Lesson 1 – The Grace of a Giving Heart

The Grace of a Giving Heart

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your father who is in heaven.”  Matt. 6:1


In our study of Matthew, chapter five, we have understood Jesus wants us to practice God’s righteousness as we function as salt and light for people in the world.  However, in chapter six Jesus starts with a warning about doing our righteous acts, “to be seen by others.”  Jesus is obviously concerned about the source of a Christian’s reward.  The motive we have for doing what we do, may, or may not be rewarding to us.  The reward of spiritual growth may, or may not, become a functional attribute of our “self,” so as to be a treasure for us in heaven. Why are we doing what we are doing?  This is the question Jesus purposed in Matthew 6:1-18.

We live in the last days of time on earth.  Jesus is our king and Christians are sons of God.  God has given us a new covenant.  He wants to write His spiritual laws upon our hearts and minds.  What is different about the time in which we live and the times of Jesus original audience, the Jews?  Jesus’ teachings have to do with attitudes and motives more than outward actions.  He knows if our motives and attitudes are based on His teachings, the action will be pleasing to God and rewarding to us, from the inside out.

Happiness is what we all desire.  For a reward to be meaningful it must contribute to our goal of attaining what will make us happy.  The reward we will receive for practicing our righteousness to be seen of God, rather than men, will contribute to our happiness.   Happiness is having the attitudes of Jesus.  God will give us strength as we develop these attitudes when we perform our acts of righteousness with Him as our audience.  God must be considered as our only “paying audience.”  The rewards from man are inadequate to fully strengthen our character “to stay our course” on the “narrow road.”

Jesus chose three of His Jewish audiences’ most common ways of practicing righteousness.  They were alms giving, prayer and fasting.  In this lesson we will discuss almsgiving and the other two subjects in lessons two and three.


Our lesson aim is to show that almsgiving strengthens character when practiced with the right motive.  Please read. Matthew 6:2-4.

Giving has always been a part of God’s plan for His people after the fall of Adam and Eve.  Since God, Himself, has no need for the alms then we understand giving in the name of God must be for the spiritual growth of the givers and for the physical or spiritual necessities of the receivers.  Although our giving is of benefit for the needy, our reward as the giver depends on our motive for giving what we give.  Therefore, God has made almsgiving a part of each Christians’ service for his or her own good, as well as others.  Howbeit, one of the others is God, Himself.  The Apostle Paul put it all in prospective for us in his letter to the Christians in Corinth:

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.  And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!  II Cor. 9:12-15

The Apostle Paul, who explained so well what Jesus meant in our text, could have been one of those Jews who had heard Jesus repeat the same message many times.  Jesus believed most of the Jewish leaders practiced the giving of alms with the wrong motive.  He felt the same about the wording of their prayers and the practice of fasting (Matt. 15:8; 23:5, 6, 23-28; Luke 18:9-14).  Jesus worked very hard in His ministry while on earth to get the Israelites to understand one simple thing; “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.”  Mark 7:15.

In the introduction of Part IV, we understood how we need to have the “single” eye in order to have an enlightened “self.”  The enlightened Christian does not just sit in a church building and worship God.  We do not merely study about love once or thrice a week.  We get out from under the “bowl” and tell the world about the kingdom of God and their place in the heart of God as His children (Matt. 5:15).  To make sure we see the reality of heaven and earth with a “single” eye means we need to look at situations we encounter with the principles of life Jesus taught.  It means we join His mission to seek and save the lost.

It means we adopt the “eye of godliness.”  There are some in the religious business who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  I Tim. 6:5-7.  Godliness is translated from the Greek word “eusebeia.”  It is made up of two words, “eu” which means well and “seboma,” meaning “to be devout.”  Altogether, it denotes that piety which, characterized by a God-ward attitude, does that which is well pleasing to Him.

Saul was a tough convert but when he was convinced Jesus was the Christ, he accepted His teachings about life and was ordained the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:4-16).  Even then God sent His Holy Spirit to Paul to help him “speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” I Cor. 2:13.  Therefore, let us engage the help of Paul to understand what is involved in Christian almsgiving:

  1. Christian giving is not a command in the sense of the Old Testament tithe.  Some church leaders and preachers have toyed with the idea that if the Jews gave a tenth, then how much more should Christians give.  Even though there may be some truth in what they say, they miss the mark concerning the motive for Christian giving.  After Paul told the Corinthian Christians to “see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”  He went on to say, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”  II Cor. 8:7, 8.  When love is a condition of the heart, a command is not necessary.  The only questions will be; “How much is needed and how much is available for me to give?”
  2. Giving with a “single” eye is an exercise on the behalf of the giver to develop love (agape) in his or her heart.  This is the indescribable gift of which Paul spoke.  Please review our last lesson in Part III about love from our study of Matt. 5:43-48.
  3. Love is a circular process.  When we as Christians extend limits of our ego boundaries to include the needs of others, we grow in a larger state of being.  We understand this principle in the way muscles are formed.  It takes effort to extend the limits of the muscles we already possess in our bodies.  This is the only way they become enlarged.  Lazy people don’t have strong muscles.  In the same way it takes effort to develop love by loving.  Love involves one’s will to act for the purpose of developing love in oneself and another person’s spiritual growth.  “Will to act” is a desire of such intensity that it is translated into action.  The desire to love is not love.  Love is an act of will.  It is both an intention and an action (II Cor. 8:10-12).  Love is a choice to assist others in absence of the motive for self remuneration.  The exception is for our own development of love as a reward from God.  We choose to love.  If we do not love when the opportunity arises, it is because we chose not to love.  There will be no strengthening of character apart from loving for the sake of being salt and light.  This is one reason “giving” is a part of a Christian’s development as a son of God.  It is one program in which all people can get involved.  The Macedonian churches got involved “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (Greek, haplotes).”  II Cor. 8:2.
  4. The Apostles, who served Jesus, our king, did not ask the Christians to give until the program of need was clearly set forth.  First the program and then the asking to give.  When this is the sequence, it gives the members the opportunity to develop more love in their hearts.  It stretches the love that is already in their hearts to expand itself like the stretching of a muscle.  Many church leaders, preachers and teachers appear to give the members of the church the idea that they should give because it is the first day of the week and the Bible says give.  This is legalism and ritualism.  It is not a character building program.  It is ungodly.
  5. Of course, some one is the beneficiary of the gift.  In the Corinthian’s case they were God’s people.  The needs of other people are the motivator for the exercise of developing love.  The poor saints in Jerusalem had a need and their need was satisfied.  It was satisfied in a way that two innate drives within people were satisfied.  The hungry had their God-given need for food satisfied.  Although the givers may have had to give up some of their own food, they maintained their social acceptance with the needy people in Jerusalem (II Cor. 8:13).
  6. In Paul’s description of how every part of the giving scenario worked in II Cor. 9:12-15, prayers were offered to God.  The receivers praised God.  They praised God because the givers were obedient to their faith in the gospel.  They thanked God for His surpassing grace upon the givers and their fellowship.  The poor were fed, the giver developed more love and God was pleased.  The benefits of this giving program were summed up in another letter by Paul.  “Then you will be able to test what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Rom. 12:2.

In Summary

In our scripture text two different warnings were given about almsgiving.  First, we are told we should not be as hypocrites who sound a trumpet about our giving.  Perhaps, we have never actually blown a trumpet in the church building, or on the street, to let people know what we gave; however, we sometimes do find ways to let others know of our gifts – especially those we wish to impress.  Jesus did not say we would not receive a reward.  In fact, He said we would receive a reward and that we already have it in full.  We got our praise from people.  However, if our eye was not “single,” the reward did not come from God; it came from those we wished to impress.  It came from mankind (John 5:44).  Ananias and Sapphira were great givers.  They sold their property in order to feed the first believers. They were struck dead by God because they gave with a “double-eye.” They had one on the needs of others and one for the praise of men (Acts 5:1-11).  “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”  This narrative is meant to have the same effect on Christians today.

Is Jesus telling us to keep secret every good thing we do?  No, because in Mathew 5:16.  He said “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Our reward from God is not lost because others see our almsgiving.  This is not the discussion at all.  The discussion is about motives.  Giving is done with the wrong motive, when it is done to impress others.  Jesus is aware of our need for social acceptance.  We do wish to impress others in a favorable way so they will accept us.  However, we must not use almsgiving, prayer or fasting to fulfill our social acceptance drive.  We need the reward of social acceptance with God as a reward for our alms giving.  Our present reward from God is our own spiritual growth.  Life is better now because we are givers and it will get better in the age to come (Luke 18:29, 30).  Paul told the thieves in Ephesus to stop stealing, get a job, and get in the exercise of giving to the needy (Eph. 4:28).  Giving is the cure for the urge to steal.  People who are not givers “rob God.”  Malachi 3:8.

The second warning is startling but it does emphasize even more the importance for our having the proper motive in giving alms.  Jesus warned that our almsgiving must be so secret that our left hand does not know what our right hand is giving.  What does Jesus mean by this statement?  We are sure He is not interested in our left and right hands.  Here again He is discussing motives.  We have understood our motive for giving must not be to impress others; however, Jesus also warned us about giving to impress ourselves about our donations.  Jesus is warning us about self-righteousness .  Donations to get our name on a plaque, even if the plaque is hidden away in our own memory bank, will not be rewarded by our Father.  Christians could become very self righteousness about our own gifts and other acts of righteousness.  This would prevent God from rewarding us with spiritual growth.  The only reward the self righteous person receives is his or her own “pat on the back.”  Some people love to lay layers of praise on themselves when they can find an audience who will applaud.

We now have three choices as a source for our rewards.  First, we can worship God while maintaining the right motive for giving and receive the reward of “walking in the light with God.”  I John 1:5.    Secondly, we can give to gain the approval of others and gain their admiration for a while.  Our third choice is our own “pat on the back,” which will cause everybody to hate us, except, perhaps, our parents.

What is God’s reward?  The answer to this question is the same answer for the question “Why did God make giving a part of our worship to Him?”  From a study of II Corinthians, chapters eight and nine, we find that a person who has a liberal heart in giving is one who has the grace of God in his life.  God has many gifts to give to people in need.  If we have a gracious heart to give in His Name, He can use us to carry His gifts to those who need.  God has a lot of gifts and He loves to give them away.  What He loves even more is for His children to give them away in His name so He can reward us.

If however, our giving is for other motives than to praise God, He cannot use us as a steward over His gifts for others.  When we exercise an act of giving with the right motive, it softens our heart.  We develop many healthy emotional attitudes from this love in our hearts.  If we want to develop muscles we do physical exercises.  If we want to develop a heart of love, we must give “in secret” to be seen of God “and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why did Jesus start chapter six by saying “beware?”
  2. What does our motive have to do with the outcome of what we do?
  3. Why is Jesus more concerned with attitudes than actions?
  4. What is the purpose and value of giving alms?
  5. How does a reward from God while we live on earth become a treasure in heaven?
  6. Why should we trust the Apostle Paul to give us insight on the teachings of Jesus?
  7. Did Paul issue a command for the Corinthians to give to help the poor saints in Jerusalem?
  8. In what sense is giving done with a “single eye?”
  9. Why do we need to decide to love, in order to have love, as a part of our character?
  10. What needs to happen before leaders of a congregation ask the members to give?
  11. Identify the three parties who are benefitted when a giving program is carried out with the right motive of the giver.
  12. What does Jesus mean in verse three when He says don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing?
  13. What is the only reward a self righteous person will receive?
  14. What are the three possible sources for our reward when practicing almsgiving?

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