jesus talks about there, fit into that Old Testament system? Well, you need to understand first of all that the Old Testament absolutely required giving to the poor. There are so many passages that make this plain, but let me just point out a couple to you. Turn to Deuteronomy 15:7. This is in the context of teaching about the sabbatical year. And in that context, Moses writes Deuteronomy 15:7.

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor close your hand from your poor brother; (don't harden your heart and not care about him, and don't close your hand and not give him anything) but (verse 8) you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

And in fact, you have to be willing not merely to lend but to give. Look at verse 9: "Beware that there's no base thought in your heart, saying, 'The seventh year, the year of remission (that is, the year debts are forgiven) is near,' and your eye is hostile toward your poor brother and you give him nothing;" You say to yourself, Now wait a minute. This is year six. Next year is the year that debts are forgiven. I'm not loaning him that money because it's just going to become a gift to him. God says, yes, it is and you'd better do it. Notice what he goes on to say:

then (verse 9) he may cry to the Lord against you, and it will be a sin in you. You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'"

This is absolutely demanded of the Old Testament believer.

You see this also in Proverbs. As Solomon and the sages of Israel tell us how to live in the details of life in a way that pleases God, this theme comes up again and again. Look at Proverbs 14:31. "He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him." The sages say, listen. When you oppress the poor person, when you don't care for them, when you're not gracious to them, it's like you're doing it to God. On the other hand, when you're gracious and generous, it's like that, too, is done to God and it honors Him.

Look over in Proverbs19:17. "One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him for his good deed." You take care of a person in need and it's like you're helping God - not that He needs help, but He takes it that way, and He responds.

Look at 21:13. "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered." God says, listen. If you harden your heart and you shut yourself up against caring for a person you know, who's in need, and you find yourself in a position of difficulty and trouble someday, and you cry out, don't expect for God to run to your aid.

Look at 28:8. "He who increases his wealth by interest and usury (and in context here, against the poor. In other words, here's a guy who's taking advantage of the poor – charging an exorbitantly high interest rate because he knows they need the money and have to have it, and he's going to make extra money on them. God says that person) gathers that wealth for him who is gracious to the poor." In other words, God says, listen. In My time and in My way, that person who's taking advantage of the poor is going to lose their wealth and I'm going to give it to somebody who'll be gracious.

When you come to the prophets in the Old Testament, again and again they are castigating God's people for their lack of care for the poor – for oppressing them in the courts as well as for a failure to care for their needs. This is a requirement of the Old Testament believer. But the question is: Okay, it's a requirement. But in that Old Testament system, how does an Old Testament believer give to the poor? Well in the first century, those listening to Jesus, those Jewish disciples of His listening to Him could have given to the poor in one of three ways. First of all, by paying their tithe for the poor every three years. That was part of the taxation system. That was not optional; that was required. But the other two ways they could give to the poor were freewill offerings. Secondly, they could give a freewill offering, a voluntary offering, to their local synagogue, where the leadership would then take those monies and disperse them to the members of that synagogue and/or to the community. You see this by the way–we'll see it next week in Matthew 6. Jesus talks about the hypocrites giving in the synagogues. This was one of the ways the poor were cared for. The third way that an Old Testament believer could care for the poor was by giving a freewill offering directly to the individual in need,f and you see this happening as well.

So in that Old Testament system, they were required to give a tithe, a series of tithes, which were the taxes to support the government. And over and above that, they were required to give freewill offerings. And when it came to giving to the poor, which was an absolute requirement, a small part of that came through the taxation system, but a large portion of it came through freewill offerings given in the synagogue and given directly to individuals, as Jesus puts it in Matthew 6:2, "in the streets." So that helps us understand the context in which Jesus' comments are made.

Now that we understand the giving God required for the Old Testament believer, I want us to fast forward to the New Testament and consider what God requires of the New Testament believer. Let me begin by making it very clear– and we'll see this fleshed out in a moment–we are not commanded to tithe as Old Testament believers were. We are commanded instead in Romans 13, to pay our taxes. That's our tithe. But we are commanded, we are still responsible, to give offerings to the Lord, freewill offerings if you will, from our hearts. And we are to give according to the plan God has laid down in the New Testament.

Now the New Testament teaching on giving comes in three primary passages. Let me give them to you. We're not going to look at all three of them, but you can look at them and read them as you have opportunity. The first is 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. The second is 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. And the third is Philippians 4, beginning I believe in about verse 13 or so through a large portion of the end of the chapter - so 1 Corinthians 16: 2, Corinthians 8 and 9, and Philippians 4.

Now to gain just a summary of what the New Testament teaches about giving, I want us just to go to one of these passages and let it unfold for us some basic principles of New Testament giving. Turn to 1 Corinthians 16. Let me read the first four verses for you and then we'll see the basic principles on giving that are contained here. Paul writes:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me.

Now in that passage, really in the first three verses primarily, there are several basic principles of New Testament giving. Let's look at them briefly. Number one: our Lord commands every Christian to give. Look at verse 1. Paul says, "I directed all the churches in Galatia…" In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, he says he also directed the churches in Achaia and Macedonia. And here, he's directing the churches in Greece. So all the churches that Paul was interacting with were required to do this.

Now, who, exactly, should give? Notice verse 2: "each one of you is to put aside and save…" Each one of you – this is a universal command for all Christians. There were no exceptions in the Corinthian church, no exceptions in the churches in Galatia, no exceptions in the churches in Achaia or Macedonia. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul put it this way: "each one must give as he purposed…" Now as we're going to see, the New Testament nowhere tells you how much to give or what percentage to give. That's between you and the Lord. But what the New Testament does tell you and me to do, is to give from what God has given to us. The issue is just one of simple obedience. Just like the other commands in Scripture, I want you to choose to obey. Like Paul told the Philippians, "It's not that I desire the gift itself, (listen, God will supply the needs of His church, of this church, with or without you and me) but I seek (as Paul says) the spiritual benefit which increases to your account." It is a clear command of Scripture both in the Old and the New for every believer to give from what God has given to him.

Second principle: our giving is to be consistent and systematic. To give you some idea of the frequency with which you and I are to give, look at verse 2: "On the first day of every week, each one of you is to put aside and save…" Now that implies two things. It implies that part of the corporate worship of the church is to include giving. When you come together on the first day of the week, Paul says I want these collections to be made. Giving is a part of the corporate worship of the church. That's why you'll hear me or one of the other men who are beginning the service direct you to the slots that are provided in the back wall of this room or giving online. That's because it's part of our worship, and we don't want to neglect part of our worship.

But there's another thing implied in this expression the first day of the week and that is our giving is to be consistent and systematic. That doesn't mean you have to take your salary - we live in a day when some of us are paid monthly and others biweekly, and all over the map. Jesus is not through Paul here saying that you and I have to take our monthly income, divide it into four, and make sure we give an equal part every Sunday. That's not the point. In that culture, many of the people in the congregation would have been paid on a daily basis. Others would have been paid more frequently than between the Sundays. And so Paul says, when you come together on the first day of the week, I want you to each put aside and save to contribute to the collection. The point was: giving is to be systematic. Your giving is not to be occasional and haphazard. God is not satisfied with your obedience if two or three times a year you happen to remember to stick something in the slot. It's to be systematic and regular.

Thirdly, our giving must primarily flow through the church. Notice in verse 1, the collection is happening in the churches of Galatia and it's going to happen in the church in Corinth. This is where the collection is going to happen. And notice that the collections in Corinth become, in verse 3, your gift– singular. Our gifts to the Lord flow through, primarily, the local church.

Now don't misunderstand me. This doesn't mean that you can't give outside the church. In fact, there are clear passages in the New Testament that indicate otherwise. I think Matthew 6 is one, and we'll look at it next week. Part of it was giving in the synagogue; that is, when the believers came together to worship, but part of it was in the street to individuals. And I don't think Jesus is criticizing doing either of those; He's criticizing how they did it. I think in James 2 where he says real genuine faith sees a need, sees someone who doesn't have enough food or clothing, and reaches out to that person directly to meet their need. In 1 John 3, the same thing. So the Scripture's not forbidding us from giving outside the church. That's not the point. The principle is that primarily our giving should be through the church.

Number four: our giving is to be a reflection of our financial ability and a free decision. The first question that usually comes up when I'm teaching about giving, or when this issue comes up in conversation is: how much? What percentage? How do we determine, as New Testament believers, how much to give? Listen. Don't you for a moment let someone ride your conscience and tell you that you have to give a certain amount or a certain percentage. There is a large charismatic church near here that prescribes that all of its members have to tithe their income and if you don't, God's going to curse your work. That's a lie. That's not what the New Testament teaches. Let me show you what the New Testament says about how much we are to give. Look at verse 2: "On the first day of every week, each one of you is to put aside and save (underline this), as he may prosper…" - according to your financial ability as God has blessed you, as God has granted you success in your work and in your labor.

Keep your finger here and turn over to 2 Corinthians 9:6. This again is in the context of these two chapters on giving. Paul says, "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, (that's just a basic agricultural principle – sow a few seed, you're going to get a small harvest) he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." Now I know what the prosperity gospel guys do with this. They say, Look. You give God this amount of money and He's going to give you more money. That's not what Paul is saying. Look at verse 10. What are you going to get in your harvest? A harvest of righteousness - God's going to use your obedience for your spiritual benefit. He's not promising you're going to get a bigger stock portfolio.

Now go back to verse 7: "Each one must do (and underline this) just as he has purposed in his heart…" Notice our giving's not to be impulsive. It's not to be a, Well, I think it'll be… No, we are to do it intentionally and purposefully. If you aren't giving, you need to go home this afternoon and you need to look at your budget and you need to think through what you're going to give, and purpose to give it, and do that. And whatever that amount is, notice it's not to be an amount that's going to cause you to give grudgingly. That word means with regret or reluctance. In other words, whatever you decide to do, make sure it's something you can give with no regret and without reluctance. Listen, God doesn't need your money. He wants you, when you give to Him, to give to Him without regret and without reluctance. God doesn't want you to have the attitude of: God can have this money when He can pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

He goes on to say: "or under compulsion…" That's external pressure. Don't decide what you're going to give because of somebody's legalistic system. You've got to give this percentage or, if they gave ten percent in the Old Testament, then that ought to be the bottom line of where we… Listen. That was their tax. Freewill offering, we decide the amount based on how we've prospered and based on what we purpose to do. That's what the New Testament teaches.

And he goes on to say: "for God loves a cheerful giver." God loves it when you find joy in giving to Him and to the causes for which we're going to talk about in a moment. Listen. Giving is a duty, yes. It is a command, yes. But it's a joy. I get to thank my God for His generosity to me. I get to participate in kingdom purposes.

And that brings us to number five. We should direct our giving to accomplish God's established priorities. You see, we don't set the agenda for what our giving's going to be. God does. And in the New Testament, God has established three basic priorities for our giving. Now I'm going to do two, outside of 1 Corinthians 16, and then I'll come back to 1 Corinthians 16. First, a priority for our giving is: supporting missionaries and evangelists. In Philippians 4, one of those texts that deals with giving, the Philippian church gave to Paul to support him in his missionary endeavors. Yes, Paul provided much of his support. He worked as a tentmaker. But the church in Philippi cooperated with him, and he calls them a partner in his ministry. You and I are to give as the church in Philippi did, in order to support missionaries and evangelists—those who are taking the gospel. In Acts 13, it appears that the church in Antioch partially underwrote the expenses for Paul's first missionary journey.

In 3 John, we're required, as individuals and as a church, to support faithful missionaries and evangelists. In fact, turn to John's third letter, a letter we rarely look at, but look at 3John, just before Jude and Revelation. He's talking about faithful evangelists and missionaries. Verse 7:

. . .they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we (that is, those of us who are in Christ) ought to support (financially) such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth."

We're partners when we partner together in supporting missionaries and evangelists and that's part of the priority of our giving.

There's a second New Testament priority for our giving – not only supporting missionaries and evangelists, but supporting the ministry of the local church. This begins with those who minister the word. Now this seems to be self-serving, but let me just say I'm not looking for a raise. The elders are very generous with me. I just want you to understand what the Scriptures teach, alright? So let's look at 1 Timothy 5:17.

The elders who rule well (that doesn't mean some rule poorly, it just means there are some who especially excel) are to be considered worthy of double honor, (and in just a moment, it'll be clear he's not just talking about 'good job, pastor'; he's talking about financial support) especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,' and (then he quotes from Luke) 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.'"

Pay those elders who labor at teaching and preaching. In Galatians 6:6, "The one who is taught the word (that's you) is to share all good things with the one who teaches him (that means support).

In addition to supporting the men who teach, this idea of supporting the ministry of the local church also includes everything else that the elders of a given church decide is necessary for the functioning of that local body of believers. That's our budget here at Countryside.

So God's priority is that we support missionaries, that we support the ministry of the local church and, thirdly, that we help those in need. And this brings us back to Matthew 6 and to 1 Corinthians 16 because in 1 Corinthians 16, the reason for the collection was to help the poor saints in Jerusalem who had undergone a famine and were in an overpopulated area. And by the way, when you give to the Lord through this church, your gifts go to those three priorities – to supporting missionaries who are spreading the gospel, to supporting the ministry of this local church, and our benevolence giving to help those who are in need.

Now there are a number of texts in the New Testament that prescribe giving to help those in need, and doing it outside the church. Let me just show you one of those passages. I mentioned it a moment ago –1 John 3. There are times when you will know someone who is in real financial trouble; they're not being irresponsible; they're willing to work, but they don't have enough. And you're to act on that. 1 John 3:16.

We know love by this, that He laid down (that is, our Lord laid down) His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (Now we don't have the daily opportunity to die for our brothers and sisters in Christ, so how do we carry this out? Verse 17) "Whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? (The answer is, it may not. He may not be a Christian at all if he can truly close his heart against a brother in need) Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."

In other words, meet that legitimate need.

Now it is this last priority for our giving - helping those who are the poor, those who are in need - that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 6. And by the way, they may be permanently poor or they may be, because of circumstances, temporarily in a very difficult situation. Doesn't matter – that's the idea. They're in a needy situation and we all find ourselves, from time to time, in that kind of situation. And Jesus uses, in Matthew 6, a Greek word that specifically means to give to the poor, to give alms. In fact, our English word alms comes from a corruption of the Greek word that Matthew uses there in Matthew 6. The word's used a number of other times in the New Testament. You remember in Acts 3, when Peter and John are on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer, and Acts 3:2 says, "A man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, (and they set him there) in order to beg alms . . ." Same Greek word as Matthew 6, to beg for charitable gifts. That's what we're talking about in Matthew 6 – financial gifts to the poor.

Now go back to Matthew 6 for just a moment. It took me a long time to get here. I told you we wouldn't get very far today. We'll finish it next week. But look at verse 2 again: "So when you give to the poor…" Jesus, here, assumes that we will give to help the poor and He commands it. In fact, other passages in the New Testament make this crystal clear. 2 Corinthians 9 – read that, or 1 Timothy 6:17-18, or James 1:27, where James says: "here is pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father and that is to visit the orphan and widow in their affliction" - to help the needy. The issue with Jesus is not whether His disciple will give, but how they will give and why.

Now let me just say if you're here this morning and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, God doesn't want your money. Don't think that you can throw God some coins and He's going to be happy, okay? That's not what He wants from you; in fact, He wants your heart. In 2 Corinthians 8:5, in the passage on giving, Paul says the Macedonians first gave their heart to the Lord. That's what God wants from you. If God doesn't have your heart, He doesn't want your money. But if He has your heart, He will also have your resources.

So why is it then, if this is so important, that many Christians don't give as the Scripture commands? Well, there are a lot of reasons that they may not give–that may influence it. For example, materialism – we live in a culture that's increasingly materialistic. We're going to get to that in Matthew 6 where Jesus says there are people who worship wealth and they're not going to let go of it, because they worship it. They worship the things that it buys.

Another issue is debt. We live in a culture where if people wanted to give, they couldn't give, because they've lived beyond their means and accumulated debt that captivates all of their income beyond their necessary expenses. And every month they're piling up new debt. In fact, the average credit card debt stands at $7,100 per household. And if you look at just the households that have debt, it's $15,000 per household. And many of those folks struggle to make the minimum payment each month. They put themselves in a position, by living beyond their income, where they can't, or don't feel that they can, give.

There are other issues that contribute, but let me just simplify it. If you're not giving faithfully to the Lord, there are only two reasons. Reason number one is that you really haven't understood what the Scriptures teach about it and its importance. After this morning, that's not a reason anymore. The second reason is that you choose not to obey. That's it. So as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a New Testament Christian, let me ask you, do you follow our Lord's commands about giving? Don't misunderstand me. I'm not after a raise. I'm not looking to make this a wealthy church. I'm not trying to manipulate you. I'm just asking you, like I do every Lord's Day when I teach you the Scripture. Are you doing what we've just studied together? Do you give to the Lord? Do you give consistently and systematically? Does your giving flow through the church primarily? Does your giving reflect your financial ability and a predetermined, purposed decision to give? And is your giving directed toward God's priorities – supporting missionaries, supporting the ministry of the local church and helping those in need? It's not an option – "when you give," Jesus says. Now next time, we're going to study the rest of verses 2 through 4 and there our Lord will teach us how not to give, how to give, and why to give. Let's pray together.

Our Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You that You have captured our hearts and with our hearts You have everything else that belongs to us. Father, I pray for the person here this morning who has never given You their heart. I pray that this would be the day when they would lay down their rebellion and truly repent and put their faith in Your Son as their only hope of heaven.

Father, I pray for the rest of us who are in Christ. Help us, Father, to understand what we've studied today and to have an eager heart to obey it. Father, everything we have belongs to You. You've given us all things richly to enjoy. Father, help us to obey the commands You've given us, so that we can support the spread and advance of the gospel message, so that we can support the work of the local church, and so that we can help those who are in need. Father, forgive us for being disobedient and selfish. Lord, help us to see that all things are Yours. And may we give, not grudgingly, not under compulsion, but cheerfully. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.