Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 6, 1998
Giving Alms – an expected practice
Giving to gain honor
Giving to please God
Principles to Practice
People seem to have a natural desire that other people should think good of them. From
the mundane to the extraordinary, we strive to make a good impression upon other people.
One way in which people may try to impress other people is through their generosity. I think
of the foundations that have been set up by wealthy individuals with their names as the titles.
Many schools & even some universities bear the name of the benefactor that established them.
Buildings are also commonly named after some great benefactor of the project. And for those
who do not have vast sums of money, they can still get their names put where everyone else
can see by contributing a lesser amount and having that noted on a plaque or a brick or
published in the organizations newsletter. Hospitals, alumni associations, zoos, and charitable
organizations commonly do such things. But it also occurs in the church. Pews get a little
plaque attached to them. Stained glass windows have the family name etched in them.
Hallways have large boards where the names of large contributors are displayed. I visited one
church where not only were there little bronze placards on almost every piece of church
furniture, but the walk ways around the church had special bricks set in them that had the
names of the contributor engraved in them.
What does God think about all of this? Do gifts given in that manner make any
impression on Him? Is there any eternal value to such gifts? Is there really any benefit to the
one who has given?
Two weeks ago we started into a new section of the Sermon on the Mount. The theme
is still the same – your righteousness must surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees if you are
to enter the kingdom of heaven – but the emphasis is slightly different.
In the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus described the character qualities that would be
seen in those that are truly righteous; Poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering and thirsting
after righteousness, pure in heart, merciful, peacemakers, and suffering at the hands of the
unrighteous. Jesus then contrasted the teaching of the self-righteous religious leaders with the
true spirit and application of the very Mosaic Law that these men claimed to follow. Now
Jesus is contrasting the practice of true righteousness with that of the false religious practices
of the Scribes and Pharisees in three specific areas.
Two weeks ago we examined the principal that is part of each of the three examples –
giving alms, praying and fasting. The motivation of the heart is the vital aspect of the religious
practice, not the religious practice itself. True righteousness is concerned only about what God
thinks, while self-righteousness concerns itself with what men think. Look again at
Matthew 6:1. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them;
otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." If you do your righteous
deeds for the purpose of getting noticed by other men, then the only reward you will receive is
their praise. You will not receive any reward from God, because you did not do it for His
glory, but for you own.
Verses 2-4 is Jesus’ first specific example contrasting the proper practice of a righteous
act with the religious practice of the Scribes and Pharisees. "When therefore you give alms, do
not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that
they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you
give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be
in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
GIVING ALMS – AN EXPECTED PRACTICE
Notice the first phrase in verse 2, "When therefore you give alms," and verse 3, "when
you give alms." This is not a conditional statement – "If you give alms, "when you happen to
given alms," etc. This is stated as an assumption of something you will do, something that is
expected; "When you give alms." And that says something to us. Giving is to be a normal
activity of the Christian. It not some unusual thing or even a special thing. It is just part of the
normal activities of life for the person that is truly righteous. He/she will give alms.
But what does it mean, "give alms." Alms is simply any act of mercy or pity. It came
to be used primarily of giving money, food, or clothing to the poor. We might use the word
"charity" to signify this now. To give alms is to do a work of charity.
The idea of giving to someone out of charity should not be any surprise to a Christian.
Scripture indicates in John 13:29 that Jesus and the disciples would give to the poor from the
money bag they carried. The Old Testament has many passages telling the Israelites to take
care of the poor among them. Deut. 15:7-11 says,
7 "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your
land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your
hand from your poor brother; 8 but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall
generously lend him sufficient for his need [in] whatever he lacks. 9 "Beware, lest there is a
base thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,’ and your
eye is hostile toward your poor brother, and you give him nothing; then he may cry to the Lord
against you, and it will be a sin in you. 10 "You shall generously give to him, and your heart
shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless
you in all your work and in all your undertakings. 11 "For the poor will never cease [to be] in
the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother,
to your needy and poor in your land.’
Lev. 25:35 adds, "Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means
with regard to you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he
may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your
countryman may live with you. You shall not given him your silver at interest, nor your food
for gain. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the
land of Canaan and to be your God."
The same principles are repeated in the New Testament. The Apostle John even putting
it in rather strong terms in 1 John 3:17, "but whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his
brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little
children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." Jesus tells us in
Matthew 5:42 to "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to
borrow from you."
So, in very simple terms, a Christian is to be marked by generous charity to the poor. It
is no special action, just the outworking of the love of God in their heart and extending to
others what God has provided for them. It really should not be anything noteworthy, just
something that should be the common place response of compassion.
But as in the case for so many things that God has commanded, the idea of giving
became twisted and the letter of the law usurped the spirit of the law. Man used giving for his
own ends and for his own glory, rather than God’s. Such was the case again with the Scribes
and Pharisees. Their concern was gaining the honor of their fellow man, not bringing honor to
We get some idea of the twisted thinking concerning charitable giving when we look at
some of the Jewish apocryphal books. These were books written during the time between the
Old Testament and the New Testament. They are religious books, but they are not written by
any of God’s prophets, so they are not Scriptures. The evidence that they are purely the work
of man and not that of God comes out in reading them. For example 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 adds, "As water will quench a flaming fire, so
charity will atone for sin." It was this kind of thinking that led many Jews to believe that it was
easier for a rich man to get to heaven because they could do more acts of charity and atone for
their sin. The same twisted thinking still occurs within Roman Catholicism. Pope Leo the
Great declared, "By prayer we seek to appease God, by fasting we extinguish the lust of the
flesh, and by alms we redeem our sins." Scripture declares that salvation comes only by God’s
grace through faith… not of works lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8,9). Giving alms and
doing charitable work does nothing to reduce the penalty of sin.
Jesus’ first instruction regarding giving alms is to not do it like the Scribes and
Pharisees. They do it to gain honor for themselves. Jesus does not want us to do that.
GIVING TO GAIN HONOR
Verse 2: "When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the
hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I
say to you, they have their reward in full.
Some point out that there is no archeological or extra-Biblical sources that indicate that
these religious leaders actually had trumpets blown when they gave alms, so Jesus may have
been using a figure of speech. I believe they probably did do such a thing as having a horn
blown to attract the attention of the people. We do know that it was a common practice to hire
mourners for funerals who would wail and cry for the deceased and the family. If such a
hypocritical practice would occur on such a solemn occasion, then certainly something similar
could occur when a person wanted to call attention to their generosity. And as one
commentator pointed out, it may have even served a useful purpose in calling all the poor over
to the benefactor to receive an alm.
In any case, they were hypocritical in calling attention to themselves when they gave
alms. Notice as well that the giving was in public places – the Synagogues and on the streets.
They gave the pretense to those around that they were very righteous by their acts of
generosity when in fact their main concern was what other men thought about them and not
what God thought. As we noted two weeks ago from Luke 16:13-15, Jesus said to them, "You
are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which
is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God." They "loved the approval of
men more than the approval of God" (Jn 12:43). Their only reward would be the honor men
gave them, because there would be no reward form God.
God has never wanted empty religious observances. Throughout history He has rejected
the worship of those that practice it in form but not in heart. Cain’s offering was rejected for
that reason. Israel and Judah were carried off into captivity for that reason. Their false worship
was highly esteemed among men, but detestable in the sight of God. Isaiah 1:10-15 is as clear
as any passage demonstrating God’s revulsion at false worship.
10 Hear the word of the Lord, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our
God, You people of Gomorrah. 11 "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the Lord.
"I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, And the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure
in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats. 12 "When you come to appear before Me, Who requires
of you this trampling of My courts? 13 "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an
abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure
iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14 "I hate your new moon [festivals] and your appointed
feasts, They have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing [them.] 15 "So when you
spread out your hands [in prayer,] I will hide My eyes from you, Yes, even though you multiply
prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.
God will not reward alms given from a false heart because He turns away from the
person giving them. All that will be left will be the empty praise of men.
But don’t think that this admonition applies only to outward calls for the attention of
men. There are many more subtle ways to do something for the purpose of gaining the honor
of men without tooting your own horn. What about these little placards and awards of
recognition that are given by so many institutions – and churches? What about the listing of
donors printed by so many charitable organizations in their newsletters and magazine? What
about when you see a need and you meet that need, but you also make sure that the person
knows who met that need. Did you really want to meet the need or gain some measure of
control over them? And why would you seek after that persons gratitude? Is it not enough to
know that God used you to meet that need? Is the giving done to please other people and
yourself, or to please God?
GIVING TO PLEASE GOD
Jesus tells us that when we give it is to be from the heart. It is to be the product of a
heart that seeks to please God rather than man. It is a heart that responds from compassion, not
from seeking honor. It is a heart that shuns attention and does its work quietly without calling
attention to itself.
This is pointed out by Jesus saying, "When you give alms, do not let your left hand
know what your right hand is doing that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees
in secret will repay you." The right hand was considered the primary hand of action and during
the course of a day it would do many things that would not involve the left hand. The phrase
simply means that giving should be something so normal, without special effort or show, so
that the left hand would not even be aware of what the right hand was doing. No consideration
is given to what other men may think, only for what would bring glory to God.
What Jesus says here about giving in secret does not contradict what He said earlier in
5:16 about letting your "light so shine before me that they may see your good works and
glorify your Father who is in heaven." In 5:16 Jesus is emphasizing that we are not to be afraid
of demonstrating our righteousness before men. In 6:4 Jesus is emphasizing that we are not to
practice righteousness in order to get glory from men. In both passages it is the motivation of
the heart that Jesus is speaking too. Why do you do what you do? As A.B. Bruce put it, "We
are to show [our righteousness acts] when tempted to hide and hide [our righteous acts] when
tempted to show."
The question of true righteousness is and remains "what is the motivation of the heart?"
Is it to bring glory to God? Or to bring glory to self? When our desire and practice is only to
bring glory to God, then He is the one that gives a reward. I don’t know about you, but I
would much rather receive a reward from God than from men.
PRINCIPLES TO PRACTICE
Let me give you some very simple principles to help guide you in putting all this into
practice. Most of these are principles I picked up from John MacArthur.
1) Giving from the heart is investing with God. In Luke 6:38 our Lord tells us, Give,
and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they
will pour into your lap." Paul says about the same thing in 2 Cor. 9:6, "Now this I say, he who
sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifuly shall also reap
bountiful." Giving from the heart is investing with God.
2) Genuine giving is to be sacrificial. It is not the amount that is important to God but
its size in comparison to what is possessed. In Mark 12:41-44 Jesus commended the widow
who gave two small copper coins to the Temple treasury and said it was more than all of the
large sums of the many rich people because, "they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out
of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on." David refused to give to the Lord
that which cost him nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). Genuine giving is to be sacrificial.
3) There is no relationship between how much a person has and their responsibility to
give. Luke 16:10 makes it plain that "he who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in
much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much." A poor
person who is stingy will be stingy if they were rich. They might increase the amount, but they
will not increase the percentage. IRS statistics show that the rich actually give less than the
poor. One reason we teach our children to give even out of their small amounts of money is to
develop in them attitudes and patterns that will stay with them into adulthood. There is no
relationship between how much a person has and their responsibility to give.
4) Material giving correlates with spiritual blessing. Luke 16 goes on to say that
"unrighteous mammon" is a test to what we can be entrusted with spiritually. Verses 11 says,
"If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the
true riches to you?" Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, "for where your treasure is, there will your
heart be also." What you do with your material good will demonstrate what controls your
heart. Material giving correlates with spiritual blessing.
5) We are to give to meet needs, not wants. The early Christians gave sacrificially
without reservation to meet the needs of fellow believers. Those in Jerusalem even sold their
property to help provide for fellow believers. The churches in Macedonia gave liberally even
though they themselves were poor. However, there are also those that are professional
beggars. We have no obligation to them. Paul said in 2 Thess 3:10, "If anyone will not work,
neither let him eat." Determine the need and meet the need, not the want. Some want you to
support them, but they need to be told to go to work. We are to give to meet needs, not wants.
6) Giving is to be personally determined. The New Testament contains no commands
for specific amount or percentages of giving. The New Testament principle is stated clearly in
2 Cor. 9:7, "let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under
compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver." The percentage we give will be determined by the
love of our own hearts and the needs of others. Giving is to be personally determined.
I have two things against the idea that the church is to receive a tithe (10% – was that
gross or net?) from everyone. First, it is in complete contradiction to 2 Cor. 9:7 which I just
read. The percentage of income a person gives is related to their faith which is based on their
understanding and trust in the Lord. If they do not have enough faith to give more, then their
faith has to increase. To demand a certain percentage makes them give out of compulsion and
often grudgingly. Second, in practice it puts a cap on what a person gives. They give 10% and
they think their obligation is met. Again, giving is not a matter of obligation, it is a
demonstration of a heart that is truly righteous, loves God, trusts God, and desires to share
God’s blessings with others. If you give 10% – a tithe – because you think that is your
obligation, then you do not understand giving. God may want you to be giving a lot more than
that either as a demonstration of your faith, or because the need is greater than that or both.
Giving is more than just what you may put in the Faith Box in the back of the church.
There are a lot more needs than just this local church. Giving is a matter of the heart. God
wants you to have such a trust in Him that if you see a brother in need and have means to meet
that need, you do so out of the natural flow of living for Christ. Your trust is that God will
provide for you. He is your security. Your life revolves around pleasing Him – not amassing
If you give to impress people, then be warned that the only reward you get is their
honor. You will get nothing from God. If you are giving grudgingly out of compulsion, then
please do not. You are not pleasing the Lord and He does not need your money. Get your heart
right with Him and then give out of love for Him. If there is no sacrifice involved in your
giving, then maybe you had better spend some time with the Lord and consider how much
more He wants you to give.
His desire for us is to demonstrate our righteousness by giving without thought for
what men think of us, to meet genuine needs, to be sacrificially generous, and to do it all
cheerfully. I pray those are marks of your life – or soon will be.