When You Give to the Needy,
Do Not Do It to be Honored by Others

Matthew 6: 1-4

DIG: How had the Pharisees and the Torah-teachers give? How did they corrupt the discipline of giving to the needy? Why and where did the Israelites give? What were the shofars or trumpets? What did the rabbis teach about giving to the needy?

REFLECT: What spiritual disciplines do you value? In what way could they be misused to impress others? When have you given in to that temptation? Why? As you look over the seven principles of biblical giving, which one do you have the best grasp of? Which one do you need to work on the most? What does the Holy Spirit say the result of our appropriate giving to the needy with the right motives will be?

In His seventh example of true righteousness, our Lord teaches how humility in giving differed from that of the Pharisees and the Torah-teachers. Since much of Yeshua’s interpretation of the Torah deals with the need for righteousness, it is fitting that He now addresses specific acts of charity. The Hebrew concept of tzedakah, or charitable giving (often seen as a moral obligation), is so important to Judaism that the rabbis teach that alms obtain the world to come, or, in other words, they believe that giving to the needy will guarantee your salvation (Tractate Rosh Hashanah 4.1).

During the High Holy Days, Jews seek repentance, prayer and charity to avert any judgment. The rabbis often discussed different options for fulfilling this commandment. In fact, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1200 AD), one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, compiled a list of ten levels of charitable giving, ranging from helping one’s own family to making an anonymous contribution to a community fund. The rabbis teach that every Jew is to fulfill the mitzvah of tzedakah, with even the poor donating to a cause (Rambam Mishnah Torah, Gifts to the Poor).548

Many of the Pharisees and Torah-teachers attracted a lot of attention to themselves when they gave alms in the Court of the Women [The Court of the Women]. This inner area of the Temple compound was not named because only women could go there. Certainly, it was the common place for worship for all. According to Jewish tradition, the women stood on a raised gallery along three sides of the court. It covered a space of about 200 feet square. All around ran a simple porch 60 feet square, and within it, along the wall were positioned thirteen offering boxes (shopharoth) called the Treasury. These chests were called shofars in the Talmud because they were narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, thus resembling a shofar ram’s horn (Tractate Shekalim 6.1).

Each trumpet was specifically marked. Eight were the receipt of what was legally due by worshippers, the other five, however, were strictly for voluntary gifts for the needy.

When a Pharisee was going to give a major donation, he would do it with such fanfare that everyone could see what a large amount of money he had put into the Temple treasury for the needy. Instead of going up reverently and dropping his coins in the appropriate shofar, he would parade up with much fanfare and pray long and loud (making sure everyone saw and heard him) before depositing his money. Quite a spectacle.

Charity is obviously a very positive action, yet Jesus urges His listeners to look deeply into their motive for giving. Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1a)! One winter night composer Johann Sebastian Bach was scheduled to debut a new composition. He arrived at the church expecting it to be full. Instead, he learned that no one had come. No one. However, without missing a beat, Bach told his musicians that they would still perform as planned. They took their seats, Bach raised his baton, and soon the church was filled with magnificent music.

It made me think. Would I write if God were my only audience? Would I have the same energy and devotion? How would my writing be any different?

New writers are often advised to visualize one person they are writing to as a means of staying focused. I do this when I write my commentaries. I visualize a person sitting in front of their computer in the middle of nowhere with no Bible. I answer the questions I think they would ask me and try to help them find the Lord or help in their walk with Him.

I doubt that David, son of Jesse, whose psalms we turn to for comfort and encouragement, had “readers” in mind. The only audience he had in mind was ADONAI.

Whatever our tzedakah are, we should keep in mind that they’re really between God and us. Whether or not anyone else sees does not matter. We serve an audience of One.549

Christ said that if you parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them . . . you will have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6:1b). Those people’s only reward will be the recognition and applause from the hypocrites and the ignorant. The LORD does not reward those who only seek to please hypocrites, because they rob Him of His glory. It is important to point out that Messiah’s use of Father here, has the same meaning as in Matthew 5:16 as Israel’s Father (Isaiah 63:16), not in the New Covenant sense of personal relationship by salvation (Mattityahu 6:9). The reference to ADONAI’s living in heaven separates the eternal character of divine reward from the temporary, shallow praise that hypocrites receive from others.

Yeshua warns against flaunting our giving in public. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets. Our Lord does not introduce this teaching with if but when, indicating it is something that He expects us to do. To give to the needy refers to actual giving, not good intentions or warm feelings of pity that never flesh itself out to something substantive. Good intentions don’t fill a child’s empty stomach. When done in the right spirit it’s not only advisable but also obligatory for believers.

But pharisaic Judaism had carried giving to the needy to ridiculous extremes. In the Jewish apocryphal books we read: It is better to give to charity than to lay up gold. For charity will save a man from death; it will expiate (compensate for) any sin (Tobit 12:8). And in addition: As water will quench a flaming fire, so charity will atone (pay for) for sin (The Wisdom of Sirach 3:30). As a result, many Israelites felt that salvation was much easier for the rich, because they could buy their way into heaven by giving to the needy. The same unbiblical approach can be seen in traditional Roman Catholic dogma. Pope Leo the Great declared, “By prayer we seek to appease God, by fasting we extinguish the lust of the flesh, and by giving to the needy we pay for our sins.”

Again the Lord uses hyperbole in His description. Some have mistakenly portrayed this scene as the Pharisees using literal “trumpets” to announce their charitable giving. On the contrary, there is no evidence from history or archaeology that a literal trumpet or other instrument was used by Jews to announce their giving in the Court of the Women. This is just a figure of speech used by Jesus to describe the attention in the synagogues and in the streets that wealthy hypocrites, not just Pharisees and Torah-teachers, attracted to themselves when they presented their alms.

As the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. When He said: Don’t announce it with trumpets, He meant, “Don’t make a big deal about it.” Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full (Mt 6:2). This reward in full is a technical expression used at the completion of a commercial transaction, and carried the idea of something being paid in full. Nothing more was owed and would be paid. Those who give for the purpose of impressing others with their generosity and spirituality will receive no other reward from God. He owes them nothing.

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3). This was possibly a proverbial expression that simply meant doing a normal activity with no special effort. The right hand was considered the primary hand of action, and in a regular day’s work the right hand would do many things that would not involve the left hand. The point here is that giving to the needy should be a normal activity for believers, done with no special effort and done as discreetly as possible so that your giving may be in secret (Mt 6:4a). There was a special chamber within the Treasury in the Court of the Women that was called “the chamber of the silent.” There, devout people could give their money in secret, afterwards used for educating children and help for the needy. But “the chamber of the silent” was also for those needy who were embarrassed that they needed assistance and they could also go there to get help in secret.550

This has often been interpreted to mean that all acts of tzedakah are to be done in absolute secrecy. Believers, however, are not supposed to put their light under a bowl. Instead we put it on its stand, and it will give light to everyone in the house (Matthew 5:15). The TaNaKh describes giving as part of the LORD’s cycle of blessing. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25). As we give, Ha’Shem blesses, and when He blesses us we give again out of what He has given. You are to observe the festival of Shavu’ot for ADONAI your God with a voluntary offering, which you are to give in accordance with the degree to which ADONAI your God has prospered you (Deuteronomy 16:10 CJB). We are to give freely out of what the LORD has given freely. The cycle applies not only to material giving but also to every form of giving that is done sincerely to honor YHVH and to meet a need. The way of God’s people has always been the way of giving. To guide us, the Bible teaches seven principles of scriptural giving.

First, giving from the heart is investing with God. 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, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38). Paul reiterated Christ’s words when he wrote to the believers at Corinth, saying: Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (Second Corinthians 9:6).

Second, genuine giving is to be sacrificial. David refused to give to ADONAI that which cost him nothing. He insisted on paying for the threshing floor on which to build an altar to the LORD (2 Samuel 24:18-24). Generosity is not measured by the size of the gift itself, but by its size in comparison to what is possessed. The widow who put two very small copper coins into the treasury gave more than all the others who gave large sums because they all gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had to live on (Mk 12:42-44).

Third, responsibility for giving has no relationship to how much the person has. People who are not generous when they are poor will not be generous when they are rich. They might give a larger amount, but they will not give a larger proportion. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much (Luke 16:10). It is very important to teach younger children to give generously to God with whatever small amounts of money they receive because the attitudes and patterns they set as children are likely to carry over into adulthood. God doesn’t need your money but He wants your heart.

Fourth, material giving correlates to spiritual blessing. To those who are not faithful with mundane things such as money and other possessions, Messiah will not entrust things that are of far greater value. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own (Luke 16:11-12).

Fifth, giving is to be personally determined. 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 (Second Corinthians 9:7). Righteous giving is done from a righteous and generous heart, not from legalistic percentages of quotas. The Macedonian believers gave abundantly out of their deep financial poverty because spiritually they were rich in love (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The Philippian believers gave out of the spontaneous generosity of their hearts, not because they felt compelled to do so (Philippians 4:15-18).

Sixth, we are to give in response to need. The early messianic community in Jerusalem gave their resources without hesitation. Many of their fellow believers had become destitute when they trusted in Christ and were ostracized from their families and lost employment because of their faith. Years later Paul collected money from the Galatian churches to help meet the great needs that continued to exist among the Jews in Jerusalem and that had been intensified by famine.

There have always been charlatans who manufacture needs and play on the sympathy of others. And there have always been professional beggars, who are able to work but would rather not. A believer in Yeshua has no responsibility to support such people and should take reasonable care to determine if and when real need exists before giving money. Believers with the gift of discernment are especially helpful in this regard. The one who is unwilling to work, Rabbi Sha’ul said: shall not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Encouraging laziness weakens the character of the one who is lazy and also wastes God’s money.

Seventh, giving demonstrates love, not man made commandments. The New Covenant contains no commands for specified amounts or percentages of giving. We need to support those who feed us spiritually (Mattityahu 10:5-11; Luke 9:1-5; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), but after that the percentage we give will be determined by the love of our own hearts and the needs of others. Under grace, believers are free from the demands of the Torah.

All of these seven principles in scriptural giving point to the obligation to give generously because we are investing in the Lord’s work, because we are willing to sacrifice for Him who sacrificed Himself for us, because it has no bearing on how much we have, because we want spiritual riches more than financial riches, because we have personally determined to give, because we want to meet as much need as we can, and because our love compels us to give. As in every area of our righteousness, the key is the heart, the inner attitude that should motivate what we say and do.

Ha’Shem does not need our gifts, because He is entirely self-sufficient. The need is on our part. Rabbi Sha’ul to the messianic congregation at Philippi: I am not seeking the gift; rather, I am looking for what will increase the credit of balance in your spiritual account (Philippians 4:17 CJB). When we give to the needy . . . then our Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward us (Matthew 6:4b). The principle is this: if we remember, God will forget; but we forget, God will remember. Our purpose should be to meet every need we are able to meet and leave the bookkeeping to ADONAI, realizing that we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10 NET).

The urge to misbehave and the desire to be anonymous always visit me together. Like partners making a sales call, they do their best to convince me that I can afford to do something wrong because I won’t have to pay.

Human nature tells us to use the cover of anonymity to avoid taking the blame for the bad things we do. But God tells us something else. He wants us to use anonymity to avoid taking the blame for the good that we do. Why is that the urge to remain anonymous seldom go with my desire to do good?

Yeshua says do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. In other words, within the body of Christ our deeds of charity should be done without calling attention to ourselves. This does not mean, however, that ADONAI wants good deeds to remain hidden; it just means that they should be done in a way that makes a good name for God, not ourselves.

When we volunteer our services, use our spiritual gifts, tithe, or make donations to churches, messianic synagogues and organizations that do good deeds in the name of the Master, we receive something much greater than honor from our peers. We receive rewards from the LORD, and He receives glory from others. So we should live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us (First Peter 2:12).551

 

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