In Matthew 6:2-4, Jesus teaches a profound observation about human behavior in the kingdom of God. Your giving should become habitual to the point that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.
Initially, when you begin to give and are generous with your resources, it will feel like you’re doing something heroic. Eventually, you can be generous without thinking about how wonderful you are. Dallas Willard said, “A sign of spiritual maturity is the thought that no longer occurs to you.”
This week we look at the rewards of generosity. And hopefully you will be able to say, “I want to follow Jesus in this area of giving generously. I want to live my financial life for an audience of one.”
Hey, welcome to Blue Oaks. If you’re new to our church, we’re in a series studying the Sermon on the Mount.
We learned last week about how some of us suffer from approval addiction.
Be sure listen to that message if you missed it.
We’re all tempted to think — “Who I am is who other people think I am.” We’re tempted to get other people to be impressed with us in order to gain their approval.
But Jesus invites us to step out of approval addiction and into God’s love.
And he gives us a spiritual discipline (or practice) to help with this — the discipline of secrecy.
Secrecy is when we do something good for someone without anyone knowing about it.
I serve someone without saying something about it so other people will be impressed by me.
In secrecy, I submit my life and reputation to God. I learn I can refrain from trying to impress people and still survive.
Alright, today we look at how Jesus applied secrecy to the area of giving.
This is what Jesus said:
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 honored 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. (Matthew 6:2-4)
Do you ever think Jesus meant to be funny when he was teaching?
I think Jesus used humor a lot.
But it’s not completely obvious to us because a lot of his humor was related to the culture he lived in.
If you think about it, movies that were made to be funny 50 years ago often are not funny today.
Well the bible was written over two thousand years ago. Do you know any two thousand year old documents that are still funny today?
You see, what Jesus is doing here is giving a picture of religious hypocrisy.
Imagine someone goes to church. And when it’s time to collect the offering, they pull out a trumpet and start playing the Mexican hat dance before they put their money in.
The people listening to the sermon on the mount would have been laughing out loud at this. Because no one back then actually blew trumpets.
There have been times when I’ve done something that I thought was generous, and I’ve maybe tried to slip that into a conversation with someone so they would think I was generous without sounding like I was trying to impress them.
Well Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, you have received your reward in full.”
If I do something in order to impress someone, my reward is impressing someone.
Maybe I’ll get a, “Wow! that’s impressive” and I’ll be a little more addicted to approval. And it will be harder to avoid doing that again in the next conversation. I’ll become a slave to what other people think of me.
That’s why Jesus said:
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 honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
Jesus goes on:
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.
Now this would have been another funny line to an ancient crowd. And it has a profound idea behind it.
When something becomes deeply ingrained in me, it’s so habitual that I do it without even thinking about it. We refer to that as something that’s “second nature.” It becomes second nature.
When you were learning how to tie your shoes, you initially had to really focus and concentrate on what you were doing.
And the first time you tied a shoe, you were so proud of yourself — “Look what I did. I tied my own shoe.” You wanted to announce it with a trumpet.
Now you can tie your shoes without even thinking about it. You don’t announce it with a trumpet. You don’t even consider it… and you’re free to think about more interesting things.
It’s actually an interesting thing — if you asked me to describe how I tie a shoe, I would have to really think about how to describe it.
“I put one end over the other and tuck it under, pull it tight, then I make a loop with the left and circle it with the right, pull it through, and tighten it.”
Here’s a challenge — try to tie your shoe, only this time make your left hand do what the right hand usually does. It’s really difficult.
I tried it this week. My left hand literally does not know what my right hand is doing when it comes to tying a shoe.
Now, what Jesus is teaching is a profound observation about human behavior in the kingdom of God.
Let your giving be as habitual as tying your shoes. Let it become habitual to the point that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.
Initially, when you begin to give and are generous with your resources, it will feel like you’re doing something heroic. You’ll want to blow a trumpet.
Initially, when you begin to serve and are generous with your time, it will feel heroic. “Kathy, look! Kids, look emptied the dishwasher without being asked. Blow the trumpets!”
Eventually, you’ll be generous without thinking about how wonderful you are. You’ll be free to think about more interesting things. You’ll not need the trumpet anymore.
Dallas Willard said:
A sign of spiritual maturity is the thought that no longer occurs to you.
Jesus put it this way:
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
The idea is not, “You were going to get a really big reward for being generous, but now that someone found out, God is taking that reward away.”
The idea is — as you give, and as you become a truly generous person who is not merely trying to impress people but actually wants to partner with God and follow Jesus, you’re going to enter into the reality of kingdom living. It’s really good. Your reward is the person you become, the life you lead, the joy you experience, the faith you build, the divine care you receive, the difference you make.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr put it this way:
Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be the first in love. I want you to be the first in moral excellence. I want you to be the first in generosity.
The Bible is packed full of rewards for being first in generosity.
So what I want to do is spend the rest of this message looking at the rewards of generosity. And I want us to get so clear that we would all be willing to say, “I want to follow Jesus in this area of giving generously. I want to live my financial life for an audience of one.”
Alright, let’s dig in.
One of the rewards of generosity is:
Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
Now we turn the word blessed into a religious cliché, but as we’ve seen in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s really about who’s living the good life.
The idea is this — we think getting things is the path to the good life because when we get, we feel a little sense of pleasure. But that little sense of pleasure always wears off.
In the long run, givers are happier, more joyful people than takers.
In our church, there’s a family that gave 1.5 million dollars to the “Be the Light” initiative last year. Do you want to see their picture? Well, you can’t, because then it wouldn’t be secret, and they would lose their reward.
There are a lot of people in our church who give to Blue Oaks who know the joy of giving in secret.
I would love for you to know the joy of giving generously in secret.
There was a woman my wife and I know who was going through the process of becoming a legal US citizen. Her children were born in the US but she wasn’t legally a citizen so she couldn’t work. It was very difficult to support her family during that time.
Well, we were able to help her anonymously, and I just want to share from my personal experience (I’m sure many of you could share way more than me) but I’ve gotten more blessing, more meaning, more gratitude, and more joy out of money I’ve given than money I’ve saved.
That’s the first reward. You will experience more blessing.
The second reward is:
2. Relational wealth
We live in a society that is increasingly financially rich but relationally poor. Just spend some time in the developing world and you’ll realize they’re financially poor, but they’re relationally wealthy.
This is what the apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth about giving:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
And this is what he said later in that chapter about those in the early church who were recipients of generosity.
And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. (2 Corinthians 9:14)
You see, people who are generous with their time, and generous with their money — they end up entering into new relationships, and connecting with and caring about more people. They experience relational wealth.
If you’re stingy with your time and stingy with your money, you’ll find other people will be stingy with their hearts.
If you’re generous with your time and generous with your money, people’s hearts will go out to you.
Alright, the third reward is:
When I’m only focused on my life and getting what I want, I live in bondage to my desire.
There’s an interesting phrase that’s used in the Psalms.
In Psalm 22, the psalmist said:
Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. (Psalm 22:20)
In the next verse, the psalmist says:
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions. (Psalm 22:21)
Does the phrase “my precious” ring any bells with you?
It’s from The Lord of the Rings.
The character is named Gollum. The word golem comes from a Hebrew word that’s used only one time in the Bible in Psalm 139 for an unformed body.
That word golem in Hebrew actually became, in the Middle Ages, a character in Jewish folklore who lived as a grudging, resentful, soulless slave. That’s part of why Tolkien chose the name Gollum.
The ring takes a desire and turns it into an obsession… until it becomes an idol. Then we become its slaves.
You see, the principle in the kingdom of God is this — “Freely you have received; so freely give.”
I mean, if you think about it — what in the world do I have that God has not given to me?
My mind, my body, my family, my home, my food, my clothes, my education, my job.
Generosity liberates me from bondage to possessions and pleasures… and allows me to give with the same freedom that I receive.
Alright, we’ll look at a few more rewards in just a moment.
Alright, let’s look at a few more rewards and then I want to give you a challenge.
Another reward is:
We’re told joy is a reward of giving from a great story in the Old Testament.
The people rejoiced over the offerings, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord, and King David was filled with joy. (1 Chronicles 29:9)
Let me tell you how deeply God has wired you for generosity — when you’re generous with your money or with your time in serving, it triggers the release of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, and prolactin.
It’s sometimes called — “helper’s high.”
Stingy people secrete cortisol — the stress hormone.
This is incredible to me — God has wired our bodies… so literally we cannot give without getting.
It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Alright, another reward is:
5. God’s repayment
Generous people experience God’s repayment.
This is an incredible verse from Proverbs.
If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you! (Proverbs 19:17)
According to Forbes magazine, the current richest person in the world is Elon Musk. He nets out at about $260 billion.
Now imagine he was at church today sitting next to you. And he said, “I have nothing to put in the offering box on the way out. Could you lend me $20?”
You would probably figure he’s good for it, right?
I want to give you an important piece of information your financial planner may not tell you: you’re going to die. No matter what happens with your finances, you’re going to die.
Why would you not give what you can’t keep to gain what you can’t lose?
Can you imagine standing before God one day and having him say, “Let’s see, I have a bunch of IOUs here. It’s time to settle up.”
“If you help the poor, you’re lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!”
Alright, another reward is:
6. Your children will be a blessing
This is what the psalmist says of the righteous in Psalm 37:
They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. (Psalm 37:26)
It’s fascinating — the psalmist doesn’t say, “Their children will be blessed.”
He says, “Their children will be a blessing.”
You see, selfish parents tend to raise selfish children. Generous parents tend to raise generous children.
I remember taking our kids to Africa where we got to meet the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.
Seeing them help the poor, and want to do so much more for the kids we sponsor, and seeing their hearts expand — it’s a great gift.
To be able to build in to the generosity of our children is such a great gift.
And they will be a blessing.
Alright, another reward is:
7. Multiplied impact
There’s a great story in the Bible about this.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:41-43)
This is a fascinating story on so many levels.
First of all, Jesus just goes and sits down and openly watches people give their offerings.
This seems kind of nosey, doesn’t it?
Do you think people might be thinking, “Hey Jesus, why don’t you mind your own business? What happened to the whole ‘give in secret’ thing?”
Jesus seems to have this strange idea that what people give is his business — that what people do with the resources God has given them is somehow God’s business.
Here’s the point of this story:
The widow was not giving to impress anyone. The widow didn’t bring the trumpet guy to announce her gift.
The widow was betting everything on God. When Jesus said, “This poor widow has put in more,” he wasn’t being poetic. He wasn’t exaggerating.
The spiritual dimension of your existence — your decisions, your intentions, your character — is unseen, but it’s real.
What is real? That’s the first great question of life.
The answer is — God and his kingdom, the unseen realm.
The widow’s mite has become the most famous gift in the history of humanity.
That widow literally inspired the generosity of hundreds of millions of people all around the world.
She had no idea she was going to do that.
She gave more. Literally.
No matter what your income is, do not believe your gift doesn’t matter. When you give, God sees your heart.
God can take two fish and five loaves and feed thousands. God multiples the impact of our giving.
Alright, one more reward:
8. A new financial partner
Think about it. When you start giving to advance the kingdom of God, you align yourself with God’s ultimate plan and dream for the human race.
Jesus put it like this in Luke 6:38:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Now this reality that God is involved in your financial life is so powerful that I want to pause to make sure you understand that giving is not something you do so you can get more money.
I grew up in a little Baptist church in Chicago. When someone put $100 in the offering plate, the pastor would get so excited, he would say, “Whoever put this in, come up to the front. You can pick out three hymns.”
So this shy, elderly woman goes to the front, just beaming from ear to ear. She pointed to the three best looking men in the church, and said, “I pick him, him, and him.”
Okay, that didn’t really happen. It would be great if that happened though.
Here’s the point:
Giving is not something we do to get external rewards — more money or a better reputation.
Based on what we read in Scripture, based on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, based on what my wife and I have experienced in our lives, you cannot out-give God. This is just true.
This is true with your time.
If you’re not serving, if you’re not volunteering somewhere, then I want to challenge you to get generous with your time. See if God doesn’t multiply your time and your energy in ways that build your faith.
This is true with your money as well.
The starting level of giving for Israel was the tithe — God’s people would give the first 10 percent of their income back to God. It was called the firstfruits.
A lot of people have a hard time trusting God with money. But here’s what God said about it:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)
You see, in the kingdom of God, there is a different kind of reality.
Just do the math.
Math in our world says — if I have one hundred dollars and I give ten dollars away I’ll have ninety dollars left. In other words, the more I give away, the less I have.
Now, in the kingdom of God, reality is this — when you’re generous, God enters into the equation.
And ninety percent with God is more than a hundred percent without God.
And this is the only area where God actually says, “Test me in this.”
Now tithing was a practice unique to Israel. It was an expression of trust. They would give back to God to cultivate generosity. None of the other ancient people groups did this. Israel did this.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this…
I know of no other command from God where he tells people to test him.
Usually we’re told, “Do not test the Lord your God.” But it’s like here he knows how much we cling to our money.
He’s almost saying, “I dare you.”
Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
So how are you doing with this?
This is one area where Kathy and I have put a stake in the ground, and said, “No matter what, we’re going to take the first 10 percent God provides us, and we’re going to give it back to him. We will tithe.”
We’ve always tithed to Blue Oaks. And then we give to other ministries and other people beyond that as God leads us.
And I have to tell you, I’m so glad we do that.
This is one are of my life, and I can’t say this about a lot of areas, but this is one area of my life that when I stand before God one day, I’m going to be able to say, “I was faithful with the resources you provided.”
Are you doing that?
Are you trusting God with the tithe?
If not, ask him to help you build a generous heart.
This business of giving is so important to God.
One of the interesting ways it’s reflected is there are key words in the Bible. It’s kind of interesting to look at how often words are used in the Bible.
Belief, or faith is really important: it’s used 272 times.
Pray is really important: it’s used 371 times.
Love is obviously huge: 741 times.
Fear is not a big deal: 365 times.
The word give is used in the Bible 2,162 times.
The most famous Bible verse is — God so loved the world he gave the best gift he had.
See, giving is a heart deal. It’s not intended by God as an obligation. It’s not intended as a rule that you’re supposed to observe with a grudging spirit.
That’s why Paul writes to the church at Corinth to give… and not just that but, “…not
reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The Greek word for that little word cheerful is hilaros. We get our word hilarious from that. Make it an exercise in joy.
If you keep giving, eventually you’ll get there.
Now, on a practical level, I just want to encourage you, if you’ve never taken this step toward becoming a regular tither to God, don’t miss the blessing of this.
A lot of people find it’s really helpful to give online. And I’ll tell you why.
Most of us intend to be generous people. Most of us intend to be givers.
Do you remember where the road paved with good intentions leads?
It’s not a good place.
As a pastor named Andy Stanley puts it, “Automation trumps determination.”
If I woke up every morning in a gym, I’d probably work out more.
If I lived in a health food store, I’d probably eat better.
Now the writers of Scripture talk about this firstfruits principle (the idea that we’re to give God right off the top), but it’s really easy to forget. It’s easy to get distracted by other activities — some bill comes in, or I get worried.
Technology can be a gift from God to translate my good intentions into consistent action.
Now you may not do your finances online. You might prefer to give something physical. By all means, use whatever method helps you most, but technology can be a great gift from God to help translate good intentions into actually doing something. If it would, use that means.
There was a financial pitchman for a finance lending company who had a tagline I thought was memorable. You might know it. He used to say about their offer, “This is the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind.”
That same guy ironically ended up filing for bankruptcy.
It turns out it wasn’t the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind.
Trusting God with your finances, leading a generous life, discovering it’s more blessed to give than to receive, having the discipline to become a tither, getting real about being a giver and not a taker, walking hand-in-hand through this life with generosity, that’s the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind.
And that’s the reward of generosity.
Let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church