Giving Anonymously: Matthew 6:1-4

Focus Passage: Matthew 6:1-4 (GW)

“Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you. So when you give to the poor, don’t announce it with trumpet fanfare. This is what hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets in order to be praised by people. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.

Read Matthew 6:1-4 in context and/or in other translations on!

During Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount”, He covers a number of broad topics. Matthew, one of Jesus’ followers and the author of one of the four gospels, dedicates a good portion of his gospel to sharing the details of this famous message. In this message, Jesus taught briefly on the subject of giving, and about the significance of giving anonymously.

One statement that strikes me as interesting is when Jesus says, “When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (v. 3)

While this statement is most likely figurative – representing the “body” of the church (also called the “body of Christ”), is there a practical reason for being anonymous other than simply to avoid receiving praise from others?

As I think about it, not only does anonymous giving help keep one clear of the appearance of hypocrisy and pride, it also keeps the giver in control regarding the giving. A gift that is received anonymously is harder to track and it can deter the one receiving the gift from becoming entitled. Perhaps if many people anonymously gave to the one individual over the course of time, they could become entitled, but they really wouldn’t know who or where to go to receive more help. Giving anonymously makes it harder for the one receiving the gift to become entitled and try to “milk” the generosity by asking for more.

But while this is very practical, Jesus is talking to those who are the givers in the crowd. He concludes by telling us to “Give your contributions privately. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you.” (v. 4)

When we give and help others privately, it changes us as individuals. Jesus (i.e. God) wants us to be givers by nature. He wants giving to be a central part of our character. If our good deeds always became public knowledge, and they were a part of our character, then we may become a target for those with an entitlement mentality.

Our good deeds should be common place in our lives, not one or two big fanfare-laced events for the crowds to look and speak in awe. Many of those who glorify their good acts are likely to have very few good acts, because if their acts become too regular, then they would lose their audience because it will have been expected. If you do something in secret, then there is no limit on what you can do (only your available resources would limit you then). You may even have more fun giving as well.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Flashback Episode — Jesus’ Greatest Parable: Mark 4:1-20

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Moving forward in our journey through the gospel of Mark, we come to what might be Jesus’ most significant parable. While Jesus spoke many significant parables, it appears from how He emphasized this one over all His others that Jesus believed this parable to be the most universal and most foundational parable He shared. Jesus also emphasizes how understanding this parable is crucial for understanding all His other parables.

Without any further delay, let’s jump into this parable and into our passage for this episode. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 4, and we will read from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Let me pause reading here because I want to point out something. Over the years, I have heard many different explanations for this parable and a surprising number of applications for Jesus’ four-category distinction here.

However, of all the parables Jesus shared, this is the parable where we should speculate the least. This is because I believe this is the only parable included in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that has consistently been included with its explanation. It would seem that the gospel writers wanted us to know this parable and specifically to know Jesus’ own explanation. I believe this might be one reason Mark has pulled this parable into being the first parable His gospel includes. The only other parable-like thing Jesus shared prior to this comes near the end of the previous chapter, when Jesus was challenged about being aligned with Satan. We focused on this a couple episodes ago.

However, while that illustration is given the description of being a parable, that teaching is responding to a challenge rather than teaching truth in a fresh way. These two events point us to two of the ways Jesus used parables. One was to push back at the religious leaders’ challenges, and the other was to teach truth.

When the disciples ask Jesus about this, we discover some amazing things. Continuing reading in verse 10:

10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant.

11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do,
    they will learn nothing.
When they hear what I say,
    they will not understand.
Otherwise, they will turn to me
    and be forgiven.’”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables? 14 The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. 15 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. 16 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 17 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. 18 The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, 19 but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. 20 And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

In this broader passage, we have an explanation for why Jesus spoke in parables and we have the explanation on the parable of the four types of soil. This passage teaches us that Jesus used parables because He wanted to confuse those who did not have the Holy Spirit, while teaching, challenging, and encouraging those who were aligned with God. This passage also emphasizes the truth that understanding how people accept and apply God’s Word is important for us to know.

I have read this parable more times than I can remember, but while reading it this time, I am struck with the idea that this parable is not a parable about belief in God’s Word. Prior to this reading, I think I always subtly assumed this parable was about believing and accepting God’s Word, but that is only a tiny sliver of the emphasis.

Instead, this parable is a parable about internalizing and applying God’s Word. When we look at Jesus’ descriptions of all the soil types, we discover that every one of these types of soil is categorized by how it interacts with the seed in a tangible way. In the same way, Jesus’ explanation emphasizes how we apply God’s Word and His message in our lives.

The footpath that seed lands on includes those who hear God’s Word and His message, but who simply reject it because it doesn’t make sense or because they simply don’t care. Satan steals the significance of God’s message away or he twists God’s truth into sounding undesirable. We could describe people represented by the footpath as closed-minded, because God’s message is unable to take root in their minds and they reject it before even thinking about applying it.

The rocky soil includes those who hear and accept the message with joy, which is great, but they don’t let the message take root or impact their lives. This represents people who accept Jesus, but who live their lives like they did before and don’t let God’s truth affect their hearts, their attitudes, and especially their actions. The people represented by the rocky soil seem to accept this message, but they are too fearful or scared of what applying God’s truth will do in their lives that they give up on it because God’s truth and His message isn’t easy or comfortable to apply.

The thorny soil includes those who hear and accept God’s Word and message with joy, and they begin applying it in their lives. However, as God’s message is countercultural, these people let other things crowd out applying God’s message. Those included in the thorny soil might say outwardly that they follow, accept, and apply God’s truth, but when we look at how they apply their time and their lives, we see case after case of focus placed on anything and everything but doing God’s will or applying God’s Word in tangible ways.

However, the least descriptive of the soil types is the seed that falls on good soil. Jesus’ explanation tells us that those who are represented by the good soil are people who hear and accept God’s Word, and this results in them applying God’s truth and producing a harvest significantly greater than what was planted.

Also in this explanation is the idea that those in the first three soil types are alone, while those in the good soil are together. This emphasizes how important community is for our continued spiritual growth. While our personal lives and our personal roots are important, it is also important that we are a part of a community. Only with a community of people can we produce a harvest much greater than we can alone.

Jesus emphasizes this as one of His most important parables and I hope you can see why. In this parable, we discover many things, including our mission, which is spreading God’s Word like the farmer, the importance of our lives and our actions, represented by the types of soil, and the emphasis on being a part of a community to help us grow. Being alone never results in lasting growth or a productive harvest.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and be sure to apply God’s Word and His message in your heart, in your actions, and in your attitude. If you have been trying to grow spiritually on your own, consider this parable a challenge to seek out a community you can grow with.

Also, keep praying and studying the Bible for yourself. While listening to others and being a part of a community are important, never let your relationships with other or the ideas of others impact your personal relationship with God and your personal prayer and study of His Word. We need a strong personal foundation and a strong supportive community to grow spiritually mature and confident in God’s truth.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or let Satan steal you away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Mark – Episode 9: Of all the parables Jesus shared, one parable stands out as significant because this parable is the only one included in three of the four gospels that also is always included with Jesus’ own explanation for what it means. Jesus emphasized the importance of this parable, and understanding this parable is incredibly important for us too.

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Coming Back Empty-Handed: John 7:37-52

Focus Passage: John 7:37-52 (NIV)

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Read John 7:37-52 in context and/or in other translations on!

During the final days of a major festival that happened in the middle of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the chief priests sent guards to arrest Jesus. Jesus had chosen to finish the festival teaching and preaching in the temple, and the leaders saw this chance to arrest Jesus.

So they sent guards to arrest Him, but the guards end up returning empty handed. The Pharisees demanded to know, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” (v. 45)

The guards responded, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” (v. 46)

It is here that the Pharisees reveal their motives and their character. The Pharisees believe Jesus to be an imposter and a liar. We can see their thoughts through their response: “You mean he has deceived you also? Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.” (v. 47-49)

The Pharisees and chief priests have incriminated themselves. They accuse the crowd of being cursed, but the crowd’s true thoughts are divided. A curse on the crowd could cause confusion, but this statement simply shows how closed-minded these leaders have become. They claim the mob knows nothing of “the law”, and in the context, they are referring to the Old Testament scriptures – but just a few verses earlier, John points out one cause of the crowd’s division being over something that was prophesied in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament prophecy stated that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and Jesus was raised in Galilee. The crowd’s division over this apparent contradiction shows that they all knew the Old Testament writings.

And this leads into a big truth I see displayed in this passage: When someone has closed their minds to an idea, they will then begin to justify their decision in often irrational ways. The Pharisees and chief priests irrationally claimed the crowd was cursed just to emphasize their point to the guards. All this ended up doing is confirming that they had chosen to stand against Jesus and what He was doing, and regardless of what happened, they were closed-minded towards anything that didn’t confirm that Jesus might be the Messiah people were believing Him to be.

While the chief priests had closed their minds to believing in Jesus, the guards returning empty-handed tells us they were still undecided regarding whether Jesus was the Messiah. We are in the same position as the guards today. If we are still on the fence regarding who Jesus is, it is worth wrestling out this question for ourselves because our choice on this matter has eternal results!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Worship and Harvest: John 4:1-42

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As John transitions back onto Jesus’ ministry in his gospel, we come to one of the longest events John records. This event focuses in on Jesus having a conversation with a less than reputable Samaritan woman. Let’s read what happened, and in the few minutes we have left after reading our passage, let’s pull one or two details and themes out that are relevant for us living today.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 4, and we will read it from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us:

When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John [the Baptist] (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to travel through Samaria, so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.

Pausing briefly, I want to draw attention to the detail John tells us that it was six in the evening. John tells us that it was the sixth hour, and from what we can tell, there is uncertainty whether John was using Roman time here, which would place this event in the evening, or if John was using Jewish time, which would place this event happening at around noon.

Regardless of when this was, it is worth noting that what happens next is significant because this woman that comes is alone with Jesus at that well. Continuing in verse 7, John tells us:

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.

“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.

“How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”

11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”

13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”

16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”

17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.

“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”

26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”

27 Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”

28 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They left the town and made their way to Him.

Pausing briefly again, I want to draw our attention onto one powerful truth that Jesus shared with this woman. This truth is not simply that Jesus tells this outcast that He is in fact the Messiah, but that right before this, Jesus tells this woman that God is looking for true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth.

I have heard this phrase used, and perhaps abused, over the years with people self-claiming themselves to be within this group. However, looking at the context tells us that the only way someone can worship God in spirit and truth is if the spirit they worship in is from God and if the truth they worship in is also from God. In other words, God is the only Source of true worship, and if we are not leaning on Him and desiring a connection or relationship with Him, it is unlikely we are bringing Him worship that He desires.

However, while the woman is gone and telling the town about Jesus, John continues by telling us in verse 31:

31 In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”

33 The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”

34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. 35 “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what He said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”

Let’s stop reading here because there is one more big idea Jesus shared that is worth us paying attention to. In my mind, right before the crowd arrives from town, Jesus tells His disciples in the last part of verse 35 to, “Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.

The amazing part of this challenge is that this was while Jesus was alive on earth and this was over 2,000 years ago, Jesus tells His followers that the harvest is ready. It is likely right after this that the entire town shows up to hear Jesus and have their lives transformed.

While we might be tempted to think that there are still four more months left before harvesting is ready, Jesus tells us that the time is not then, it is now. Jesus challenges us to open our eyes to the opportunities God is sending our way in the present, and leave the future to worry about itself.

While it is smart to plan for the future, we should never focus so hard on the future that we forget our lives in the present. In our lives, there is always a tension between focusing heavily on the present or heavily on the future. We must constantly focus on balancing this tension instead of resolving it, because if we ultimately resolve it, the resolution will likely fall outside of God’s ideal for our lives.

Instead, let’s work today within the opportunities God sends our way while also looking forward to and planning for the day when He returns to bring us home!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always continue seeking God first in your life and choose to intentionally open your eyes to the harvest that is ready all around us. Choose to work with God within the opportunities He sends your way and depend on Him for the strength to work with Him as well as to worship Him.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to intentionally grow closer to God each and every day. A personal relationship with God begins with personal prayer and study, and a personal relationship with God that begins today will extend into eternity when we place our trust, faith, hope, and belief in Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in John – Episode 8: When Jesus stops by a well while traveling through Samaria, discover how He happens to find Himself alone with a Samaritan woman, and how their conversation ultimately transforms an entire town that was ripe for harvest!

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