Creating a Culture of Giving: 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 BibleGateway.com!

During Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount”, He describes for us the motivation God wants for us regarding our giving and helping others. It is likely that Jesus shocked many people in the audience when He transitioned to this section of His message.

To help catch the crowd’s attention and get them to take note, Jesus begins by stating, “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.” (v. 1)

It is odd to think about God not rewarding someone’s generosity, but that is what Jesus is clearly stating here. If someone does something good because they are trying to build their reputation or strengthen their public image, then whatever it is they are doing is really not to help the other person; they are helping themselves first.

A couple verses later, Jesus emphasizes this idea even further when He states, “When you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (v. 3)

This mentality becomes tricky because at some point, when we want to help develop a spirit of generosity within a group of people, we should celebrate the giving that has happened. What we celebrate gets strengthened, and when we do things to help those who give feel appreciated, then we are likely to attract more people to give.

But perhaps we should shift our focus away from focusing on who gave, and instead focus on what the gifts that were given accomplished. If we place our focus on sharing how lives were transformed, how marriages were strengthened, and/or how people experienced healing because of the gifts that generous “anonymous” people gave, then we can receive the same benefit as a group of people.

When celebrating life changes vs. celebrating those who donated, the donors can stay anonymous and let God reward them later, and a culture of giving can be inspired 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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Giving God what is Truly His: Matthew 22:15-22


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As we continue in Matthew’s gospel moving through the week of Jesus’ crucifixion, we come to an event that stands out in my mind as both brilliant on the part of those who wanted to trap Jesus, and brilliant on the part of Jesus for His response avoiding the trap. During this week, it seems as though the religious leaders amplify their attempts to discredit Jesus, or at the very least, during this week, the gospel writers direct their attention onto these leaders’ challenges more than in the earlier portion of Jesus’ ministry.

Our passage for this episode focuses on one of the more interesting challenges in my mind. We can find it in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 22, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 15, Matthew tells us:

15 Then the Pharisees left that place and made plans to trap Jesus in saying something wrong. 16 They sent some of their own followers and some people from the group called Herodians. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are an honest man and that you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what other people think about you, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Before continuing to read Jesus’ response, I want to pause and explain this seemingly no-win scenario. The Pharisees and the Herodians were enemies, but in this one instant, they temporarily ally in order to catch Jesus say something wrong.

From how I understand this event, the Pharisees claimed all life was dedicated to God, and this conflicted with allegiance to the state government that the Herodians supported. In contrast, the Herodians promoted allegiance to the state, and in this case to Herod and Rome, and their big emphasis was on the payment of taxes to support Rome.

Both sides emphasized money, and the Pharisees taught that money should go to the church first, whereas the Herodians taught that taxes should be paid first. Paying taxes was a form of giving allegiance, and the Pharisees taught that allegiance should only be given to God, while the Herodians taught that taxes and allegiance should be given to Rome.

In the minds of these two groups, together they could trap Jesus saying something He shouldn’t, and either Jesus would be discredited among the Pharisees and the religious system, or He would be in trouble with the government.

However, Jesus knew and saw this trap. Continuing reading in verse 18, Matthew tells us:

18 But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me a coin used for paying the tax.” So the men showed him a coin. 20 Then Jesus asked, “Whose image and name are on the coin?”

21 The men answered, “Caesar’s.”

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

22 When the men heard what Jesus said, they were amazed and left him and went away.

In Jesus’ response, we see an example of answering the issues at hand while avoiding the trap of choosing one side at the expense of another. Those challenging Jesus only saw two possible outcomes, because they had their focus entirely on the money portion of the debate. It never crossed their minds that all money with Caesar’s image was simply being loaned to them by the Roman government.

The response Jesus shared is brilliant because it amplified what we actually give God as being more than simply money. Looking at God’s blessing from the other direction, God has blessed us with so much more than money and what we are called to return to Him is more than simply money. While God can bless us with money, and while we are called to give tithes and offerings, God has given us much more than money, and without the other things God has blessed us with, money would be irrelevant.

Society also has more benefits than simply giving us money, but the majority of society’s benefits are supported in part by the monetary system of the society we are in, and in many ways, this makes money a more central theme in the society portion of this discussion.

I have heard people use this passage to support paying taxes and to refute the necessity of paying taxes. However, I believe both sides of this debate miss the much bigger challenge in Jesus’ response.

Leading into Jesus’ reply, we find an interesting description of Jesus shared by those bringing Jesus this challenge. Whether it was a Pharisee or a Herodian who asked the question in verse 16, he opens the question by saying, “Teacher, we know that you are an honest man and that you teach the truth about God’s way. You are not afraid of what other people think about you, because you pay no attention to who they are.

In my mind, this is an interesting way to describe Jesus. First, Jesus is described as a teacher, as an honest man, and as someone who teaches the truth about God’s way. Either this opening is an empty compliment from someone who doesn’t believe this, or it is a window into how these leaders understood Jesus, even if they didn’t like Him. Next, Jesus is described as someone who isn’t afraid of what other people think about Him and as someone who doesn’t pay attention to who other people are.

Is this an accurate description of Jesus?

As I look at Jesus’ ministry, I would agree that this is an accurate description. As I read the gospels, I see Jesus fulfilling the role of a teacher, Jesus living honestly, and Jesus teaching the truth about God’s way. I also see Jesus as someone who isn’t afraid of what other people think about Him. About the only potentially questionable descriptor is the last one, which is someone who doesn’t pay attention to who other people are.

Does Jesus ignore or not pay attention to who other people are?

In the context of the religious leaders of that day, the answer is definitely a yes. In first century culture, the religious leaders looked at race, nationality, age, and gender among other things to determine who to pay attention to and who to interact with. In contrast, Jesus didn’t selectively choose to help others based on physical appearance or any characteristic present. Jesus only focused on helping the specific need that an individual had, and He did this to show to those present that God is interested in helping each of us exactly where we need help.

With this framing of Jesus’ character and ministry, what can we then see in Jesus’ reply about taxes?

In my own mind, I see Jesus minimizing money to simply being a cultural tool that we use in the context of the society we live in. We pay tax to help support the society we live in, and specifically the services within our society.

To contrast this, Jesus challenges us to give to God what is God’s. When looking at our lives and when looking at what the Bible teaches, what is clearly God’s?

The clearest answer I see for this question is that our breath is God’s. At creation, God breathed life into humanity, and in many places in the Old Testament, the breath is described as returning to God when we die. Some might call this breath our spirit, but regardless of how the Hebrew word is translated, what God gave us when He created us returns to Him when we die.

God is not interested in our breath returning to Him before our mission on this earth is finished. Instead, God has loaned us breath so that we can fulfill the mission and purpose He has placed us on this earth to fulfill. In this challenge Jesus shares, I see Jesus challenging every person who has breath to dedicate their breath, or we could say their spirit, or we could say their lives, to God and to the mission He has placed us on this earth to accomplish!

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, continue seeking God first in your life and choose to place Him first. Choose to give God what is God’s and to dedicate your breath, your spirit, and your life to Him and fulfilling the purpose He placed you on this earth to accomplish.

If you don’t know what God has placed you on this earth to do, be sure to take this question to God in prayer. Through prayer and studying the Bible for yourself, you are able to grow a strong, personal relationship with God, and the closer you grow to God, I believe the clearer you will be able to see His mission for your life.

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 give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 40: When some religious leaders bring the perfect trap question to Jesus, discover how Jesus both masterfully answers the challenge, and how Jesus amplifies our gifts to God as being much more than something money can buy.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

How God Sees “Them”: Matthew 19:1-12

Focus Passage: Matthew 19:1-12 (NCV)

 1 After Jesus said all these things, he left Galilee and went into the area of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

 3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to trick him. They asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he chooses?”

 4 Jesus answered, “Surely you have read in the Scriptures: When God made the world, ‘he made them male and female.’ 5 And God said, ‘So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ 6 So there are not two, but one. God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.”

 7 The Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses give a command for a man to divorce his wife by giving her divorce papers?”

 8 Jesus answered, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because you refused to accept God’s teaching, but divorce was not allowed in the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man.”

 10 The followers said to him, “If that is the only reason a man can divorce his wife, it is better not to marry.”

 11 Jesus answered, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but God has made some able to accept it. 12 There are different reasons why some men cannot marry. Some men were born without the ability to become fathers. Others were made that way later in life by other people. And some men have given up marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage.”

Read Matthew 19:1-12 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Before diving into this passage and the one big idea I want to focus on, I want to emphasize that this is a challenging passage for many people. A lot of people who have experienced divorce in their lives can look on this passage as God condemning them for their actions. I don’t have much to say about this – since this is something that everyone must work out with God personally/individually. I may write my thoughts on how I see this passage relating to divorce in a future post, but instead, this post will focus on a big idea for those who are married or are currently in a long-term relationship.

In verse 6, we read the following phrase, “God has joined the two together”. I know there are countless things that have happened and choices that were made that directed me to moving to Idaho where I would meet my bride-to-be. It seems as though God is working behind the scenes to direct people together. I could make my head spin trying to think of what may have happened had I made different choices regarding my schooling, major, and direction after college, but whatever the case is – whether there is only one match or several great candidates along a variety of different paths, the passage states that God is present in the relationships that I have – especially in my marriage.

Here’s the big idea, stated in the form of a question: If I believe that God brought people into my life for a reason (including my spouse), would I treat them differently?

And an equally challenging follow-up question: If I believe that God loves my wife enough to die for her and that it hurts Him when I hurt her, would I treat her differently? (Feel free to swap genders if you need to.)

God brings people into our lives, and in many cases, not all of them are pleasant. Some might be downright annoying at best, and one (hopefully not more) of these you might have ended up marrying. (Disclaimer: This is not my marital situation, but it seems to be a common theme in culture.)

However, have you ever stopped to think that Jesus loves – and He died for – those annoying people too? It isn’t just the pleasant people that Jesus loves, but the unpleasant ones too. If we are really being honest with ourselves, we might be that annoying person to our spouse. We might be closed off to them when they are looking for love, or harsh with them when we are really upset about something unrelated in our own lives.

We can only change ourselves, and our actions. We cannot change others. However, with the thought that God brings people into our lives, and that He loves them enough to have died for them, would that be enough to change my attitude and actions towards them?

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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The Gift of the Spirit: 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 BibleGateway.com!

Part way through Jesus’ ministry on earth, on the last day of a festival Jesus was attending in Jerusalem, Jesus stood up and proclaimed a message in a loud voice. This happened in the temple and with guards present who were looking for an opportunity to arrest Jesus.

But while there were guards present, Jesus’ final words in this event are powerful, and potentially confusing. John tells us, “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. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’” (v. 37-38)

John knows that some of his readers may misunderstand or not pick up on the spiritual symbolism Jesus is using in this statement. Perhaps at this point in the young Christian church movement, there were people who had already misunderstood or misinterpreted Jesus’ words here, or maybe there were those who had written Jesus off because of this statement. Whatever the reason, John breaks from the story here to insert a side-note about this statement. John tells us, “By this he [Jesus] 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.” (v. 39)

The truth John wants us to grasp from this concluding statement is that the only way we can receive the Holy Spirit is by believing in Jesus. Jesus shares the results of this belief. He describes it as “rivers of living water will flow from within them”. (v. 38b)

Jesus is not speaking literally here in a physical sense. Jesus is sharing a metaphor for how the Holy Spirit draws people into spiritual truth. The Holy Spirit prompts people with a spiritual “thirst” (desire) to learn more, and Jesus provides the truth. When someone believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and lives within them. And when the Holy Spirit is living in someone, they will have a self-sustaining spiritual life while the Spirit is within them.

When I read Jesus’ words here, I cannot avoid realizing my dependence on the Holy Spirit when I open up my Bible to read and study. The only way I can learn spiritual truth is through paying attention to the Holy Spirit and one of the best tools the Holy Spirit uses is the Bible. The truth I believe Jesus is sharing here is that by coming to Him, we all can receive true spiritual life through the Spirit, and this life will flow outward – being visible towards those around us.

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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