Practicing Radical Generosity (Matt 6:1-4)
Practicing Radical Generosity
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “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.
How can we live lives of radical generosity?
God is a giver. He gave his only begotten Son to die for the sins of the world. Not only that, he gives us life, breath, sunshine, rain, and everything else. As his children, we should be givers as well. The previous verse of Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” Christ teaches on giving right after calling us to be perfect like our Father. Therefore, as we live a life of radical generosity, we mirror our Lord’s image.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ again confronts the error of the religious leaders. In Matthew 5:20-48, he confronted their misinterpretations of the law. They lessened God’s commands on areas like murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, loving one’s neighbor, etc. In Chapter 6, he confronts the wrong manner in which they did their acts of righteousness: giving, praying, and fasting. The entire context follows Christ’s strong words in Matthew 5:20 that if our righteousness doesn’t surpass that of the Pharisees and scribes, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Christ is warning his followers to bear fruits that match their kingdom citizenship.
In Matthew 6:1-4, Christ teaches principles about how to live radically generous lives that resemble God and please him.
Big Question: In Matthew 6:1-4, what principles can be discerned about living a radically generous life?
Believers Must Practice Giving as a Spiritual Discipline
So when you give to the needy
Interpretation Question: What does the fact that Christ says “when you give” imply about his expectation of his followers?
The fact that Christ says “when you give” and not “if you give” implies that God expects believers to give and be generous like him. This was clearly commanded in the OT law:
“‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
In fact, many rabbis over-emphasized the need—taking the doctrine passed Scriptural boundaries. Some taught that giving would actually atone for one’s sins. This is taught within the Apocrypha, which was written during the intertestamental period before the writing of the New Testament. Tobit 12:8 says, “It is better to give to charity than to lay up gold. For charity will save a man from death; it will expiate any sin.” The Wisdom of Sirach 3:30 says, “As water will quench a flaming fire, so charity will atone for sin.” In the 1500’s, the Roman Catholic church canonized the Apocrypha for this very reason, as it supports salvation by works; however, it wasn’t recognized as canon previously.
Though the Rabbis overemphasized the importance of giving, as all believers are saved by faith, God certainly commands and expects his people to give generously. Christ taught that this righteousness will be in kingdom citizens. Giving will be their consistent practice and discipline. The Greek word for “give” actually means an act or deed of mercy. Since believers received mercy from God in their salvation, they will be known for showing acts of mercy to others (cf. Matthew 5:7).
Application Question: What are some general principles for Christian giving?
1. Christian giving naturally happens when Christ is truly first in our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 8:2-5, Paul describes how the poor Macedonian Christians financially supported the struggling Jerusalem church. He said,
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Though the Macedonian churches were extremely poor themselves, they begged Paul to allow them to support their brothers in Jerusalem. Therefore, radical generosity is not primarily rooted in what we have but who we have. These believers were intimately, devoted to God and therefore generous giving naturally flowed from them.
This means that if God is not first in our lives, then we will be selfish—concerned primarily about our benefit. Are you giving yourself fully to the Lord—your time, money, goals, and aspirations? If not, you won’t be radically generous.
2. Christian giving should be planned and intentional—not haphazard.
Second Corinthians 9:7 says, “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.” The fact that we must decide in our heart implies that our giving should be prayerfully and wisely planned.
Application Question: What should our planned giving include?
1. Our plan for giving should include regular offerings to our local church.
First Corinthians 16:1-2 says,
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
Paul taught that every time they gathered on Sunday, in keeping with their income, they should set aside money to give. We should do the same. As the Lord provides income, whether that be every two weeks or once a month, we should prayerfully give to the ministries of our local church.
2. Our plan for giving should include setting aside money for the needs of others.
Ephesians 4:28 says, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” Having something to share with those in need seems to be above one’s regular giving to the church. These needs might include helping a student go on a mission trip, helping somebody who is struggling financially, supporting an orphanage, or even responding to a world catastrophe.
People often ask me, “Can I give my offerings to other ministries or needs instead of to my church?” I always say, “Do both!” We should regularly support the church, as the pastors, staff, missionaries, and church outreaches are supported by the members’ regular giving. First Timothy 5:17-18 says,
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” e and “The worker deserves his wages.”
One of the main reasons we must give offerings to our local church is to support its ministers. God has commanded for ministers to earn their living from the church, since a worker is worthy of his wages. If we don’t support our ministers, then they won’t be able to continue to serve the church while taking care of their families. Galatians 6:6 says, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” Sharing “in all good things” includes, but is not limited to, financial remuneration.
But God also commands us to help those in need, which is often random. Again, Ephesians 4:28 implies that we should plan to be able to meet those needs. It is good to put in one’s budget regular church offerings and also flexible money for random needs. If there are no random needs, then give that money to the church or save it for when other needs occur. Certainly, it is good to regularly support outside ministries that care for the poor or send missionaries; however, it shouldn’t replace our giving to our local church. It should be above that giving.
God calls for our giving to be decided in heart; therefore, it must be prayerfully and wisely planned.
3. Christian giving must be offered with a joyful heart.
God wants our giving to be done with a right heart—one of joy—since he loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). It should not be out of reluctance or compulsion—God doesn’t need our money. He wants our worship. Therefore, we must be joyful in our giving; this joy comes from our desire to please our Father and help others.
4. Christian giving should be sacrificial.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see that God commanded people to bring their best. They were not to bring the blind and crippled lamb (cf. Mal 1:8), they were to offer the lamb without blemish. We should also always offer our best. In fact, that seems to be the reason Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s was accepted. Genesis 4 says Cain gave some of the fruits of his field, while Abel gave the fat portions of the firstborn of his flock. The firstborn and the fat portions were considered the best in those days. Cain’s was rejected while Abel’s was received. Cain wanted the best part for himself—there was no sacrifice in his life. That is how a lot of our offerings are given in the church today. There is no real sacrifice—there is no heart that says, “God, you are worth this much!” In 2 Samuel 24:24, David said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’”
Is your giving sacrificial? Or are you just giving “some” of the fruit of your field—like Cain—the left over change in your pocket? God wants our best. Our giving must be sacrificial.
5. Christian giving should ideally be continually increased.
This is similar to the last point but it is separated for emphasis. Second Corinthians 8:7 says, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
Often churches emphasize giving one’s tithe—which is 10% of our income. Though I think this is good principle, it doesn’t really fit with the New Covenant teaching. The epistles commonly emphasize how we are no longer under the Old Covenant (Rom 6:14, 7:6). We are not bound to practice the food laws, the Sabbath days, etc. Many laws continue but not because we are under the Old Covenant, but because they are repeated in the New Covenant. In the New Testament, there are never any numerical percentages required of our giving. However, we do have teachings like 2 Corinthians 8:7 which says we must seek to excel in giving. This means 10% is a great place to start, but if we stay there we are not obeying the New Covenant. We should seek to excel in our giving.
First Corinthians 16:2 says we should give “in keeping with our income” or it can be translated, “in keeping with how he prospers” (HCSB). This means that many people should be giving way more than 10% because the Lord has prospered them so much. Instead of getting a new phone, new car, or new house, when their finances increase, they should seek to excel in their giving. Are you exceling in your giving?
Christ said, “when you give” not “if you give.” Our giving is expected, and therefore it should be a spiritual discipline.
Application Question: Are any principles on this list new to you? If so, which? What are some principles that you have found helpful with your regular giving? What are your thoughts on whether Christians must practice the OT tithe?
Believers Must Guard Against Wrong Motives in Their Giving
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “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.
In Matthew 6:1, Christ warns his disciples to not practice their righteous deeds in front of others to be seen by them. In the rest of Matthew 6, he focuses not only on giving, but praying and fasting—two others works God expects believers to practice.
The phrase “be careful” has the sense of “being on guard.” There is a danger that comes along with all ministry. It is hard not to perform them without concerns about what people think about us or how they perceive our ministry. This is a virtual stronghold for many that serve in public ministry. It can cause great discouragement or great pride. Both are problems, as they are symptoms that prove our ministry is not being done for God alone. Christ warns us of this reality, and we must heed it well.
Seeking the praise of others instead of God was the primary sin of the Pharisees and scribes. John 12:43 said, “they loved human praise more than praise from God.” Christ called them “hypocrites.” The word literally means “to wear a mask” and was used of an actor. An actor takes on a false identity and puts on a theatrical performance in order to receive applause. Sadly, that is how a lot of Christian works are done—preaching, teaching, praying, and, as mentioned in this passage, giving.
Christ describes how the Pharisees would sound the trumpet so that all would know they are giving to the poor. Calvin speculated that maybe they did this under the guise of calling for the poor. In considering the trumpets, we don’t know if Christ was being literal or metaphorical. Either way, his point was that these people wanted everybody to hear and see. They essentially cried out: “Look at how much I am giving! Look at how sacrificial and holy I am!”
We must be very careful of this in our ministries. It is sad that something so good as giving to the poor can be turned into a PR stunt that is all for our benefit. However, this is natural to our sin nature—it is consumed with self-glory.
Application Question: How can we know if we are doing our giving and other good works to be seen by others instead of for God?
We can tell by asking ourselves some pointed questions:
1. Is it important for others to see or hear about our good works and accomplishments? Do we always have to tell others about our successes? If so, maybe the pride of the Pharisees is in our hearts.
2. How do we respond when others praise us? Are we overly excited? If so, maybe it reveals a selfish root in our hearts.
3. How do we respond when people criticize us or don’t recognize our accomplishments? Does this overly discourage us or even make us upset? If so, our focus might not primarily be on serving God and blessing others.
Certainly, all of us have experienced these negative tendencies in some way. It is a reminder that we are sinners, and that we must always guard our hearts (cf. Prov 4:23). God’s honor and pleasure must always be our primary pursuit, even before the benefit of others.
Observation Question: How should believers guard their hearts from wrong motives in their giving and other good works according to Matthew 6:2-4?
“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.
1. To guard our hearts from wrong motives in our good works, we must practice secrecy when performing them.
Christ said to not announce them with trumpets (v. 2). We must aim to practice our good works and giving in secret. Now it is not sin for others to see; many times we cannot avoid being seen. Christ said a city on a hill cannot be hidden in referring to believers being the light of the world (Matt 5:14-16). The problem is our hearts are prone to being consumed with the thoughts and approval of others instead of the Lord’s. So as much as possible, we should practice secrecy in our giving and other good deeds. With our giving, we should try not to tell others—God knowing is enough. With other ministry successes, we should also keep those a secret, unless we deem it more beneficial for others to know. Paul didn’t share many of his visions and spiritual experiences until it was absolutely necessary and beneficial for the Corinthians to hear (2 Cor 12). He didn’t want them to think to highly of him (12:6).
2. To guard our hearts from wrong motives in our good works, we must practice immediately forgetting what we’ve done by not self-consciously dwelling on them.
When Christ says to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing, since most people are right handed, he assumes most will give with their right hands. While giving, the offeror should make sure the left hand is unaware of what the right hand is doing. He uses this metaphor to say that we should even hide our good works from ourselves. The point is that even though others might be unaware of our good works, many times we are still self-conscious of them. We continually replay our giving, our teaching, our leading, over and over in our head—leading either to pride or insecurity. We either puff ourselves up by continually thinking on our good works, and how great we were. Or we get really discouraged because we think we failed. Both of these thought processes reflect that our primary goal is not honoring the Lord and giving him pleasure in our acts of righteousness. It is too easy for ourselves and our approval to become the focus of our good deeds, instead of God. This was exactly how the Pharisees and scribes did their good works. In Luke 18:11-12, a Pharisee who was praying continually boasted before the Lord, “Thank you, Lord, that I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (paraphrase). Though his works weren’t currently in front of others, they gave him great pride and he boasted before the Lord about them. When practicing our good works, we must be careful of being self-conscious.
Prepare, do your best to honor the Lord and help others, and trust him with the results. Certainly, there is a place for constructive reflection and evaluation so we can improve in order to better honor God and bless others. But after doing that briefly, we should forget our works (Phil 3:13)—lest they turn into a boast or an insecurity, which are both rooted in pride.
Christ said those who do their works for others have received their reward (v. 2). The phrase “have received” is a commercial term meaning to “receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.” It meant that they will receiving nothing else. Their reward is the congratulations of others or their self-congratulations, but they will receive nothing from God. In performing good deeds, including our giving, we must be satisfied with God being our only witness and having only his approval.
Application Question: Why is seeking the approval of others such a danger for those performing public ministry? How have you experienced the sinful propensity to be “self-conscious” over our good works—making them essentially about us instead of God? What are the common fruits of being self-conscious in your life? How can we guard ourselves against the tendencies of seeking the approval of others or our own approval in ministry?
Believers Must Pursue God’s Reward for Selfless Giving
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Finally, Christ encourages his listeners to practice this secrecy in their giving because it will be rewarded by God. This is taught throughout the entire Bible, as giving is part of the Lord’s cycle of blessing. Consider some of the following verses:
Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” God promises refreshment to those who refresh others by their generosity. When they open their homes for others, or give sacrificially, the same will happen to them.
Psalm 41:1 says, “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.” The word “weak” can also be translated “poor” (ESV). Those who care for the poor and struggling, God will deliver them in times of trouble. What they do for others, God will do for them.
Second Corinthians 9:8 gives this as a promise for cheerful givers: “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” The promise is twofold: (1) God will make sure givers never lack. This promise is probably broader than just financial provisions; it could also refer to God meeting their needs emotionally, relationally, and in every other way. (2) God will make them abound in every good work. If God can trust us with money, he can trust us with souls, understanding and teaching the Bible, caring for the poor, etc. He will increase the righteousness of givers. Second Corinthians 9:10 re-enforces this: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.”
As a general principle, our effectiveness in ministry is correlates to our faithfulness and generosity with God’s money. In Luke 16:10-11, Christ said it this way:
“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. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
“True riches” don’t just apply to righteous works on earth, but eternal riches in heaven. In Luke 19, the reward for those who were faithful with God’s minas was ruling over cities in the coming kingdom.
John MacArthur comments on how our giving correlates with our present and future ministry. He says,
Many young men have dropped out of seminary because they could not handle money, and the Lord did not want them in His ministry. Others have begun in the ministry but later dropped out for the same reason. Still others remain in the ministry but produce little fruit because God will not commit the care of eternal souls to them when they cannot even manage their own finances. Spiritual influences and effectiveness have a lot to do with how well finances are handled.
Are you being a radical giver? If so, God will radically reward you and that reward includes righteousness and provisions on earth and riches in heaven. Those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly (2 Cor 9:6).
How is God calling you to be a radical giver?
Application Question: What promises stood out to you most when considering the reward for givers? How have you seen the principle of giving and receiving at work in your life—either negatively or positively?
The members of Christ’s kingdom will be radical givers. Their righteousness will surpass that of the Pharisees and the scribes. What are some principles about practicing radical generosity?
Believers Must Practice Giving as a Spiritual Discipline
Believers Must Guard Against Wrong Motives in Their Giving
Believers Must Pursue God’s Reward for Selfless Giving
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 355). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 128). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 353–354). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (p. 129). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 128–129). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Stott, J. R. W., & Stott, J. R. W. (1985). The message of the Sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian counter-culture (pp. 129–130). Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.