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 — Stoplight-like Belief: John 8:21-30

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Picking back up were we left off last week, we find Jesus teaching in the temple during this same festival. However, now our passage for this week focuses on the conclusion of Jesus’ preaching in the temple during the festival that He snuck into unannounced, and in this conclusion, Jesus restates some of the key ideas we focused on last week, while also pushing the crowd further.

Let’s let John tell us how Jesus circles back around to His key point. We will be reading from John’s gospel, chapter 8, using the New International Reader’s Version. Picking back up in verse 21, John tells us that:

21 Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away. You will look for me, and you will die in your sin. You can’t come where I am going.”

22 This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘You can’t come where I am going’?”

Pausing our reading briefly, Jesus says almost the exact same thing as He said in last week’s passage, but this time, the Jews instead wonder if Jesus is planning on committing suicide with His statement. Last week, they thought He would be traveling to some other part of the world, and now they have decided that Jesus must mean something different.

With the emphasis on death, the Jews now wonder if Jesus is talking about death rather than extended travel.

However, Jesus continues in verse 23 with a clearer answer, and John tells us how Jesus answered:

23 But Jesus said, “You are from below. I am from heaven. You are from this world. I am not from this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins. This will happen if you don’t believe that I am he. If you don’t believe, you will certainly die in your sins.”

Pausing again, but only very briefly, here in verses 23 and 24 is a simple explanation of salvation. The criteria Jesus shares for experiencing salvation is that we must believe Jesus the One God sent, and believe that Jesus is the Messiah God promised, and our belief must include our faith and trust being placed onto Jesus. If we don’t believe, then Jesus tells us like He told those present in the temple that we will certainly die in our sins.

Continuing in verse 25:

25 “Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have a lot to say that will judge you. But the one who sent me can be trusted. And I tell the world what I have heard from him.”

27 They did not understand that Jesus was telling them about his Father. 28 So Jesus said, “You will lift up the Son of Man. Then you will know that I am he. You will also know that I do nothing on my own. I speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what pleases him.” 30 Even while Jesus was speaking, many people believed in him.

We’ll stop reading at this verse because I want to really draw our attention onto a side-note John has just inserted. In verse 30, John tells us that “Even while Jesus was speaking, many people believed in him”. This is significant in my mind because while the crowd was confused at what Jesus was saying, their confusion did not hinder their belief.

This is not the case for everyone. Some people use their lack of understanding to be the cornerstone of their reasons for not believing, but the challenge with this line of thinking is that rarely in any other case do we need to know all the answers to believe.

For example, if we are driving down a street and we come to a stoplight, do we need to understand how electricity and relays work in order to understand what makes the different colored lights switch back and forth? Do we need to stop everything else we are doing and do all the research necessary to come to a full understanding of how the stoplight works before believing the color of light and the position of the light are instructions we would be smart to follow?

Or do we simply need to know that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means a red light is about to come?

I think that faith and belief in Jesus are very similar to how we should view our trust in a simple stoplight. While one or two reasons and answers are sufficient to begin our belief, it is only after we begin to obey the stoplights instructions for us that we really understand the benefits that obedience offers. While one can rationalize that they don’t understand why the Bible advises people to live a certain way, or they try to discount it as an archaic or dated way to live, only by truly living a life that is obedient to the Bible will one fully learn why the Bible’s way is superior.

Sure, the Bible does not discuss technology or electricity, but it does give a full spectrum view of human relationships, and society structures, and time and time again, even with sin factored into the equation, the Bible’s plan is the most solid. Also, while the Bible doesn’t speak to technology, it doesn’t tell us to stay locked in the past. It simply points us to the best way to live during whatever century we are living in.

Jesus concluded His statement to the Jews and the crowd in the temple by saying that He did nothing on His own, and that everything He did was pleasing to the Father. I wonder if we could say the same about our lives 2,000 years later. If God were to look down at the world today, which is a very different looking world than it was when Jesus walked on it, would He approve of how we are living, and representing His Son to those who are longing for Godly love?

Through the way Jesus lived His life, everything He did included the Father and the Holy Spirit. While we don’t always see this in our own lives, the question I challenge myself with is whether I would continue doing what I am currently doing, or living how I am currently living, if I truly believed that God the Father and the Holy Spirit were right next to me. Would the Father approve of my life, and would my life, both the online and offline portions of my personality, reflect Jesus accurately.

As Christians, we are called to represent Jesus, and the only way we can do this well is if we understand how Jesus lived, and then intentionally model His character in our world today. While it might seem strange or uncomfortable to do, only after we have committed and begun obeying Jesus’ words will the Christian life be truly Christ-like.

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

Intentionally model Jesus and choose to obey Him without having all your questions answered beforehand. Choose to obey, then keep your eyes open for why God would recommend for people to live this way. Like I described earlier in the episode, obey God like you obey a stoplight, because only by obeying can we better understand why it is best to obey the stoplight’s instruction.

Also, intentionally study the Bible for yourself and look for principles that you can apply into your life. While some parts of the Bible are technically dated, because society and technology have changed, the principles the Bible shares are timeless, and it is these principles that we are challenged to apply in our own lives.

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

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 25: Cam discusses how Jesus concludes a sermon and why it is important for us to choose to believe even though not all our questions are answered.

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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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Loving Each Other: John 13:31-38

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On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, immediately following Judas Iscariot leaving to get the soldiers and mob to arrest Jesus, we read in John’s gospel that Jesus wanted to teach something new to the remaining disciples. Now that the final pieces were in motion leading to the cross, Jesus begins sharing more openly and plainly with the disciples now that they only have hours left together.

Let’s read our passage for this episode and discover the first thing Jesus wanted to teach these disciples. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 31, John tells us that:

31 When he [Judas Iscariot] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

In this short passage, Jesus both challenges Peter and He gives a new command to these disciples. Both of these sections in our passage are worth focusing in on, so in the time we have together let’s start with Jesus’ “new command” and see how far we can get.

I’ve heard it said that this new command is not really all that new. Loving God and loving our neighbor basically summarize both this command as well as all the other commandments in the Old Testament. With this line of thinking, Jesus doesn’t really say that this is a new command, but that He is reminding and reemphasizing a familiar command that was already given. It’s possible that the original Greek language supports this interpretation, however I don’t know this for certain since Greek is not one of my language specialties.

However, while this reminder and reemphasis angle on Jesus’ command makes sense on one level, what if this really was meant to be a new command? What if Jesus wanted to elevate the standard that His disciples would model?

In the original summary of all the commands, Jesus taught that loving God and loving our neighbor were the two commands that all the other commandments can be categorized into. Every other commandment could be grouped as either being an example of loving God, loving our neighbor, or some combination of both. But what if there was a group that was missing, or a group that would be easy to exclude?

When looking at how Jesus described loving God and our neighbor, we have a religious expert ask for clarification regarding how to define the idea of neighbor. From this question, Jesus shared the well known parable of the Good Samaritan, which concluded with the least likeable character being the most helpful – and the one who modeled loving a neighbor the best. From the Good Samaritan parable, we learn that loving our neighbor not only covers the neighborly commands of the Ten Commandments, but also that it covers helping strangers who are in need.

But what about those we know but we don’t really like or get along with? What about those people who seem to get under our skin and those people who know how to push all of our buttons?

In my own mind, it is in many ways easier to love and help a total stranger who is in need than to help someone I know who repeatedly keeps messing up or abusing the system. It is also easier to help a stranger than someone who I don’t agree with.

Jesus’ eleven remaining disciples were about as diverse as you could imagine. While no Samaritans were included, we have fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot – who was someone intent on overthrowing the Roman government, among others. In the broader group of followers, there were former prostitutes, Samaritans, and even some political and religious leaders. Jesus’ followers included people from any and every section of society.

In the command Jesus gives to His disciples, I see Him challenging His followers to love others simply because they are part of the human family. While loving our neighbor is a part of this, this also means loving those who are clearly acting, living, and believing differently than we do. This challenge is a challenge to love others because Jesus loved us, and not because of who the other person is or could be. We love others because Jesus loved us, and because God lives in our heart.

However, as I read our passage, I find it a little humorous that Peter seems to completely miss Jesus’ new command. Giving Peter the benefit of a doubt, the best we could give Peter is that he agrees but pushes this new command to the sidelines.

Peter, like many of the other disciples, is troubled by Jesus telling them that they cannot go with Him. Peter correctly assumes that Jesus could be referring to death, but Peter believes that He is devoted enough to stay by Jesus’ side to the very end.

However, while Jesus is present in Peter’s life, this is true. A little later this very night, when the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus, Peter is the first to jump to Jesus’ defense. However, after Jesus was arrested, Peter begins to doubt and the doubt leads to denial. Peter wants to learn and know what happens to Jesus, but he also wants to maintain a level of anonymity while being nearby.

When we look at the story of the cross and how it breaks Peter’s life, we discover that we all share similarities with Peter. We all are willing to do a lot more than what ultimately happens, but when Jesus enters our lives, as we see Jesus do through the Holy Spirit after His resurrection, a Jesus-filled-Peter becomes an unstoppable force for God’s kingdom.

In our own lives, we are forgiven like Jesus forgave Peter, and we are called to love each other because Jesus has loved us. Jesus loved us not because of who we were or what we would become, but because of who God is. In our own lives, God has called us to love others because it is who we are when He is in our lives, and not because those we love will do anything differently. This is probably the greatest and most challenging command in the entire Bible – and God modeled it perfectly through Jesus!

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

Be sure to always seek God first and to intentionally love others like He loved us. We see God’s love for us through Jesus coming and dying on the cross in our place. He has called us to love others because He first loved us.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself and discover who God is and what He is like through the pages of the Bible. God wants a personal relationship with you and the best foundation to have for a strong relationship with God is a strong prayer and study life. Don’t let your relationship with God be filtered through or dependant on someone else’s relationship with God!

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 walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 25: Discover a new command Jesus gave, and how it is likely the most difficult command to apply in our Christian lives.

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