We cannot read the words of Jesus without seeing the importance he gives to giving to the poor or to those in need. It is God’s nature to give to all men unconditionally. So, we are encouraged to be givers to those in need. We are not to parade our giving but to give in secret. The true value of our gift is not measured in pounds or dollars but according to what the gift cost us. But if we give joyfully and unreservedly then we cannot help benefitting ourselves by giving. It is a win-win situation!
Blessed are the poor.
Jesus said that the poor were especially blessed because the Kingdom of God is open to them. In Matthew, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, but in Luke, Jesus refers simply to ‘the poor’.
Theologians have discussed for centuries over what it means to be poor ‘in sprit’. We can spiritualise it as much as we like, but we are in danger of missing the significance that Jesus places on poverty and our response to that poverty. I must admit that I prefer the simple statement in Luke.
Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. (Luke 6:20)
We may think, “If the poor are so blessed, we ought not to spoil their blessings. We should leave them in their poverty!” But this thinking is certainly not in line with other things Jesus said.
Giving should be private
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4)
If you use Facebook you will have noticed the flood of people taking the ‘ice bucket challenge’ in aid of charity. This is harmless enough, but nevertheless our giving should be in secret and not paraded before others.
When I was director of a charity we received very few anonymous gifts. In fact the only way to give anonymously is to put cash in an envelope. Cheques, credit cards, direct debits etc are always identifiable. The UK gift-aid system and the USA tax system make anonymous gifts less effective, so we have to rely on the discretion of charity employees. We need to weigh up the practise of strict anonymity with tax effectiveness.
No means testing!
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
Jesus says that we should give to anyone who asks. Common sense dictates that we ask, “Do you really need it”, or, “How can I be sure that you won’t waste my gift on alcohol or other drugs”. Such questions may be prudent, but God’s way is to give to us regardless, and we need the same attitude.
Value versus Cost
We should not judge a gift by the financial value of that gift, but by the cost to the giver.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on. (Luke 21:1-4)
A rich man may give £1,000 but this may be a tiny percentage of his wealth. On the other hand a poor person giving £1 may be giving his whole wages for a day. Jesus said that the poor widow really gave the most! (Note that giving is not just the responsibility of the rich – the poor can give as well!)
Giving and Receiving
Jesus said “Give, and it will be given to you”. This is not a mathematical formula. It is not saying, give £100 and expect £100, or £10,000 in return. Nevertheless, there is a spiritual principle here. We cannot freely give, and live out a life-style of giving without receiving in our own lives happiness, joy and fulfilment and without expecting our financial and other needs to be met.
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38)
If we give miserly, that is the measure we can expect. We could give out of duty, give out of guilt, give out of blind obedience to religion. But if we give joyfully then we have touched the heart of God, who gives liberally to all.
There are plenty of other words of Jesus about giving to the needy including:
- Matthew 25:31-46
- Luke 14:12-14
- Matthew 19:21
- Luke 12:33-34