A Giving Heart

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

Matthew 6:1 – 4:

“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.

“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. 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.”

In these words, Jesus is asking us to look into the heart of giving. Here, Jesus assumes we are going to be gracious and generous. He doesn’t command that we give. He shouldn’t need to. If we are putting Christ on in our lives, we will be a people who give. Rather than focusing on the act, then, here Jesus focuses on the motivation behind giving.

Giving for the Right Reasons

We understand the joy of giving. We see this joy in giving in several places in the New Testament. When the church is striving to form, we see the early Christians gladly sharing with one another. We know the praise Paul gives the churches in Macedonia for their generosity in his labors. And we also know that we are supposed to help both Christian and non-Christian alike. What really matters is what leads us to give.

At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus directs us to love those who would harm us and then to be perfect as our God is perfect. This heart of giving is part of that perfection. He warns us against giving for attention or praise. If we do so, Jesus says we receive a reward in this life. It’s an immediate reward, but it negates a better reward. Instead, Jesus directs us to be generous in humble secrecy. Then will our God praise us.

The Humble Christian

True Christianity does not seek praise or attention. True Christianity does not boast or call attention to self. Christianity instead points attention to God through humble conduct, through grace, and through self-sacrifice. This goes beyond our generosity. As we’re going to see when we examine the following verses, it goes to all acts of righteousness. Whether we are preaching, giving, leading a prayer, or studying our Bibles — we can do all of these things in a way that draws attention away from God and to ourselves.

When was the last time you gave something anonymously? We live in a one-up culture, and it’s a temptation to carry this over to our giving and other acts of service. Our pride wants to give voice to our accomplishments. As Christians, we should be willing to lay aside that pride and conduct ourselves in all humility, even to the point of anonymity.

I might not be able to keep secrets from my own hands, but I can keep my pride in check. Rather than impressing others with my generosity, I should be honoring God in giving. We’re not seeking to impress God with our humility, but our humble conduct honors God. This takes focus off of self and places the credit entirely on God, for, if the recipient has no credit to give for their blessing, then who else can they praise but God? By taking self out of the equation, we become God’s hands. We become His arms, and we see the work that we do as His rather than ours.

I Peter 4:10 – 11:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Putting Others first in Christ

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

The Sermon on the Mount is easy to understand but challenging to live. We have to really open our hearts to the message being taught by our Savior so that we may walk the way He would have us. James 1:22 – 25 encourages us to see ourselves in comparison to God’s word, to take that comparison to heart, and then do something about it. So as we’re looking through Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5 and 6, let’s do so in a way that allows each of us to become more spiritually complete.

Matthew 5: 33 – 48:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

These words continue the theme set up earlier in the chapter that Jesus wants something deeper than outward compliance. He wants us to change our hearts and the attitudes that motivate us. This is a fundamental shift in thinking.

Let Your Yes Be Yes

In Numbers 30:2, God’s law talks about taking pledges and making oaths. This was part of their culture, and it’s still part of ours in some situations. Jesus, however, says that oaths and pledges are unnecessary if we are fundamentally honest people. Jesus addresses this again in Matthew 23, when Jesus talks about the Pharisees placing oaths on various sacred relics and then giving different weights to those different oaths. Jesus goes on to say not to make any oaths at all. Just be a person of your word.

This shifts from a legalistic approach to our word and toward a more spiritual approach. This is not about external signs. It is a way of life and a reflection of your spirituality and your character. Our honesty then gives credibility to the message we bring. It reinforces the changing power of God’s word in a simple, immediately evident way. By our honest word, we show that we mean what we preach.

Others Before Self

Jesus then addresses the nature of personal vindication. Again, the law lays down fundamentals of equitable recompense when wronged. Jesus says instead to get over it and move on, for by this time, God’s people had taken rules that were meant to be applied to a legal system and made it personal. See Leviticus 19:17 – 18 for an example of how God’s people were supposed to keep personal feelings out of legal resolutions.

These concepts are not new, but Jesus is ensuring we understand the importance of love — even for those who don’t love us. Be generous; avoid vengeance; go the extra mile; bless those who hate you. This takes a major shift in our own concept of fairness. It means avoiding the easy way out and doing right by others, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. It’s not our place to dole out punishments to everyone we don’t like. Instead, we should be living peaceably and without animosity toward others anywhere.

Perfect As God Is Perfect

All of this leads us to spiritual wholeness. These teachings and others in the Sermon on the Mount lay down the template for what godly living truly looks like. That template abandons worldly reason and secular justice. It demands a complete self-sacrifice and a change in heart. Let your words and your actions agree. Let go of all resentment or anger you might have toward others, and be ready to do good toward all. In these ways, we grow closer to Christ and show Him to others through the way we live.

lesson by Don Larsen

The Beatitudes

Carl Bloch's painting depicting Jesus sitting before a crowd and delivering the Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890

We’re going to be looking at the Sermon on the Mount through the next several weeks. This is Jesus’ longest recorded sermon, and it contains some concepts that are easy to read but difficult to actually live. This message is also meant to change minds about what people look for in Christ and their roles in God’s kingdom.

Prior to delivering this message, we see Jesus tempted in the wilderness. When He returns from that, Jesus begins His ministry, teaching in synagogues and performing miraculous healing. While this is going on, Jesus’ gathering grows into a great crowd. It is to this crowd — these people who had been listening to His teaching and had benefitted from His miracles — that He begins to deliver the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus Begins His Message

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

Blessed Are Those That Seek

Starting from the beginning, Jesus lays a foundation of spiritual humility. Being poor in spirit means admitting we cannot reach perfection on our own, and we have to come to Christ in full knowledge of the emptiness that only He can fill. Like both James and Peter say in their letters, we should humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand so that he can lift us up from our broken state.

From this humility, Jesus then blesses those who mourn. In this, Jesus is not talking about those who are always downcast and find the worst in any situation. Instead, this is a person who has a tender heart for their own soul and the souls of others. They are those who comfort others and look for comfort in turn. When we know we are truly poor in spirit, we will seek comfort and we will find it in the Lord.

This humble need then leads us to a mind of meekness. This is a preference and deference for others. This is a quiet strength that speaks of an outpouring of inner peace that God is in control. When we look for the peace that comes from God’s comfort in our spiritual humility, then we hunger and thirst for His sustenance. We look to Him to fill that empty feeling in our souls. We know we are empty, and that leads to humility, mourning, and meekness. These guide us to fill that emptiness with our God.

Blessed Are Those Who Act

Jesus then transitions to what we do with the fullness we receive from God. First, Jesus says we should demonstrate this in the mercy we show others. As David in the Psalms, we often ask for God’s mercy, but we must also be showing that mercy to others, especially if they have wronged us in any way. As God forgives us our wrongs, so should we forgive others.

This mercy helps purity of heart. In this, we truly seek the good in others, laying all grudges and ulterior motives aside. It’s a heart that does not seek credit, praise, or vindication. It is a humble heart at peace with fulness from God that does not seek out fulfillment from this life.

If we are pure in heart and showing mercy to others, then we will be peacemakers. We will be the type of people who actively seek peace in times of anger and conflict. We value peace over conflict, and we value restoration over resolution. This carries right into those times we face criticism and persecution. If we are passionately pursuing righteousness, then we will come under fire from those who do not seek God. But we should be gracious in persecution, full of mercy and peace toward those who would mistreat us.

All of these things describe the identity of us if we are to be Christ-like. We hunger and thirst for our God that He might fill the emptiness in our lives. This fulfillment should then bring us a pure heart and inner peace. We then share this peace with others, whether or not we feel they might deserve it, through our peaceful conduct and the mercy we share.

A Christ-Centered Heart

This is a fundamental shift in our perspectives, our priorities, and our conduct. This is not about maintaining a checklist; it’s about an identity. This is not about success in this life; it’s about the next. It’s not about doing well based on my own standards; it’s about holding ourselves to God’s. It’s not about having my way; it’s about completely submitting myself to something higher. We are called to a better way, but better does not always mean easy.

The attitudes and conduct Jesus’ describes in these verses take commitment. They take sacrifice. They take resolve. These are more than a collection of proverbs or general suggestions. These are commands from our Savior about the mindset that should define our Christian lives: humility. When we start with that, our relationship with God and our relationships with others will all begin to reflect these words that open the Sermon on the Mount.

lesson by Donn Koonce