Welcome to Friday’s Podcast. It’s the end of the week. Yippee. I hope these Podcasts have been helpful!
Our reading today is Matthew 6: 1-18 but today we’ll focus on verse 3: ‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hans know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you…’
In Nicky Gumbel’s book Challenging Lifestyle (a book about the Sermon on the Mount) he tells a story about Hudson Taylor who was the founder of the China Inland Mission.
Age 27 he learned a significant lesson.
He was working hard, ministering on Sundays and living a very frugal life. One Sunday, after he had a bowl of gruel the night before, porridge in the morning and nothing for supper, he was asked to go and pray for a poor man and his wife who was dying. He had a half crown coin in his pocket.
He saw their poverty and wanted to give. He said that if he had two shillings and a sixpence and one shilling he would have given one shilling. When he saw the poverty of the mother and her five children he felt he would gladly have given her one shilling and sixpence. He then told them about the love of their Heavenly Father, but felt a hypocrite that he was not prepared to trust God without two shillings and sixpence. At this point he would gladly have given two shillings and kept sixpence.
Eventually he said ‘Well, you asked me to pray, so let’s pray’. He began, ‘Our Father…’ He struggled through the prayer. The father of the family said ‘If you can help us, for God’s sake do’. After a tremendous struggle, he gave the half crown. He gave it all.
Joy flooded his heart. He sang all the way home and as he ate his gruel, he reminded the Lord that ‘he that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord’. He slept peacefully. The following morning he was surprised to receive a letter – he had not been expecting anything. Inside he found a pair of gloves and half a sovereign. He had received a 400% return in 12 hours. This incident was a turning point, and he came back to it time and time again because through it he had learned to trust God in the little things. It helped him in the more serious trials of life. Giving is a virtuous circle.
The Sermon on the Mount does not pull its punches.
Today’s passages are no exception. Throughout chapter 6 Jesus tackles three important aspects of our lives: giving, fasting and praying.
There was a tendency among religious people in Jesus’ time to make a very big deal of how much money they gave away. It was a given that Jewish people would tithe their income – that’s to give away 10% of their income. It didn’t stop there. They also gave alms – in addition to their 10% tithe they gave money to the poor. So the average Jewish person could easily give away 1/6 of their total income.
You might well think – what’s the issue? Why is Jesus challenging such a generous people? What’s the problem? In some sense that’s a good question. Among some of the UK’s instituional churches there are some that that have a target to encourage their people to give 5% of their income. The Jews of Jesus’ day would blow that out of the water.
Jesus isn’t telling people to give. It was the done thing.
But he is challenging the motivation for giving.
That’s the point.
The motivation wasn’t pure. In some ways it was selfish and self centred. The more flamboyant the gift – the more of a fuss one made the more people were impressed. Look at me – how good I am? I’m much holier than everyone else. It’s like someone turning up to church with a black bin liner stuffed with cash and in front of everyone counting out the money holding up the passing the collection plate.
Jesus is like – really – who is this for? You or me?
So why does Jesus say ‘let our light shine’ earlier in the Sermon on the Mount and now say but give in secret? Surely it’s a contraction.
No. He’s challenging us to make sure that we keep our heart right and motivations right.
Jesus isn’t entering the debate on how much to give – he just expects us to give. The Pharisees get very excited about exact amounts.
But Jesus is saying to a religious culture that is very judgemental – do your giving in secret so that you stop judging other people. To stop thinking ‘they’re dead flaky and I’m not – I give more than them’.
He is challenging the root condition of a religious mindset: he challenges pride – one of rules and regulation. Of measuring performance against other people. Which says ‘I’m in a better place with God because I give more than you’.
That’s not the Gospel. We don’t earn salvation. We don’t fix our own lives. The Gospel says we can’t fix our own lives. We need Jesus. We are to be secure in his grace. Not our own effort or striving. We can easily enter into this mindset when talking about money. Nicky Gumbel, a church leader in London, says on the subject of giving, it’s not a matter of ‘how much must I give away’ but ‘how much do I need to keep?’ that’s an entirely different question. That’s a challenge.
This sermon is challenging. Jesus doesn’t hold back.
What is he saying to you today? How will you respond?
Have a great weekend. Next week Bryony will pick up where we left off!
Father thank you for these challenging words. Search us Lord and help us to become the people of generosity you want us to be.
READING: Matthew 6:1-18
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 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. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.