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Practicing Generosity

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Introduction: Review

Jesus has been systematically working through all of the facets of the life of a disciple in the Kingdom.
When we hear Kingdom we should be thinking three things:
Jesus - the King
Disciples - the people
The teachings of Jesus - the reign of Christ and His Church
We’ve walked through the Beatitudes, in which Jesus completely tore down the wrong thinking about “the good life.”
We’ve learned that the followers of Jesus or disciples are given the mission of being salt and light in the world.
And in order for that to happen Jesus needed to tear down the propensity that religious people have when it comes to morality. So the way disciples of Jesus think about issues of morality (murder, adultery, divorce, keeping our word, retaliation, and our enemy) must be categorically different from the current religious views of the day. Just because you DON’T act on your anger doesn’t make you more spiritual than the one who does. In fact, Jesus says, you’re just as guilty. Therefore, we must have an inner righteousness. A wholeness of character that is empowered by the working of the Holy Spirit to remove the heart of stone and implant a soft heart. A new heart that is not flawless, but a heart that cares about the full range of God’s will and desires instead of the desires of the natural heart.
As we have learned, a hard heart (depraved) will distort and pervert all the good things that God has made and commanded. Whether it’s the life of human flourishing, the law, or as we’ll see in the next few weeks, spiritual disciplines.

Tension: Practicing Righteousness

Matthew 6:1 ESV
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
After Jesus has given six really good examples of what he meant when he said that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, he moves to the next facet of human life. He moves right in to religious practice.
It always helps me to pause for a moment and put myself in their sandals. The crowd was (by and large) very familiar with the teachings of the OT Scriptures. They were accustomed to observing feasts, and holy days, and rituals. Those things were a normal part of society. And in that society (that was very religious) they had prescribed disciplines that they were to practice. And it’s hard to believe what Jesus is about to do, but he’s about to pick apart not the disciplines themselves, but the way that those disciplines were practiced and the motive behind the practice themselves.
I mean think about this, Jesus is tearing down much of the purpose and interpretation of the teaching you grew up hearing from your parents and grandparents and Rabbi’s.
BUT he’s not acting like a tyrant, Jesus is actually offering and inviting the people (the majority were looked down on) to gain an understanding of God’s plan for His creation that He’s had since the very beginning.
AND, It’s easy for us to read and listen to passages like this one and miss the whole point of what Jesus is getting at because we get so distracted by our own story that we can’t see the story that Jesus is inviting us into.
The next three weeks we’re going to talk about what pastor’s and scholars have for centuries referred to as spiritual disciplines. The three that Jesus focuses in on are generosity, prayer, and fasting.

Teaching:

Disciples of Jesus practice generosity, not to be seen and praised by others, but as a means of God’s grace

Matthew 6:2 ESV
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
The first thing to notice about the teaching of Jesus is that He does not use the word “if” you give to the needy, he very intentionally uses the words “when you give to the needy.” The implication of that statement is very clear.
Instantly two questions come to mind when we think about giving to the poor and needy:
Who REALLY is poor and needy?
What are we supposed to give?
The poor and needy aren’t identified and really creating hard lines even from Scriptural examples may not be the wisest way to answer this question. Why? Well, we don’t live in ancient Israel nor do we live under the Roman Empire. There has been a great deal of confusion and plain ole bad teaching as it pertains to being generous to the vulnerable.
The second question for reflection is that Jesus doesn’t specify what to give. Again, giving money may not be best. But money might be better than nothing. Either way, the point Jesus is making is not what to give, but that we are to give and give generously at that, and when we give we’re to give with a certain heart attitude.
I recommend that you carry that discussion into lunch. Maybe a group of you who have the gifts of helps and leadership will get together and read, “When Helping Hurts” How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert
Where does Jesus get this idea? The same place He gets most of his other ideas?
Deuteronomy 15:11 ESV
For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
Deut 15
When Moses commanded the Israelites in his final speech (Deuteronomy) to be generous he makes it clear that this wasn’t a one time fundraiser, but instead it was a life-long practice. Because, there will never cease to be poor in the land. And because of the fact that there will always be poor, I’m commanding you to open your hand wide and give generously to the needy and the poor.
This one verse teaches us several things about the “full range of God’s will” as it relates to both the poor and generosity
God has always and will always care for the poor and needy — the vulnerable
God has always and will always care for the poor and needy through his covenant people
God is the owner of what is in your hand and what is on your land
Now, if this was the only thing that God ever said about generosity towards the vulnerable, we might be tempted to think that God only cares about the action, but even if we just look up a few verses we see that full range of God’s will.
God’s vision is for
Deuteronomy 15:7–10 ESV
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.
Deut 15:
It’s interesting to note that what Jesus says in Matthew. He says “Beware of how you practice your righteousness” compare that with what Moses says in Deuteronomy in verse 9 “Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart...” When you see those sign posts, you see what Jesus is getting at.
The difference in the two passages is that in Deuteronomy, Moses warns them against a spirit of hypocrisy that lives in the heart and avoids giving altogether so that you don’t get taken advantage of.
The “Year of Release” happened every 7 years in ancient Israel so that a person who became poor could get a fresh start. In the “Year of Release” the person who borrowed money from another Jewish brother or sister was released from that debt.
So God’s command here is that you don’t hold too tightly to your money. Just because the “Year of Release” is just a few months away and you won’t get your money back — that doesn’t give you an excuse to not be generous.
So instead of Jesus saying, “We’re now under the age of grace and you should pray that God helps you to be generous” he says, “generosity is still something that my disciples will practice” because there are still poor in the land and God still designed the covenant community to reflect him and therefore care for the poor and needy, and God is still the owner of what is in your hand and what’s on your land.
Augustine said it well:
“The point is not to live on crusts of bread with bare walls and threadbare clothes. The point is that a fully human life is lived in a way free from being enslaved to our stuff. Our possessions are meant to serve our needs and our humanness, rather than our lives being centered around service to our possessions and our desires for them.”
But there is another hypocrisy in the heart and seems to be the main hypocrisy that Jesus confronts
So often when we think of hypocrisy, we think of the guy who’s just so happy and kind and nice and good, but later you find out that he had an entirely different life in private. And that is certainly hypocrisy, but it’s not necessarily what Jesus is talking about. Tells others what to do but doesn’t do them himself (Pharisees did this also)
Matthew 6:2 ESV
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
Jesus illustrates what he means by practicing your righteousness rightly by first showing us the negative. I don’t think his point is that there were literally people walking around with a trumpet or a trio of trumpets waiting for them to pass by a poor person with a tin cup and when they dropped the coin in the tin the trumpeters played “Prince Ali” from Aladdin. I think what Jesus is getting at is the way that people would go about their generosity.
We use the phrase today when a person is bragging about their own accomplishments, what do we say? “They’re tooting their own horn.”
But Jesus does say that they do it both in the synagogues and in the streets. I don’t know how much Jesus wants us to pay attention to the environments, but perhaps he’s signaling to them that this was happening but not being called out.
For instance, I can just picture a person walking in to the synagogue on Sabbath and when it was time to share a testimony with the community they would say something like, “I just want to praise YHWH for a moment. I had a tremendous crop this year, we were able to hire additional harvesters, and I made sure not to harvest too close to the edges so that the poor, my brothers and sisters and the sojourners, were able to have food for their families. Thank you YHWH… Oh, and I one more thing… it was so cute, little Josiah told me, papa I want to be just like you, so I gave two coins from my piggy bank to the poor man outside of synagogue. Isn’t that wonderful!”
What this fictitious family did was right according to the law, but Jesus says, they don’t understand the purpose of giving. Giving is not a platform for you to wave your banner and claim how good you are. When you do giving that way, that applause is all you receive… there you go, that’s your reward.
The motive of a hypocrite is that they would receive recognition for their good works. What’s interesting is that affirmation and praise is something that we’re born craving.
Think about the way that parents gawk over their children. From smiling, to rolling over, to crawling, to scooting, to walking, running, to report cards, sports, driving… on and on. And from a very early age a child will repeat those things that they’re rewarded for, even if the reward is just an affirming smile or word of praise.
Adults are not different. We all still deep down crave affirmation and praise. But here is what happens, human affirmation is very fickle. One minute you’re being affirmed and the next you’re being ignored. And at some point we become disenchanted with affirmation because sometimes it’s hot and other times it’s absent. And somewhere along your journey of life, you stopped receiving the praise that you were craving. And generally that’s the point people stop being intentional about doing good works. That’s the point that we say to ourselves, “it doesn’t even matter if I am generous. It’s not like I’m helping solve world hunger. Nobody even cares.”
And the church recognizes the adage, “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” So the church steps up and creates pathways to generosity that is packaged in biblical phrasing and stories, but the rewards are still man-centered. So we name buildings after the highest donor, we hang plaques in hallways, and put little brass plates with the name of the donor on pews, and pave pathways with bricks with the names of the one who donated.
And I’m not saying those things are entirely sinful, but they’re certainly not what Jesus had in mind when he taught on generosity.
So after he gives the negative, he gives the positive
Matthew 6:3–4 ESV
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The way to practice your generosity is to practice it in secret. Jesus says, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing as a way of poetically pressing a heart motivation that isn’t looking for human affirmation. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let anyone see you when you give or that you can’t even speak of giving with others. It means that you are free to give generously without anticipating anything. No surprise check in the mail from God, no heavens to open with an angelic glow around you, no applause, no human affirmation. Just a confidence that the Father sees everything that’s going on.

But to give alms in secret means where the heart does not expose itself, or seek honor and name from it; but is so disposed that it gives away freely, without regarding whether it may have any show or praise before the people; yes, if besides it is despised and abused by everybody, thus it is called secret and done alone before God, even though it takes place openly before all the world. For it is covered over by this simplicity of the heart that does not inquire or care about the issue, let God decide, let come from it gratitude or ingratitude, good or evil.

But to give alms in secret means where the heart does not expose itself, or seek honor and name from it; but is so disposed that it gives away freely, without regarding whether it may have any show or praise before the people; yes, if besides it is despised and abused by everybody, thus it is called secret and done alone before God, even though it takes place openly before all the world. For it is covered over by this simplicity of the heart that does not inquire or care about the issue, let God decide, let come from it gratitude or ingratitude, good or evil.
Luther, M. (1892). Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. (C. A. Hay, Trans.) (pp. 237–238). Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society.
The disciple practices generosity, not to be seen or praised by others, but as a means of God’s grace
Jesus promises this to His followers who give for the audience of One, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you...”
When people of the Kingdom give from the secret place “the heart” as unto the LORD it really doesn’t matter if the person you’re giving to is taking advantage of you, the Father (all-knowing, all-seeing, ever-present, all-powerful God) sees the secret place (remember man looks on the outside, but God looks at the heart) and will reward you.
Now, what of this reward? Is Jesus talking dollars and cents? Is He talking about a big mansion in heaven? How about shiny crowns? How about new stuff? I’m afraid much of the way we want to view the rewards of God doesn’t align very well with the life of Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or any of the other disciples who came after Jesus, freely giving of their very lives for the sake of the Kingdom.
Instead, it seems more likely that what Jesus is promising is the intangible, yet powerful grace of God. No, it’s not that we earn grace, for grace is a gift. It is that generosity is a channel for experiencing God’s grace. I believe this because of the way that Paul understood the teachings of Jesus as it pertained to generosity:
Acts 20:32–35 ESV
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Acts 20:
And to the church in Corinth, Paul sums up this grace cycle like this:
2 Corinthians 9:8 ESV
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:9 ESV
As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
2 Cor 9:8
2 Corinthians 9:10–11 ESV
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
God’s grace is what frees us from self-centeredness and empowers us to follow Christ. And in that way we are truly the salt and light of the world.

Call: Gospel Centered Generosity

Talking about generosity to the poor is almost always questioned — some have genuine questions, others are just calloused by life and experience.
When we don’t allow the gospel to break down our most sacred spaces, we aren’t truly following Jesus. When we lean out our window and tell the person asking for money at a red light to “Go get a job” we have to wonder, is that the Spirit of Jesus? Is that the heartbeat of God? And when our response is, “Hey the Bible says, if a man doesn’t work a man shouldn’t eat.”
Yes, and just as Paul had those expectations for the church in Thessalonica, we should expect for our fellow brothers and sisters to be able to take and receive within the community.
But if we allow the gospel to break down every corner of our heart, we will remember what Paul said to Corinth a chapter before:
2 Cor 8
2 Corinthians 9:9 ESV
As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
We will only truly understand generosity when we recognize our spiritual poverty. When we acknowledge that we are the opioid addict, we are the alcoholic, we are the prostitute, we are the homeless, we are the weak and the vulnerable and were it not for the grace of Jesus, we’d still be spiritually impoverished and maybe we’d be the vulnerable one holding a sign on the side of the street.
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