Matthew 6:1-4 KJV
1 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 “That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
It was the most natural thing for me to do. My beautiful wife came to bed a little later than I, and she asked for me to scratch her back, and so I did. I didn’t really think about the late hour, how much I really wanted to get to sleep after a long day, nor even how my own back was hurting right then. I just scratched her back all over, and then we went to sleep. No big deal.
That’s how we are with the ones we love: when it comes to giving, we don’t really think much about it. We just do something—cooking, cleaning, taking care of hurts, comforting, or whatever. If we DO take the time to think, then… Well, let’s just say it can lead to strife in the home, if you know what I mean.
But when it comes to people outside our family, do we give so freely? Do we just give without thinking, or do we take the time to weigh our giving against our own desires and needs? I will be honest here: I am as guilty as the next guy of reconsidering my charity, thinking with my head instead of my spirit when it comes to giving alms.
The very word “alms” comes to us from the Greek word used here in the Gospel of Matthew, ἐλεημοσύνη (eleēmosunē), which in turn comes from a root word ἔλεος (eleos) which means “mercy” or “compassion.” Eleēmosunē can be thought of as “compassionateness” or “beneficence”—an act of mercy or kindness. Here Jesus is telling us to keep such things secret from the world, and as nearly any pastor would tell you, we keep our alms secret from others because our compassion is more about our relationship with God than about our relationships with men. Some might think that almsgiving simply scores brownie points with God, but that is not the case. Yes, we do store up treasures in heaven when we display Christ-likeness, but our charity must come from our hearts, from a desire to BE more like Christ, not from any desire to score points with our Father in heaven. Almsgiving is a natural part of Christian living.
What strikes me about this passage is how Jesus tells us to keep our alms secret even from ourselves. Why should we do that? Because when we take the time to think about what we are doing, when the one side of our brain weighs what the other is trying to do, then we can be misled into either (A) doing things for the wrong reason, or (B) simply not doing something good at all. Our human mind is prone to consider things in a fleshly, worldly manner, whereas when we do things in the Spirit, such considerations never come to bear.
How often have we passed a beggar on a street corner, weighing the cash in our wallets against the time we have to get home or to work, or perhaps against our own next meal? How often have we held back a little from the offering plate because we wanted to get that pizza later in the day? How often are we stingy with our time, our finances, our prayer for others, simply because we are thinking of the things WE want or feel we need?
Philippians 2:3-8 NKJV
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus looked down from heaven upon the weight of sin of the world, and He didn’t consider it robbery—i.e. He didn’t think we were stealing anything from Him that He wasn’t ready to give—for Him to lay aside His glory and power in order to be obedient to the Father’s will and save us from our sin. He never once refused someone kindness, healing, or comfort. And if He ever weighed such things in His mind, isn’t it amazing that WE always came out ahead of all His other considerations?
That is why it is so important for us to stop thinking with ourselves in mind when it comes to giving to others. When it comes to His tender mercies, God never once held back from us. His great love for us drove Him to always put us first, to never worry about the pain, the suffering, the loss. Jesus set His eyes on the joy of the Father, the joy of fellowship with all of us, and that enabled Him to bear the cross FOR US. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
So let us give without thinking, without vain conceit, without selfish considerations, without any mind but the mind of Christ. Let us never consider it robbery when the Spirit urges us to share with others what God has so freely given to us. Let us instead be charitable, give alms, share with the needy, and keep it secret from everyone—including ourselves!—lest we think too much and do nothing at all.
Holy Father in heaven, I ask Your forgiveness for being so selfish all this time. I pray, Lord, that You give me more of Your Spirit, so that I may have the mind of Christ in all things. May all I do be glorifying unto You alone, with no thought to any need of my own, for I know that if I seek You first and Your kingdom, You WILL provide. Amen.
Glenn A. Pettit